By Michael Banks
It is not unusual for physicists to find themselves leading a country. Angela Merkel, who studied physics at the University of Leipzig from 1973 to 1978, has been Germany’s chancellor since 2005, while in 2010 Japan elected former physicist Naoto Kan as its prime minister – a position he held for just over a year.
Yet while the nuclear physicist and current US energy secretary Ernest Moniz may be 14th in the US presidential line of succession, if something really terrible had happened yesterday, he may have found himself leading the world’s biggest economy.
That is because he was appointed “designated survivor” while US president Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address.
The speech, which is attended by the country’s top leaders, including the vice president, members of the US cabinet and Supreme Court justices, is where US presidents outline their legislative agenda for the coming year.
A designated survivor is a member of the cabinet who stays at a distant, secure and undisclosed location during the address. This is intended to maintain continuity of government in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack that ends up killing officials in the presidential line of succession. The idea for the post originated during the Cold War amid fears of a nuclear attack wiping out the country’s political and military leadership.
Of course, nothing untoward happened yesterday, so Moniz did not find himself as leader of the free world this morning.
Indeed, it seems as if politicians feel that physicists would have the necessary skills to lead a stunned nation if the unthinkable did happen: during last year’s State of the Union address, the physicist and former US energy secretary Steven Chu was appointed the designated survivor.
If you would like to speculate as to the whereabouts of the undisclosed location where Moniz spent the evening under the protection of the secret service, then please use the comments section below.