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Remarks at the Dedication of the Laboratory for Ocean Sensors and Observing Systems (LOSOS)
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, Mass.
September 20, 2012
Dr. Willie E. May, NIST Associate Director for Laboratory Programs


Good Morning. It's a great pleasure for me to be here on behalf of the Department of Commerce and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to help dedicate this fine new research facility. We are very proud to have played a part in making it possible.

This is my first visit to Woods Hole, although I have been familiar with your work for more than 35 years. My boss, DoC Under Secretary for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher, was here on a nice summer day to attend the groundbreaking ceremony—and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I got to come here only because he had a prior commitment to give the keynote address at an international standards meeting this week.

This new Laboratory for Ocean Sensors and Observing Systems is something that really resonates with us at NIST. If you're a seasoned observer of the federal enterprise, you might find that odd. You might see how an ocean observation lab is in tune with the folks at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. You could see how work at this new LOSOS facility will support NOAA's work in ocean observing, climate studies, weather observing, and earthquake and tsunami research.

But work regarding "the oceans and marine science" is not as strange as you might think. The NIST mission is:

  • to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing, measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life

On a personal note, one of my first assignments at NIST was to work with a team of NOAA scientists and others—like John Farrington of your institution—to conduct a petroleum hydrocarbon baseline assessment in Prince William Sound prior to the completion of the trans-Alaska Pipeline. Later we got involved in damage assessment studies from the Exxon Valdez spill. And during the last decade, as part of my responsibilities as Director of our Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, I've overseen NIST's work at the Hollings Marine Laboratory in South Carolina. The Hollings Laboratory is a rather unique partnership involving NIST, NOAA's National Ocean Service, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the College of Charleston, and the Medical University of South Carolina. HML is a world-class research facility, with a mission to provide science and biotechnology applications to sustain, protect, and restore coastal ecosystems.

The NIST staff there have done a fair amount of work in looking at trace contaminates in marine mammals as sort of "mobile sensors" of the health of coastal waters. Recently, NIST staff from the main NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md., and those in Charleston contributed to the Deepwater Horizon damage assessment activities by providing oil flow estimates, specimen banking, and measurement QA support to NOAA and their contractors.

When he was here a little more than two years ago, my boss mentioned that he felt that "the ocean is a new frontier for measurement science."

We at NIST understand that as well—or better—than anyone. "Measurements, Standards, and Technology" is who and what we are. We recognize that science progresses more or less in lock step with our ability to measure the world around us.

The work to be done in your new laboratory—as just thoroughly described by Dr. Madin—truly exemplifies this notion. Your work using sensors to measure ocean conditions and processes will certainly be key to our understanding of climate and its temporal and geographic variability.

But, today, in addition to celebrating the dedication of your new world- class measurement science facility, we are recognizing the public good that can result from key investments in science and technology and applauding the multigovernment agency collaboration (NIST, NSF, and NOAA) that has led to its fruition.

The NIST Research Construction Grants Program has helped to fund new construction or expansions at 24 research facilities across the United States. These were mostly at universities, but also included a couple of top-tier research institutions like Woods Hole. The research supported spans a broad range of disciplines—from marine ecology to quantum physics to earthquake simulation to measurements at the nanoscale.

The overarching goal of all these activities has been "to provide the facilities needed to help the U.S. produce world-leading research in science and technology, which will in turn, advance economic growth and our nation's international competitiveness, and provide public good.

As you might imagine, NIST Construction Grants Program has been rather popular. In the competition that Woods Hole entered, we received 167 proposals requesting a total of more than $1.8 billion worth of funding. Only 12 projects were funded, including this one, giving you an idea of how highly we thought of this project.

In closing, I'm pleased to be here today and see the completion of this facility whose construction began a little more than two years ago. I am also thrilled to share in the excitement and expectation of the great advances, the scientific achievement, and the public good we know will result from this investment.

Thank you for your attention.