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