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President's Message: Thinking Around the Curve

  • Author:
    By Lou Anna K. Simon
  • Published:
    Spring 2015

As we marked the recent 160th anniversary of Michigan State University’s founding, I found myself thinking back to earlier MSU milestone anniversaries. Ten years ago, my first year as president, we celebrated MSU’s sesquicentennial. It’s been a decade of remarkable achievement and transformation. And it’s astonishing to tally the many accomplishments that took root in our centennial era.

This year, MSU celebrates 50-year milestones of several world-class endeavors—from the opening of Abrams Planetarium to the “first light” of MSU’s cyclotron to the launch of our U.S. Department of Energy Plant Research Lab.
Each reflects not only a half century of significant discovery and impact, but also illustrates how, to quote the Greek poet Aeschylus, “from a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.”

The late 1950s and early 1960s were a time of big challenges and big ideas for the United States and for MSU, when global events sparked intense focus on science and the development of powerful technology.

The dawn of the space age brought great excitement and interest in exploring the frontiers of the universe as well as our own planet. It was a time when the promise for peaceful uses of the atom sparked new investment in energy infrastructure and research. It also was a time when famine in developing regions and emerging awareness of environmental crisis mocked optimistic notions of global progress.

Early on, Spartans recognized those challenges as part and parcel of MSU’s mission. We heeded society’s calls for solutions and for resourceful problem solvers who were skilled at partnering to apply those solutions to everyday life in Michigan and around the world.

MSU’s first cyclotron was the dream of visionary faculty members, who in the 1950s anticipated the potential for nuclear physics research, and of nuclear physicist Henry Blosser, who was recruited to build and run the new machine.

Today MSU’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory is the nation’s flagship user facility for rare isotope research. Our nuclear science graduate program is ranked first in the country. And we are closing in on the completion of the three-quarter-billion-dollar Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, which will be an international hub for rare isotope science, enabling world-leading research into the mysteries of the universe and fueling innovative societal applications and scientific breakthroughs for the future.  
Spartans from two generations ago had the courage and capacity to see and think around the curve, anticipating humanity’s needs and acting on them. They included aviation pioneer Talbert Abrams, whose vision could literally reach over the horizon from his cockpit. The planetarium at MSU that was funded by Abrams and bears his name made the wonder of the cosmos accessible both to our campus and to the community, and continues to educate and inspire today.

Over the years our world-renowned plant research program has yielded both new plant varieties and leading-edge growing techniques that help feed a growing population and nurture prosperity in our own backyard and halfway around the world.

The Art Deco relief image of the sower that is chiseled above the entrance of Beaumont Tower remains an apt metaphor for the work Spartans do every day.
Confident in our ability to help create a better tomorrow, we plant the seeds of knowledge and discovery. Not every seed proves viable, but we persevere. In time, we witness the fruits in the form of life-changing opportunities and world-changing impact.

When we look back from the vantage point of our bicentennial in 2055, I wonder what we’ll think of the view. What will today’s Spartans sow that will have grown into tomorrow’s mighty trunks? Perhaps you will be among those who have planted some of the seeds. I am confident Spartans Will.?