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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Dedication of Gemini South Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory
La Serena, Chile

January 18, 2002

Good afternoon to everyone. I would like to extend a special greeting to President Lagos. We are very honored that you have joined us at this dedication. Your presence testifies eloquently to Chile's pursuit of excellence in astronomy. I would also like to acknowledge the presence of past President Alewynn. It is an honor to be here with you.

We are also pleased to be welcomed by the governor...and by Madam Mayor. Mr. Ambassador, it is a pleasure to have you with us today as well, and all our other distinguished guests.

Today's inauguration has special significance for astronomy in our host country, Chile. The excellent natural observing conditions here have attracted astronomers from all over the world, but the Gemini Telescopes Project is the first that Chile has joined as a partner.

As we have heard from President Lagos, Chile's tradition in astronomy dates back a century and a half. As he stated, we can also trace U.S.-Chilean cooperation back that far, to the U.S. expedition to Santiago, which sought to determine the distance to the sun.

Looking toward the future, we commend Chile for having chosen to develop its expertise in astronomy, and the U.S. National Science Foundation is honored to be part of that endeavor.

Today, a dream is made tangible as Gemini South, long an idea, stands as a solid edifice.

Our astronomical partnership between north and south has already begun to spawn discoveries. Gemini North has just made headlines, with the news that it is on the verge of being able to directly image planets orbiting other suns.

Now with the southern twin come to life, the Gemini Observatory truly becomes more than the sum of its parts.

But this observatory also inspires us as a symbol. First of all, it is a monument to a universal and age-old human aspiration--our desire to explore. As Plato tells us, "Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another."

We dare to hope--in an age of scientific splendor that is as much an age of uncertainty and upheaval--that astronomy and all of science and engineering will lead us to new worlds and beyond.

We also hope that the international cooperation culminating in this gleaming dome will catalyze the partnerships among our nations, especially in coming generations.

Now, more than ever, we need these efforts that transcend national borders and cultural divides.

Science and engineering have always flourished across national borders, but today's global scale of research is unprecedented. New ideas and new discoveries emerge regularly around the world.

In the United States, we are eager to engage our younger generation of scientists and engineers in forming closer bonds throughout the world via research and education. Indeed, international partnerships may be the only way to fund cutting-edge facilities too costly for any single nation.

Many disciplines require access to sites in other nations--astronomy is a case in point. A number of other scientific questions are themselves global in scope.

On a personal note, let me share a few observations. In my speeches in the U.S. and abroad, I refer to the National Science Foundation as an extraordinary agency with extraordinary people on staff. Mr. Mitchell Daniels, the chief budget officer for the President of the United States and Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, in a speech three weeks ago at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., spoke of NSF as the best managed agency in the U.S. Government.

I would like to say here that we have extraordinary international agency partners with extraordinary international staff. AND clearly one of the best managed international scientific facilities in the world!

On this mountaintop, I repeat the words of philosopher Bertrand Russell with a special emotion.

He wrote that "The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper." Some of these magical unknowns await discovery through the sharper vision enabled by the mirrors, lenses, detectors, and information technology of the Gemini telescopes.

Still other discoveries await our nurturing of a world community that shares a commitment to the open pursuit of knowledge.

I will close on a celebratory note with a brief story about another beginning--the discovery of a beverage associated with celebration and inauguration.

Folklore is that champagne was discovered by accident when the monk, Dom Perignon, tasted a bottle of wine that had refermented. The monk is said to have shouted to his fellow monks, "Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"

Our seven nations join here today to taste the stars and to explore the universe. And this is only the beginning!

Thank you.



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