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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Very Large Array 20th Anniversary
Socorro, New Mexico

August 23, 2000

Greetings to everyone. It is truly an honor to participate in the 20th birthday celebration of the Very Large Array.

I'm sorry the celebration has been delayed but I'm very glad we're all able to be here together today with senator Domenici. It's an honor, senator!

I'm delighted that later today I'm going to be seeing this wonderful instrument for the first time.

I understand that standing in the shadow of those massive antennas truly evokes a sense of awe.

That's even before we are reminded that observations made with the VLA have revolutionized our view of the universe.

It is without question the world's most powerful and productive radio telescope.

It's a pleasure to make this pilgrimage to where it has all happened. I'm definitely disappointed to see that Jodie Foster doesn't work here after all.

At least I won't have to apologize for how the evil NSF director revoked her grant in the film "Contact."

Well, that's Hollywood for you-they haven't got a clue that we leave those jobs to NSF program officers!

The research achievements here are extraordinary! The VLA has become a monument, or symbol, in many ways for the State of New Mexico.

The power of this symbol reaches well beyond the borders of the state. The VLA itself embodies the National Science Foundation's commitment to national facilities.

For example, in 1999, 662 scientists from 179 institutions used the instrument.

That includes-I'm particularly delighted to learn-96 students. These numbers are the latest evidence of an enduring partnership between NSF, the scientific community, and the state of New Mexico.

At NSF we're commemorating our own anniversary this year: fifty years of discovery.

Looking back, one of our very first grants went to astronomy-$8000 for two years.

(As an aside, I note that it took a panel of seven astronomers to award that one grant. I would like to assure Senator Domenici that NSF has increased greatly in efficiency since then!)

In fact, the growth of NSF as an agency has paralleled the growth of radio astronomy.

Mostly with NSF support, the United States has built the world's premiere radio astronomy facilities-with the VLA as one of the singular jewels in the crown.

Just three months, ago we announced a grant to New Mexico Tech for a high-performance network connection.

This grant will help scientists at remote locations view VLA data in real time.

The connection will also improve access to archived data from the VLA and the Very Long Baseline Array.

I'll just note that the recent announcement of hot "bubbles" in the heart of the Milky Way galaxy drew upon 20 years of archived VLA data. That's a priceless resource.

As we celebrate achievements, I am very proud that NSF and our radio astronomy activities have not only nurtured facilities.

In fact, the facilities themselves-the VLA prominent among them--have nurtured generations of radio astronomers.

Our investments in people reap the most valuable dividends. Many of you here today are evidence of that. You are all part of the VLA's heritage of discovery.

As we shift our sights to the new millennium, new generations of discovery await us.

NSF is pleased to play a leadership role in developing the international partnership for ALMA-the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. It will take us back to the very creation of planets, stars and galaxies.

As we look forward to the new era in astronomy, we know we need to preserve the richness of diversity that marks U.S. astronomy.

We also understand that we need to foster synergy among public and private, space and ground-based, and instruments of different wavelengths.

On this note, let me complement the entire astronomical community for producing the latest decadal review.

This report is important not only for astronomy but sets a precedent and a model in priority setting for other disciplines to emulate.

We welcome the advice in the report. It provides valuable guidance as we face tough budget choices in the years ahead.

Since I've said the "B-word," it's my distinct pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker.

Few members of Congress can address the importance of investing in science better than Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico.

This state is a hotbed of scientific research, with the national laboratories and, of course, the VLA.

The linkage of science and technology to New Mexico's economy has positioned Pete Domenici as a leading advocate for federal support of science, technology, and education.

I know Senator Domenici has a photo of the VLA in his office. It shows a rancher riding his horse past one of the antennas.

The senator was also key to getting the state to commit to half the cost of the Array Operations Center-the very building we're in now. He is an integral part of the history of the VLA.

Most of you know that Senator Domenici chairs the Senate Budget Committee. That's not a job for the faint of heart.

You've got to be tough, and you've got to get used to saying "no"-a lot!

By tradition, the Budget Committee chair would be the last person to take a public stand for more spending.

That's why people took notice when the senator advocated a doubling of the federal investment in research and technology across the board-including for NSF.

We can congratulate Pete Domenici for his belief that the United States must invest more in learning and discovery to remain a world leader in this new era.

The senator is also a member of the appropriations committee, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Water.

That includes other vital parts of our R&D portfolio.

I could mention a long litany of other achievements, but we are eager to hear our Speaker-a man who is charged with helping us live within our means, yet who understands how vital science and technology are to keeping our economy strong.

It is a great honor for me to introduce Senator Pete Domenici.



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