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1956 Primary structure of transfer DNA Image of rocket 1957 International Geophysical Year (IGY) begins NSB Chair Barnard - NSF Director Waterman
The National Science Board - A History in Highlights, 1950-2000
Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline

The Dawn of Large-Scale Science

The Board advanced the Foundation's core mission of making grants to individual investigators and helped to assure a balanced allocation among disciplines, geographic areas, and types of institutions. Soon the Board also helped to usher in large-scale science projects too complex for any single investigator or institution.

In 1953, the Foundation was asked to administer the U.S. program for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The IGY was an unprecedented joint effort by academies of science in sixty-seven nations to make synoptic observations of the planet during an upcoming period of maximal solar activity. The U.S. decided to take a leadership role in the global effort. Geologist Laurence McKinley Gould, who had just joined the Board, enhanced NSF's stature at this juncture. Gould had been an outstanding second in command and explorer on Admiral Richard E. Byrd's 1928-1930 trip to Antarctica, for which Gould received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Now president of Carleton College, Gould was the logical choice to run the U.S. program in Antarctica as part of the IGY program. NSF-administered expeditions and bases, including the first station at the South Pole, were the first extensive human presence in the region.

There is no question that Waterman's reputation and competence inspired confidence that the Foundation could take on such a large-scale project. But then, as later, the active presence of a legally responsible Board, with notable members from many regions, disciplines, and institutions, helped to make credible the Foundation's ambitions.

Around the same time, the Board made another key decision about large-scale projects-that researchers nationwide should have access to them. For example, prior to NSF's involvement, telescopes had been owned and run by private institutions for their exclusive use. Plans for the first big NSF-funded optical telescope (to be built on Arizona's Kitt Peak) went smoothly due to the relative consensus among its users on such matters as the telescope's availability.

However, another proposed large radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, proved more contentious. After organizing a series of conferences and panels on the project, NSF made a planning award to Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), a consortium of nine northeastern universities that ran the AEC's Brookhaven Laboratory on Long Island, New York. But Board members from southern states, concerned about access, objected to AUI's exclusive control of the new facility. The bitterness nearly prompted NSF to pull the job from AUI.

Responding creatively to the impasse, in May 1956, Board Chair Bronk convinced his fellow Board members to approve $2.5 million in FY1957 for a National Radio Astronomical Observatory (NRAO)-without naming the entity that would manage it. Bronk assured the Board that he would get a management structure worked out by their next meeting, which he did. The Board arranged to let AUI run the NRAO facility if AUI made its board of directors national in scope and agreed to grant access to the facility on the basis of merit and not location.

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