Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
NSF50 Kick-Off Event: Special Director's Award Ceremony
October 20, 1999
Good morning and welcome, everyone, for the opening
kick-off of our NSF 50 celebration. I feel very fortunate
to be serving as NSF director as we recognize this
I've been told that Dr. Alan Waterman, the first NSF
director, used to show up at all the important NSF
events with his bagpipes. So I'm conscious that I
have a few eccentricities to match.
We're enjoying this opportunity to reflect upon our
past. We're also inaugurating a yearlong celebration
that will launch NSF into a new millennium of discoveries
in science and engineering.
I would like to extend an extra special greeting, the
warmest of welcomes to our guest of honor today--who
I'm happy also to call my friend--Dr. Samuel Massie.
We're fortunate to have you here to honor and to learn
I also want to convey special thanks to former NSF
director, Dr. Guyford Stever, and to everyone present
from the NSF50 Public Advisory Committee for your
outstanding service and dedication.
All of us who work in this building look to you and
Dr. Massie as the personification of NSF and its mission.
This institution is about all of you here today--creative,
dynamic, dedicated, and...even inspired!
It would take more than a brief ceremony to convey
the difference that NSF's work--your work--has made
in people's lives. When President Truman proposed
a "national science foundation" in 1948, he delivered
what he called a prophecy.
He said, "...science will change our lives in the century
ahead even more than it has changed them in the hundred
years just past." How very prescient this observation
For, just over a half-century later, the prophecy has
become a reality. From lasers to MRIs, and from Antarctica
to the depths of the sea, and from the brightest,
youngest students to Nobel laureates--NSF's reach
is obvious to us.
Yet, it always takes on fullest meaning in our wise
investment in people. Let me just cite one example:
the eminent entomologist Edward O. Wilson. Almost
50 years ago--to be precise, in 1952--NSF awarded
its first pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships.
As Edward O. Wilson recalls, "The announcements of
the first...fellowships fell like a shower of gold
on several of my fellow students in Harvard University's
Department of Biology on a Friday morning in the spring
He continued, "I was a bit let down because I wasn't
among them, but then lifted up again when I received
the same good news the following Monday (my letter
Ed, his cohorts, and following-year classes comprise
the extensive and significant alumni of NSF.
We have some good news of our own to anticipate for
NSF 50. Next May, we'll have a giant birthday cake
celebration in the atrium of our building hosted by
the Ballston Partnership.
That will be on May 10--fifty years to the day after
the creation of NSF. In June, there will be an NSF
50 picnic organized by NSFEA, NSF FCU, and AFGE Local
We're also planning a number of exciting outside projects
and events to include the broader realm of those who
have been touched by NSF's mission--everyone who has
a stake in the nation's scientific future.
We have much to look forward to, thanks in large part
to your work and to Guy Stever's leadership. Let me
now turn the podium over to Guy, who has so ably headed
preparations for our anniversary. Dr. Stever...
Now we'll turn to a brief preview of what we're calling
NSF 50 "video vignettes." These are reminiscences
and perspectives of staff, past and present.
Think of these as our own NSF "home movies."
A common theme in the interviews comprising these vignettes
is the informal and intimate atmosphere here--in contrast
to how most would view a government agency.
There's also a shared feeling for a common mission--all
working to further fundamental research, without knowing
where it will lead, but knowing the eventual result
will be worthwhile.
We're commemorating NSF50 with a special poster too,
which we'll now unveil. The poster illustrates the
theme of our 50th anniversary: "Where Discoveries
The images range from butterfly wings to radio telescopes,
from nanogears to computer visualization, from a Hawaiian
volcano to our investment in leading-edge education--the
range and rewards of supporting fundamental research
Now we turn to the highlight of our program today.
It's my great pleasure to introduce our guest of honor--Dr.
The Washington Post singled out Dr. Massie's
"breezy modesty that has marked a lifetime of achievements,
one that gave him key vantage points to both the development
of the atomic bomb and the civil rights turmoil of
His scientific accomplishments are one touchstone.
He has carried out research to synthesize drugs against
cancer, malaria, tuberculosis, sickle-cell anemia,
hypertension, gonorrhea, and herpes.
But Dr. Massie's life work has extended well beyond
the laboratory to open up science to broader participation.
Dr. Massie's life and work have paved the way for
African-American and other minorities in education
and in science and engineering.
Dr. Massie's students give some of the best testimony
about his teaching...
As he himself said, "My desire is to be known as a
teacher who cared about his students, and one who
made a difference in their lives."
If you have the good fortune to spend even a short
time with Dr. Massie, you'll find that he has a way
of conveying wisdom that's impossible to forget. As
a sailor myself, I find one of his quotes particularly
apt: "No wind is favorable to a sailor who doesn't
know to which port he's sailing."
It's clear that Dr. Massie has used a fine sense of
navigation to find the most favorable breezes--whether
to reach the highest of personal, professional, or
Now I'm very pleased to present Dr. Massie with the
National Science Foundation's Distinguished Public