Formal launch of UMBC's Goddard center marks high point for university

School's largest contract provides research coup

January 20, 2001|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County formally launched its partnership with the Goddard Space Flight Center yesterday, a five-year, $75 million undertaking that brought political heavyweights to the campus to mark the largest contract in the history of the school.

Announced in April, the Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center (GEST) has hired 60 research scientists and plans to grow to more than 100 by early next year, according to its director, Robert J. Curran. Almost all are housed at Goddard's headquarters in Greenbelt, but UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III said the center will have a significant impact on his campus.

"We will be bringing Nobel-prize quality scientists onto the campus for talks and symposia," he said. "There will be opportunities for internships for undergraduate students and fellowships for graduate students. And it gives us another opportunity to grow the economy of Maryland."

Curran's office is at UMBC, and he said more scientists would be on campus if space was available. "Part of what I am doing is trying make sure that there is an interface between Goddard and UMBC, so the scientists feel that they are a part of UMBC," he said.

UMBC is the lead institution in a consortium that includes Howard University in Washington, Hampton University in Virginia and two private companies, Northrup-Grumman and Caelum Research Corporation. Using data from satellites and other sources, the center is conducting a variety of surveys on the state of the Earth, examining such problems as coastline erosion, air pollution and the depletion of the ozone layer.

Though the scientists involved in GEST will teach no classes - as do those in a smaller UMBC collaboration with Goddard, the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology - Graduate Dean Scott A. Bass said their presence "will be transformational for UMBC."

"It's like popcorn," he said of getting this group of scientists focused on these issues. "You put all those kernels together and all sorts of things pop out in all different directions."

Bass said the center will try to raise the profile of the work done in earth sciences by NASA, which most still think of as solely a space exploration agency.

"Sixty percent of its budget goes to earth sciences," he said. "We are all interested in having this region - with UMBC and Goddard - recognized as the center for earth science work in this country, if not the world.

"Not today, but five or 10 years from now, UMBC will be recognized as one of the premier institutions in this field," Bass said.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said such work by NASA agencies such as Goddard grew out of an idea first proposed by astronaut Sally Ride - to study the planet Earth the way we study other planets.

Mikulski said it brings together two institutions that were once overshadowed - Goddard by NASA facilities in Florida and Texas, and UMBC by the University of Maryland, College Park.

"It used to be the Santa Maria and then the Nina and the Pinta," she said of the relationship between the flagship campus of UMCP and the much younger UMBC. "Now I think we have the Ark and the Dove."

Mikulski was joined at the ceremony by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

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