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Dedication of the Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystem Science (CoE CRES) Research Facility

As Delivered Remarks

Thank you very much. It's my great pleasure to be here today to join this celebration, and my job is a brief and happy one. It is to extend the congratulations on the behalf of the Administration, in particular of Acting Secretary Becky Blank and the entire Department of Commerce, for the success in building this spectacular facility.

What I thought I would do is give you just two quick comments on why a physicist from the National Institute of Standards and Technology had the privilege of standing on this stage today and sharing in this event. And there are two reasons: One is a lesson for the students; it was a failed bit of professional planning on my part.

I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and had aspirations to become an oceanographer. Don't ask me why—I lived hundreds of miles away from the nearest coastline, in landlocked Albuquerque, New Mexico. But I devoured every book about Jacques Cousteau that I could find. I learned to scuba dive in muddy lakes and quarries. And nevertheless, it's a testament that I did not make that journey; I became a physicist. But it's ironic that because of that strange detour, I am able to stand on this stage today and have played such an interesting role in creating what's going to be one of the nation's crown jewels in oceanography research. 

And the way that came about is that a grant program was begun just one year before the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act came into being. It was a very small grants program that was given to NIST to issue construction grants to universities in the United States to build research infrastructure in areas that overlapped the Department of Commerce mission. So that could include work that NIST does, which would include measurement science in quantum physics and nanotechnology, but it also includes the work of our sister agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And that little bitty program happened to be, in this case, at the right place at the right time, and when the Recovery Act Bill was passed, this was a project-ready tool. And so new funding was put in that center, and of course, the grant that came out to fund this building came out of that call. 

What you need to understand is that this kind of a project of a grant program is actually very unusual. There are very few grant programs, if any, that provide construction grants for research infrastructure like this. And as a result, the competition was fierce. 

Over 160 proposals for this one call were received and only 12 were awarded. So you can rest assured that this was the best of the best. And it's a testament to the vision of your scientific leadership in terms of what can be done. It is a testament to the leadership and to the trustees of this university to make it happen and make that commitment. And it's a testament to the entire community here in South Florida to follow through and make this promise a reality that we're here to celebrate today. 

The final thought I'll leave you with is that for a measurement science guy like me, there is an old saying in business that "you manage what you measure."  We kind of like that saying at NIST. 

And if you look at the challenges facing our society today—if you look at the challenges facing all of humanity today—then it's very well true that the greatest measurement challenges overlap the greatest societal challenges. And I cannot think of a greater measurement frontier, a greater measurement challenge, than our oceans. And I believe that this beautiful facility—what may be the most beautiful of the construction programs that I've been able to see—is going to really be a showcase.

And the real payoff—in addition to all the jobs that were created in terms of all the new faculty positions—the real payoff is going to be the one that comes in the decades and years to come, as the fruits of this tremendous research play a role all around the world. Congratulations.

Created October 12, 2012, Updated October 8, 2016