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Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Opening Ceremony for the Darrin Fresh Water Institute Education Center
Darrin Fresh Water Institute, Bolton Landing, New York

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Good morning.

Welcome to Lake George, one of the most beautiful bodies of fresh water in America, and to the site of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute. I would like to welcome our distinguished guests, including Peggy Darrin, her son David Darrin and his wife, Susan Darrin. We are delighted and honored to welcome The Honorable Elizabeth Little, New York State Senate, representing the 45th Senate District and Susan Taluto, special assistant to Commissioner Erin Crotty of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Also with us is Alexander G. Gabriels, Supervisor of the Town of Bolton Landing.

Although he could not join us today, The Honorable Joseph Bruno, New York State Senate Majority Leader, sends his regards. In a letter to me, Senator Bruno said, “I would like to extend my strongest support on this wonderful addition to the Fresh Water Institute…and [I] express my appreciation to Margaret Darrin and her late husband David — and to all those whose dedication and vision made today possible. There is no question that today begins an exciting new era for RPI…”

I thank the Senator for his support. It truly is an exciting era. Through the important work of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, we at Rensselaer are proud to contribute to research that will help us to better understand and protect the ecology of this great lake, and by extension, the natural resources of the world.

Today, I will share with you some of the history of environmental science and research at Rensselaer, but before I begin, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the crucial role the Darrin family has played in the history of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute.

David M. Darrin was a member of the Rensselaer Class of 1940, a trustee of the Institute, and for many years until his passing, a dedicated and visionary supporter of its students, its faculty, and its research.

David and his family loved the pristine waters of Lake George, and since 1970 he and his wife, Peggy, have supported the mission of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute. All of the buildings here, and much of the Fresh Water Institute’s major equipment, have been funded through their generosity and through their influence.

As a result, the Darrin Fresh Water Institute has become one of the foremost fresh water education and research facilities in the world. Peggy, on behalf of the students and faculty at Rensselaer, thank you for all you and David have done to create this wonderful facility.

And now, I would like to describe some of the historic background that has led us to the achievements of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute.

As you may know, Rensselaer was founded in 1824 to educate the sons — and daughters — of Hudson Valley farmers in the application of science to their daily lives. During that era, people lived in close relationship with the land, and they understood the importance of the stewardship of our natural resources — for those resources were the very source of their sustenance, and their livelihood. Our roots in the application of science to the environment are long and deep.

Among our early graduates were those immortalized in the Rensselaer Hall of Fame for their understanding of the earth — among them, Asa Fitch of the Class of 1827. He was considered America’s greatest early entomologist, known for his studies of various grain insects that damaged crops.

Asa Fitch was appointed the first state entomologist in New York, in which position he helped to define the role of the scientist in solving public problems. His reports became standard reading for scientists in the field, and many of his notebooks are now the property of the Smithsonian Institution.

Another early Rensselaer scientist was James Hall of the Class of 1832, the chief American invertebrate paleontologist of his era. Hall was appointed to the geological survey of New York State, and he produced a report in 1843 that became a classic in geological literature. It was said that, but for him, the geological history of the North American continent could not have been written.

Today, we continue to foster environmental stewardship among our students — here at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, and on our campuses — because the management of our natural resources becomes more pressing each year, as human impact upon them grows.

At Rensselaer, we offer opportunities for our students to study in the natural sciences, and in interdisciplinary programs related to the work of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute. In fact, last year Rensselaer was awarded a 1.2 million dollar grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to develop new biotechnology-related courses, and student and faculty exchanges with other universities in these areas.

We also offer an interdisciplinary environmental studies program that builds on the strength and breadth of our programs in engineering, in science, and in the humanities and social sciences. Students may earn a baccalaureate degree in environmental studies, or choose to major in economics, environmental engineering, environmental science, hydrogeology, or science and society. In all of these courses of study, the student’s focus is on the ecological or environmental aspects of the discipline.

A most promising area of interdisciplinary study, in which Rensselaer is becoming a major player, is bioinformatics, an emerging field which combines aspects of biology, computer science, and information technology.

An undergraduate degree in bioinformatics prepares professionals to work in high-demand areas within the field of information technology; for example, in the development of algorithms and computational approaches to gene finding and prediction of molecular structure, or in the design and maintenance of databases for biological data. Another emerging area is termed “eco-informatics,” which takes a similar approach, using the large databases of information culled from eco-systems.

At Rensselaer, we also encourage our students to become involved in our communities through a variety of service opportunities. Among these are environmental internships available through our Public Service Internship program. This program alternates service opportunities with reflection, reading, and discussion in the classroom, so that through their service, our students learn to become global citizens in a technological world.

Our students are encouraged to “think green” in their daily lives, as well. One of our student-run organizations is EcoLogic, which informs and involves students in energy conservation, recycling, organic gardening, and other activities which encourage environmental stewardship.

Here at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, as Dr. Nierzwicki-Bauer has shared with you, Rensselaer students and faculty, as well as visiting scientists, are engaged in world-class, hands-on research in surface and groundwater systems science, as they examine the human impact on Lake George and the Adirondack Mountains.

These activities are part of a larger and growing research thrust in the biosciences and biotechnology at Rensselaer. Dr. Robert Palazzo, chair of the Department of Biology, will discuss with you later some of this work in more detail, but I will make mention of two Darrin Fresh Water Institute examples.

Dr. Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, professor of biology and director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, conducts research in microbiology and molecular biology. Her current projects include the development of molecular approaches to the examination of the microbial structure of biological components of freshwater systems. These involve subsurface sediments, zebra mussels, and phytoplankton communities.

Dr. Charles Boylen, professor and associate director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, has conducted research at Rensselaer for more than 30 years. His work has focused on the observation of acid-stressed freshwater streams and lakes here in the Adirondack Mountains, in particular the effects of “acid rain” and nutrient enrichment on the Lake George ecosystem.

There are others working in related areas, some of whom are with us today, including Dr. Lenore Clesceri, associate professor emeritus, and Dr. Donna Bedard, research professor of biology.

Environmental studies at Rensselaer cover a broad spectrum of research specialty, and benefit from a thoughtful synergy with other disciplines.

Our environmental research expertise has earned for Rensselaer the management of the planned Upper Hudson Satellite Center of the new New York State Rivers and Estuaries Center. This world-class institute will build on the expertise in fresh water research and discovery developed here at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, as it will support the study of the issues associated with the Upper Hudson — with its source in the Adirondacks at Lake Tear of the Clouds — its tributaries and watershed.

The research conducted under the auspices of this institute will feature collaboration at its finest, as it will include roboticists, chemists, biologists, geologists, visualization, modeling, and simulation specialists, and social scientists. The synergy among such researchers surely will expand upon, and enhance, the breakthroughs achieved here at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute.

Today, as we celebrate the contributions to science made by research and education at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, we applaud the donors to this project to renovate and enhance its facilities. On behalf of Rensselaer and the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, I extend our most sincere thanks to the National Science Foundation, the UPS Foundation, the Chingos Foundation, and most especially, to Peggy Darrin and the Margaret A. Darrin Foundation.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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