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
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
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
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
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
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
Indeed, from the microscope to the telescope, our tools
are actually accelerating the merger of the scientific
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
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
On a more personal note, I know that members of Senator
Byrd's family are very proud to be here today to celebrate
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.