Sen. Pete V. Domenici

by Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., May 30, 2008 – U.S. Senator Pete Domenici used a Friday ceremony dedicating a research facility at New Mexico Tech in his name to underscore the university’s cutting-edge research, development and education initiatives, which are contributing to national security as well as scientific competitiveness.

Domenici joined officials from New Mexico Tech, the University of Cambridge and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) to dedicate the observatory’s research building as the “Pete V. Domenici Science Operations Center.” Prior to the event, Domenici toured the nearby Magdalena Ridge Observatory, another project championed by the Senator.

The two programs are among those — including homeland security and energy production initiatives — that Domenici has supported through his roles in the Senate.

Domenici credited the school’s success to a focus on its core goals of science, engineering and research.

“Over the years, the mission of New Mexico Tech has expanded, making it an outstanding research university that specializes in science, engineering and research. I have always appreciated that throughout this period of growth, New Mexico Tech has remained true to these same goals,” Domenici said.

In his speech, Domenici praised the university for its accomplishments. He also said the scientific community must be prepared for a drop in funding, largely due to skyrocketing amounts of money leaving the country to pay for crude oil.

“We cannot continue to send $600 billion to foreign countries every year,” he said. “We can’t sustain that for 10 or 15 years. We need to solve our energy problem.”

He said the scientific community will begin to suffer if the country cannot reduce the amount of money spent on crude oil imports.

The six-term senator said he is stepping down from office due to health concerns. He said he hopes he has created a difficult job for whoever succeeds him in office.

Formerly known as the Array Operations Center, the newly renamed Domenici Science Operations Center serves as the scientific, technical and administrative hub for the Very Large Array (VLA) and the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescopes. Domenici successfully led a joint federal-state effort to locate the facility on the New Mexico Tech campus.

“New Mexico Tech is the best of the best in its areas of specialized study. My Senate colleagues recognize the caliber of excellence displayed by the school’s research and programs, which has made securing federal support for the institution that much easier,” said Domenici, noting additional programs at the school — like the Playas Training and Research Center and the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium — that support U.S. homeland security.

Since 2002, Domenici has secured $53 million in federal funding for the MRO, which is one of the world’s most technologically advanced optical observatories. Most recently, in 2008, Domenici secured $6.5 million to develop optical instruments and adaptive optics systems for MRO telescopes. He also secured over $5 million overall for training and facilities at the Playas Training and Research Center.