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Remarks at the Dedication of the Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) Laboratory
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
San Diego, Calif.
June 14, 2013
Dr. Willie E. May, NIST Associate Director for Laboratory Programs


Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you, Chancellor (Pradeep) Khosla, for your very kind remarks. 

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. And we are, indeed, very proud to have played a part in making it possible.

Actually, this is my first time visiting your very beautiful campus, and I'm very impressed.

This new laboratory on marine ecosystem sensing, observation, and modeling is something that really resonates with us at NIST. Now, some of you might find that a bit odd.

You might see how a Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Lab will support the work of our colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration across the way. But we at NIST are very excited about the MESOM laboratory as well. Work regarding "the oceans and marine science" is not as strange to us as you might think.

NIST's 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. So, any lab or activity with "sensing" and "observation" in its title is going to resonate with us at NIST.

On a personal note, one of my first assignments at NIST was to work with a team of NOAA and University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists to conduct a petroleum hydrocarbon baseline assessment in the pristine Prince William Sound area—the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline—prior to its completion. Later, we got involved in damage assessment studies from the EXXON Valdez spill, where some of our original data were used to characterize the change.

And during the last decade, as part of my then responsibilities as director of our Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, I oversaw NIST's work at the Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston South Carolina.

The Hollings laboratory is a 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 a sort of "mobile sensor" of the health of coastal waters.

We at NIST understand, better than most, that science progresses, more or less, in lockstep with our ability to measure the world around us, and that the oceans are one of the new frontiers for measurement science—a huge, and hugely challenging environment that we need to measure and understand far better than we do at the moment.

Currently, to take one example, we're working with NOAA and the academic community on more accurate measures of the ocean's colors, using satellites and a NOAA instrument called the Marine Optical Buoy [MOBY].

Color can tell you a lot about the state of the ocean—phytoplankton concentration and dissolved organic matter, for example—but only if you can detect color changes accurately, which is not so very easy in the case of an orbiting sensor peering down at a changing ocean through layers of atmosphere and clouds. This is the kind of challenge that really fires up our optical physics people.

So, we're not only enthusiastic about the opening of this award-winning building, we're looking forward to the data it's going to produce.

We are also celebrating the public good that can be done with investments in science and technology.

During its short life span, the NIST Research Construction Grants program helped to fund either new construction or expansions at 24 research facilities across the country. There were large awards and smaller awards, and the research fields we touched ran a gamut from marine ecology to quantum physics to earthquake simulation to nanoscale measurement.

What they all have in common is the creation of modern, state-of-the-art lab space. The overarching goal was to help the U.S. produce world-leading research in science and technology to advance economic growth, our nation's international competitiveness, and advance the public good.

The $12 million award to the University of California, San Diego, and Scripps for the MESOM laboratory was one of the first we made. It was the result of an open competition that had 93 applicants. Of those, we were only able to fund three projects, including this one. That gives you some idea of how highly we thought of this project.

In closing, I'm thrilled to be here this afternoon to share in the excitement and expectations of the great advances, scientific achievement, and the public good that we know will result from this investment.

Thank you for your attention.