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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Dedication of the Green Bank Telescope
Green Bank, West Virginia

August 25, 2000

Thank you for the introduction. It's truly an honor to be here in West Virginia to help dedicate the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.

At the National Science Foundation, it's especially meaningful that this dedication comes while we are celebrating the Foundation's fifty-year anniversary, marking half-a-century of discovery in science and engineering.

It's a great occasion to launch this telescope on its own journey to discoveries we cannot now imagine.

NSF as an agency, has grown in parallel with radio astronomy. Largely with NSF support, the United States has built the world's premiere radio astronomy facilities and led the world in this scientific field.

Now this new, monumental instrument will contribute a singular capability to our suite of unique national facilities for astronomy.

They include, among others, the Very Large Array, the Very Long Baseline Array, the Arecibo Observatory, and the new Gemini Telescopes.

I've just come here, in fact, from a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Very Large Array in New Mexico.

This was my first visit to the array-and for those of you who haven't been there, it is exceedingly impressive.

NSF is also pleased to be playing a leadership role in developing the international partnership for ALMA-the Atacama Large Millimeter Array.

Maintaining the cutting-edge of U.S. astronomy means fostering synergy between instruments in space and on the ground, and combining the capabilities of different wavelengths.

Before us stands a new technical marvel: the largest steerable radio telescope in the world.

Its laser system will enable constant adjustments of the reflecting panels to correct for the effects of gravity. No other radio dish has an active surface of this kind.

As we stand poised to inaugurate this new telescope, I would like to paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton.

You'll recall Newton's remark about seeing farther by standing on the shoulders of giants. This instrument will also see farther because it rests upon the foundations of what came before.

The Green Bank Observatory has a long heritage of scientific revelations. The discovery made here of the pulsar in the Crab Nebula illumined the nature of pulsars.

Important observations of the ionized hydrogen spectra that signify star formation were made here.

It was also first shown convincingly here that radio waves were bent by gravity-helping to verify Einstein's prediction.

Our observatory site here at Green Bank is a precious resource in itself for astronomers all over the world. This National Radio Quiet Zone enjoys unique protection from radio interference.

Beyond technical prowess, there is something spiritual and special about being in the shadow of a telescope. It stirs the imaginations of scientists, teachers, and children alike.

It's been said that no instrument has helped us to explore our place in the universe like the telescope.

The Robert C. Byrd Telescope will be the workhorse of the Green Bank Observatory for decades to come.

We expect it to probe such mysteries as the birth of galaxies in the early universe, the birth of stars, and the chemical composition of interstellar dust and gas.

These are the very elements created in the universe that eventually become the stuff of biological systems.

Today we are watching astronomy converging with biology. We are watching the disciplines intersect, forging new frontiers at every scale, from microorganisms to stars.

Indeed, from the microscope to the telescope, our tools are actually accelerating the merger of the scientific disciplines.

There is also something special about the namesake of this telescope, Senator Robert C. Byrd.

Senator Byrd's knowledge of the classics is legendary, but I wonder if he is familiar with a line Shakespeare wrote that seems appropriate today. It is this: "Few men rightly temper with the stars." Senator Byrd is certainly one of those few who rightly has.

He is well-known for his enthusiasm for science and education as well as his enduring support for radio astronomy.

We are all deeply grateful for Senator Byrd's action in securing an emergency appropriation for the GBT.

We're also grateful for his steadfast support through the years of construction of the monumental instrument that now bears his name. The tremendous acclaim held by the people of West Virginia for Senator Byrd is shown by the fact that he has served longer in the United States Senate than anyone else in the history of the state.

He has distinguished himself in the Senate in many leadership positions, most notably as majority leader and as chair of the Appropriations Committee.

Senator Byrd has helped to define the U.S. Senate as an institution over his career. No one has combined his encyclopedic knowledge of the Senate's history with sustained support for research.

His backing for education here at the Green Bank Observatory will help to stir the imagination of every child in West Virginia, by having each one participate in an educational program here before graduation.

It's a wonderful way to ensure that young minds from across the state are opened to the dreams and discoveries of astronomy. It's a way to open them up to all of science.

On a more personal note, I know that members of Senator Byrd's family are very proud to be here today to celebrate this dedication.

It turns out that scientific connections run deep in the Byrd family.

The senator has told me that one of his sons-in-law, and not one but two grandsons, are physicists! From personal experience, I can testify that having physicists in the family keeps life interesting-I'm married to one myself.

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker. It's no exaggeration to say that without Senator Byrd, this telescope would not be here today.

It's both a great honor and an immense pleasure to introduce Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. Please join me in welcoming him.



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