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Here Are All the Candidates With Science Backgrounds Who Just Got Elected

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The U.S. House of Representatives will see an influx of scientists as a result of the 2018 midterm elections.

The 2016 election, specifically Donald Trump’s utter disregard for facts, galvanized scientists nationwide. A hundred thousand scientists marched on the capitol in 2017, and advocacy groups formed to promote science and scientists in politics. Last night saw wins for many candidates running on fact-based platforms.


“We are so proud of the campaign and candidates that we were supporting yesterday,” Shaughnessy Nation, president of 314 Action, a group that helps scientists get elected to public office, told Gizmodo. “I think it highlighted the fact that science candidates can leverage their STEM backgrounds to talk about issues that were important to their communities and resonate to win their elections.”

While scientist candidates aren’t necessarily progressive—some of the people on this list are conservative Republicans—the thinking goes that someone with a scientific background will promote the reliance on facts and data over opinions, especially when it comes to science-related issues such as public health, the environment, agriculture, technology, and space exploration.


“It’s high time that scientists understood that science is political and that we must have a voice in that process,” Maryam Zinghalam, science and technology policy fellow at the National Institutes of Health and a leader of the 500 Women Scientists group, told Gizmodo. “For our part, we’re going to keep working to make sure those elected—and our community at large—understand that science alone can’t save us if it’s not in service of equity and justice.”

Some science fans will not be returning to Congress—for example, a promoter of the Europa clipper mission, John Culberson (R-Texas), lost his seat to Democrat Lizzie Fletcher. However, climate denier Lamar Smith (R-Texas) will no longer head the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology after retiring—ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) will likely take his place. It’s nice that we probably won’t see Breitbart links from the Committee’s Twitter account any longer.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the winning candidates with science backgrounds from both sides of the aisle, with the help of the database from Some are, well, career politicians with engineering degrees, but others come directly from the lab. We’ve highlighted some of the biggest wins or upsets.


Democrat Lauren Underwood unseated incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren in the race for Illinois’ 14th congressional district. She holds Master’s degrees in nursing and public health, and was appointed by Barack Obama as a senior advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services. She ran on a platform of investing in small business and the gig economy, improving infrastructure, decreasing gun violence, improving the Affordable Care Act, increasing access to public education, as well as other issues.


Democrat Joe Cunningham beat Republican Kate Arrington in an upset that flipped South Carolina’s 1st congressional district blue. Cunningham has a background as an ocean engineer and attorney, and ran on a platform to end offshore drilling in the state’s water, fight corruption, support veterans, decrease the cost of healthcare, and conserve the environment, as well as other issues.

Democrat Elaine Luria flipped Virginia’s 2nd congressional district, unseating Republican incumbent Scott Taylor. She has a background as a nuclear engineer and operated nuclear reactors, and served in the Navy, winning a district containing Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest Navy base. She ran on a platform to safeguard healthcare coverage for people with preexisting conditions, increase funding and accountability of the VA, implement gun control, and protect the environment, as well as other issues.


Democrat Chrissy Houlahan flipped Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district, beating Republican Greg McCauley after sitting Republican representative Ryan Costello retired. She holds an engineering degree from Stanford as well as a Masters in technology and policy from MIT. Prior to running, she served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, worked as a chemistry teacher, and was COO of footwear company AND1. She ran on a platform to expand access to healthcare, support public schools, “improve economic security for Pennsylvania families,” reform campaign financing, protect the environment, and support veterans.

Democrat Jacky Rosen unseated the incumbent Nevada senator, Republican Dean Heller. Rosen holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an associates degree in computing and IT, and worked as a computer programmer prior to running for office in 2017, when she was elected and represented Nevada’s 3rd congressional district. She ran on a platform of promoting renewable energy to protect Nevada’s public lands, fixing campaign financing, defending the coverage of preexisting conditions, and immigration reform, as well as other issues.


Democrat Sean Casten unseated the incumbent Republican Peter Roskam in the race for Illinois’ 6th congressional district. Casten holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and biochemistry and master’s degrees in engineering management and biochemical engineering. He worked as a clean energy consultant before founding a company that recycled wasted energy. He ran on a fact-focused platform that included decreasing human impact on the environment and mitigating the effects of climate change, as well as supporting veterans, reforming student loans, and other issues.

Votes are still being counted in the race for Washington’s 8th congressional district, currently represented by retiring Republican congressman Dave Reichert. First-time candidate and pediatrician, Democrat Kim Schrier, leads the race with 64 percent of precincts reporting. She ran on a primarily healthcare-based as well as evidence-based environmentalist platform, supporting Medicare expansion, women’s health, mandatory vaccination for public school attendance, and regulating drug companies, as well as protecting public lands and reducing carbon emissions.


Other Races

Ami Bera (D-California), a doctor who served as a clinical professor at the University of California Davis School of Medicine and chief medical officer of the County of Sacramento, retains his seat representing California’s 7th congressional district.


Jerry McNerny (D-California) holds a Ph.D in mathematics and worked as an engineer and consultant for power companies before becoming the CEO of a wind turbine manufacturing company. He retains his seat representing California’s 9th congressional district.

Tony Cardenas (D-California) holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and retains his seat representing California’s 29th congressional district.


Ted Lieu (D-California) holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and retains his seat as representative from California’s 33rd congressional district.

Raul Ruiz (D-California) holds a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health, both from Harvard. He worked as an emergency physician at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Coachella Valley, and will retain his seat representing California’s 36th congressional district.


Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and retains his seat representing Illinois’ 3rd congressional district.

Brad Schneider (D-Illinois) holds a bachelors degree in industrial engineering, and retains his seat representing Illinois’ 10th congressional district.


Bill Foster (D-Illinois) (and not that Bill Foster) holds a Ph.D in physics and worked in high energy particle physics at Illinois’ Fermilab. He retains his seat representing Illinois’ 11th congressional district. Foster is the only person with a science Ph.D. in the U.S. Congress.

Steve Watkins (R-Kansas) was an Army engineer and will represent Kansas’ 2nd congressional district.


Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) holds a degree in mechanical engineering and was executive director of a nonprofit for educating children on the environment and science. He will retain his position as senator for New Mexico.

Jeffrey Van Drew (D-New Jersey) is a dentist by occupation and defeated Republican Seth Grossman in the race for New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district after incumbent Republican Frank LoBiondo retired.


Paul Tonko (D-New York) holds a degree in mechanical engineering and worked as an engineer before entering politics. He will retain his seat representing New York’s 20th congressional district.

Chris Collins (R-New York) holds a degree in mechanical engineering and retains his seat representing New York’s 27th congressional district, despite a recent insider trading charge from the FBI.


Kevin Hern (R-Oklahoma) holds a degree in engineering and will represent Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district.

Correction: This piece previously said that Steve Watkins was a physician. This is incorrect, he was an Army engineer. The post has been corrected and the writer regrets the error.