Iowa State associate joins AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows

AMES, Iowa -- Ryan Atwell, a recent Iowa State University graduate with a doctorate from the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, is among the newest group of AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows. The fellows are a group of scientists and engineers who spend a year working in congressional offices or federal agencies learning about science policy.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the largest general scientific society in the world. Atwell's group of 190 fellows represents the largest cohort in the program's 36-year history.

Atwell works for the U.S. Forest Service, Office of Research and Development, which is a division of the Department of Agriculture. He is currently working on policies that would create market structures that value the goods and services that healthy ecosystems provide for society: clean water, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, pollination, recreation and enjoyment.

Atwell explained how these policies will be enacted stating "One example is the climate bills currently under debate in the House and Senate. These bills aim to create a market where entities that exceed certain carbon emission standards would buy credits from entities that remove carbon from the atmosphere and maintain it in a physical state. For example, carbon credits might be bought from forest landowners who plant and maintain forests."

The policy would also reward farmers who take steps to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

"Farmers who practice conservation tillage or sequester carbon emissions by other means could sell or trade their carbon credits," said Atwell.

Atwell grew up on farms in Iowa and Illinois, and hopes to apply his love of wildlife and conservation to his farming heritage. His interest in science policy stemmed from a realization of the federal government's large role in agriculture and conservation.

"So much of what farmers can and can't do is controlled by federal policy. It is important to understand those policies to have productive farms that provide multiple benefits to society such as food, fiber and energy as well as clean air, water and wildlife," said Atwell.

Atwell explained that he really enjoys teaching and making both science and nature accessible for everyone, and one of his goals involves integrating that interest with his background in agriculture.

"I have noticed there is a large gap in the communication between science and public decisions," he said. "It is important to able to communicate science effectively; therefore ecologists need to be able to work with the public."

Information on AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows is available online at