Experience Article in EdgeDiscovery Magazine

A lifelong New Jersey resident, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker has always had a love of learning and a curiosity for science and technology; however, he is not your typical scientist. In recent years, Assemblyman Zwicker has expanded his career in new directions, allowing him to wear two very different hats: one as a physicist and science educator and another as an assemblyman in the statehouse. In addition to his work at the Plasma Physics Lab at Princeton University, Assemblyman Zwicker represents the 16th Legislative District in the New Jersey General Assembly — becoming the first physicist elected to the New Jersey Legislature. In addition to being his passion and profession, Assemblyman Zwicker says science and technology are also key to our economic and academic future.

Roots in Science

Assemblyman Zwicker was raised in Englewood, NJ where he graduated from Dwight Morrow High School. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Bard College and a master’s and Ph.D. in physics from Johns Hopkins University. Assemblyman Zwicker began his career at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory 22 years ago and never left. “I’m now the head of Communications and Public Outreach at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory,” shares Assemblyman Zwicker. “I’ve had the opportunity to speak across the country and all over the world about science education and fusion energy. I hope to inspire new generations of scientists and researchers, no matter their background, to pursue careers in physics and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.”

Assemblyman Zwicker’s career transition from research to education was inspired by a high school student in Trenton, NJ. “While I set out to help this student change her life through education, she ended up changing mine. She received a full scholarship to a university, and I learned how rewarding mentoring young scientists can be. I found this experience so enriching; I knew that education is the direction I wanted my professional career to go.”

“As a state, we are looking for ways to ensure our educational system is among the best in the world and we continue to look for opportunities when creating public policy to push New Jersey’s innovation economy forward.”

Andrew Zwicker
16th Legislative District Representative
New Jersey General Assembly and Head of Communications and Public Outreach Princeton University’ Plasma Physics Laboratory

A New Endeavor

Assemblyman Zwicker has not only been named one of the 75 leading contributors to physics education in the U.S., but is referred to as one of the most promising political faces to appear in the region. He was elected to the New Jersey Assembly in 2015, becoming the first Democrat ever to win in the 16th District. “No one expected me to win,” says Assemblyman Zwicker. “My background as a scientist and as a teacher is not the typical career experience for someone who decides to enter into public office. Fortunately, there were people willing to put aside ideology and partisan politics and consider my candidacy, propelling me to victory.” The transition into public office did not come without certain challenges, as science and politics often have very different influences. “Unlike science which is based on facts, evidence does not necessarily drive public policy,” explains Assemblyman Zwicker. “You often begin with a common set of facts, but you must then work through several stakeholders who have different perspectives, then try to come up with a strong piece of legislation.” Despite these differences, Assemblyman Zwicker says his background in science has made him a better legislator and his experience as a legislator has made him a better scientist and educator. “Since we live in a technologically-advanced world, having a background in science has helped me a great deal. Plus, I think anyone who pursues an advanced degree in science must absorb large amounts of information. These skills have been very valuable in forming public policy and holding elected office.”

Driving Innovation and Growth

The Science, Innovation and Technology Committee was formed to keep New Jersey at the forefront of scientific innovation and entrepreneurship and to ensure the next generation of students and entrepreneurs are being created within the state. As Chair of the committee, Assemblyman Zwicker leads conversations on how to accomplish these goals and promote science and technology locally. “Innovation is an economic driver and New Jersey has a rich history of amazing colleges, universities, and K-12 schools that support invention and science exploration.”

A key focus of the committee is finding ways to craft public policies that will help small, innovative companies continue to grow, create jobs, and drive the economy. “New Jersey needs initiatives that support world-class science and technology industries and also protect online privacy and data,” says Assemblyman Zwicker. “Members of the committee look for ways to improve our society as technology evolves and ensure New Jersey is on the cutting edge of emerging trends; creating valuable opportunities for future generations.”

Assemblyman Zwicker has been a participant and presenter at EdgeCon and says the event provides networking opportunities that are essential to building the community and promoting digital transformation. “EdgeCon brings together all those who are working to do the necessary steps to ensure our research universities, community colleges, vocational schools, and K-12 institutions are interconnected. An innovative economy must have supportive infrastructure to ensure an idea coming from a laboratory has a chance to develop. Without the ability to transmit large amounts of information reliably and quickly, you will not be able to be innovative as an educational community or state. EdgeCon inspires collaboration and allows institutions to share best practices, exchange information, and promote innovation and growth.”

A Bright Future

With the rise of competition from other regions, organizations across New Jersey are dedicated to reestablishing the state’s prominence as a hub of technology and advanced research. “We see science and technology as two of the fastest growing fields both locally and globally,” shares Assemblyman Zwicker. “As a state, we are looking for ways to ensure our educational system is among the best in the world and we continue to look for opportunities when creating public policy to push New Jersey’s innovation economy forward.”

Assemblyman Zwicker says New Jersey is full of exceptional talent and he is highly optimistic about the road ahead. “I’ve been fortunate to work for one of the greatest universities in the world for a long time. Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit just about every research university in the state, along with many of our higher education institutions. I am completely blown away by the creativity and aptitude of the students, staff, and faculty. What I see coming out of these laboratories and institutions is utterly remarkable and this insight gives me an enormous sense of optimism. We have some of the country’s most highly educated and innovative people right here in our state.”

The next few years in New Jersey are critical to delivering on the promises of advancing innovation and further developing the necessary skillsets of students entering the workforce. “As a state, we must build a 21st century infrastructure that’s ready for a 21st century economy,” says Assemblyman Zwicker. “We have all of the pieces we need to succeed. As we continue to put the public policies and infrastructure in place, nothing can stop our state from becoming a prestigious national leader in science and technology.”