November 2016 Letter from the Director

ISS Flag

November is the month of Thanksgiving, so this newsletter will be a reflection on the many blessings we enjoy at Carnegie. Perhaps most important is the camaraderie shared on the BBR campus that was most recently illustrated by the annual Thanksgiving potluck lunch. A very large fraction of the campus provided a myriad of delectable dishes to accompany the turkeys prepared by DTM’s Peter van Keken and GL’s Michelle Scholtes, who started on their preparations at 6 am. It’s amazing how much can be accomplished by a staff that actually likes to work together, from a Thanksgiving feast to a scientific contribution much larger than could reasonably be expected from a staff the size of a Carnegie department.

Both DTM and GL came together to celebrate thanksgiving this year at our annual potluck. Photo by Michelle Scholtes, GL.

Carnegie staff are united by a common interest in science. I will speculate that only a small portion of scientists choose that career path through careful consideration of matching their skill sets to a profession that can provide a steady income. A more likely reason for choosing science as a career is the desire to provide solutions to the problems facing humanity, as is well illustrated by the type of work done by Carnegie’s Plant Biology, Embryology and Global Ecology departments along with the portion of the Geophysical Laboratory devoted to creating new materials. Another reason, however, is simply the child-like impression that “Science is SO COOL!” This path is well illustrated in the postdoc spotlight of Serge Dieterich who, at the age of 11, was so intrigued by watching the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope that he chose to pursue a career in astronomy. Much of the work at DTM and Carnegie’s Observatories is devoted to this type of curiosity-based science, whose direct contribution to the advancement of humanity may be less obvious than applied science pursuits, but nonetheless easily documented through the countless technological advances it has produced. Then again, there is a beauty to scientific discovery, be it finding a planet around the nearest star, compositional maps of Mercury’s surface, imaging Earth’s interior, or finding the oldest rock on Earth, all of which have been done by DTM scientists, that arguably compares with the impact of a first viewing of a da Vinci painting or experiencing a live performance of Carmina Burana.



Andrew Carnegie recognized the connected nature of science and art in their contribution to the human condition through his many philanthropic contributions.  We remain thankful that the initial investment by Carnegie has sponsored a century of scientific advancement and continues to provide the support that lets the creativity of Carnegie scientists prosper. We also are thankful that this type of generosity did not stop with Carnegie’s contribution.  A good example is provided by the banner image on this newsletter.  David Thompson, President and CEO of Orbital ATK Inc., has made several contributions in support of the astrometric exo-planet detection program run by Alan Boss and Alycia Weinberger.  As a very small token of our appreciation, I sent him a replica of the Carnegie expedition flag, originally registered with the U.S. Bureau of Navigation in 1909, that flew on our research vessel Carnegie as well as many subsequent land expeditions.  Mr. Thompson, who obviously shares our enthusiasm for science, had the flag included on the recent Orbital ATK launch on October 19, 2016, that resupplied the International Space Station.  Our flag, which circumnavigated Antarctica in a single season in 1915-1916, is now circling the Earth every 90 minutes!
At this Thanksgiving, we thus have much to be thankful for:  for the enthusiasm of our staff, the support of the Carnegie Institution and the numerous donors who share with us the excitement of discovery, for the wonders of nature that remain to be discovered, and for the opportunity to live in a time when such pursuits are possible.  When polarization and concern for the future currently shadow much conversation, we hope that you all are able to reflect on the fact that some aspects of America already are great, and that through our efforts and the support of an institution with the vision of Carnegie, even better times can lie ahead of us.
Richard Carlson, Director, DTM
Carnegie Institution for Science
November 2016 Newsletter

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Banner image caption: The Carnegie expedition flag flying in the International Space Station in November of 2016. Photo courtesy of NASA ISS.