Skip to main content
Facebook Twitter Instagram

Newton Tree Dedication

Prepared Remarks
April 22, 2015

Thank you all for joining us today to celebrate an addition to our campus.

You know, as a university president for more than three decades, I have helped to dedicate many things—libraries, sports facilities, hospitals, art galleries and more.

But I am pretty sure this is the first time I have presided over the dedication of an apple tree.

However, this is no ordinary apple tree. It has an illustrious history, and so does the distinguished West Virginian responsible for placing it here.

This tree is a direct descendent of the one that inspired Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity.

Yes, there really was such a tree in Newton’s hometown of Woolsthorpe, England. And, Newton really claimed that watching an apple fall from that tree triggered one of his most important scientific insights.

The apple did not bonk him on the head, though—an amusing image but a later addition to the legend.

In 1957, The National Institute of Standards and Technology received a direct descendent from the Newton tree. Last week, NIST presented a descendent of that tree to retired Senator John D. Rockefeller, who spent his career advocating for scientific process.

Incidentally, it is a good thing that Senator Rockefeller did not follow Sir Isaac Newton’s example as a legislator. Elected as a Member of Parliament in 1689, Newton served for exactly one year.

During that time, he said exactly only one sentence during legislative proceedings: He asked a nearby usher to close a drafty window.

In contrast, Senator Rockefeller was a tireless public servant, and promoting scientific research was one of his lifelong passions—first as a college president, then as a governor and, of course, as Senator and Chairman of the Commerce Committee.

As he said last week when he accepted this award from NIST: “I was always happy to support federal funding for research and development and for STEM education because I knew it meant so much more than just jobs for scientists. It was an investment in our economy.”

In a contentious political environment, he helped the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 pass with bipartisan support.

COMPETES has produced many successes. It has improved cooperation between government and industry and has stimulated innovation, supporting more than 200 prize-based challenges with more than 16,000 Americans participating.

It strengthened programs like the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship, which has produced more than 12,000 math and science teachers. These remarkable teachers are now hard at work in high-risk districts improving STEM education for the next generation.

Through programs like EPSCoR and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, COMPETES has translated into real benefits for states and research institutions across the country, including those in rural areas.

As Senator Rockefeller once said: “I believe that technology should be shared by everyone, not just those in Silicon Valley or the Route 128 corridor in Massachusetts. The diversity in our national innovation infrastructure-research must be allowed to flower in Montana, Alaska, and West Virginia as well as the traditional centers of science.”

COMPETES legislation aimed to reverse a disturbing trend of cuts to scientific research in America—cuts that came as nations such as China, South Korea, and Singapore were dramatically boosting such investments.

Before retiring, Senator Rockefeller introduced the COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014.

As he said: “If we are going to continue to build on these tremendous results, we need to choose to invest in science. And it is a choice. We need to continue to ensure the next world-changing innovation belongs to us.”

Senator Rockefeller has also been a strong defender of key research infrastructure. That includes the radio telescopes located in Green Bank where our faculty members are leading an international team in cutting-edge astrophysics and the exploration of the universe.

Senator Rockefeller has always looked ahead, around the corner, into the future.

And throughout his career, he urged us to look ahead, too.

Last week, when he accepted this tree from NIST and announced that it would find a home on our campus, he envisioned the future discoveries it might inspire.

He noted that it is an exciting time at West Virginia University, and his hope is that planting the Newton Apple Tree on our campus will inspire the next generation of scientists to go into public service, to put their top talent to work developing the next Internet, or the cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, I would like to introduce you to several people who can talk about Senator Rockefeller’s science policy leadership and the spirit of innovation that this tree represents.

(Dr. Richard Cavanaugh, Dr. Paul Hill, Dr. Maja Husar Holmes and Hannah Clipp speak.)

When NIST planted its Newton tree nearly 60 years ago, a speaker at the ceremony said: “It is fitting that science students be made acquainted with the traditions of science as well as its frontiers.”

As this new tree grows on our campus, it will remind our students of mankind’s history of discovery and inspire them to create their own breakthroughs.

And it will remind us all of Senator Jay Rockefeller’s history of advocating for science and inspire us to continue investing in innovation.

On behalf of West Virginia University, I thank Senator Rockefeller for this special gift and his continuing support. Now, I invite you to join us at a reception celebrating this historic occasion.