[APPLAUSE] GRETCHEN RITTER: Good morning. What an exciting day this is. It's a real pleasure for me to be here. I am here in part to express my appreciation and thanks to Ann Druyan for her vision recognizing the immense value of scientific work being done here, for her commitment putting her tremendous influence to work on behalf of the Institute for Pale Blue Dots, and for reaching out to the broader community, and, above all, for entrusting us with carrying on the inspiring legacy of her late husband. Ann is an incredibly impressive woman. And we are deeply grateful to have her on the Institute board. Thank you, Ann.
And also, of course, I want to acknowledge and thank Lisa Kaltenegger for her leadership in launching the institute and for sharing, as she has just demonstrated this morning, her infectious enthusiasm for this exciting field and for building a groundswell of interest and participation across disciplines and for creating an inspiring and warm atmosphere for students, for faculty, and for everyone who meets her. The astronomy pioneers who have come today to help launch the new institute are also people I'd like to thank. And finally, I'd like to thank the faculty and staff who have worked so hard to put on this amazing event.
It's a tremendous honor to be part of this inauguration. Astronomy was a hot topic when I was a student at Cornell. I graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1983.
And one of the reasons that was such an exciting time to be here was because of Carl Sagan. Cosmos was originally aired in 1980 when I was about a sophomore. And it was something that made us all feel inspired, made us all feel special, even a government major like me.
It was because of that, in fact, that I decided to take astronomy when I was here. I didn't get around to it until my senior year. I was busy doing some other things, but I have very fond memories of going to the observatory, of being able to get a really great look at the moon.
And I ended up thinking at the time I wish I had taken this earlier. I really love this subject. So it's an incredible pleasure for me to be involved with the extension of that mission of discovery now.
Sagan was an inspiration to all of us. He was a model of the kind of cross-disciplinary thinking that has always been an essential part of the College of Arts and Sciences. He was a great scientist with more than 600 papers published, but he also worked tirelessly to contain the dangers of nuclear weapons and military programs that he felt were misguided. He was a scientist with a sense of public purpose. He demonstrated the kind of critical thinking we strive to inculcate in our students, applying scientific reasoning and perception to the problems of humanity and government policy.
It's fitting that the Institute for Pale Blue Dots has its home in the College of Arts and Sciences. This is a place of openness, a place where criss-crossing paths between different disciplines come together. It is that interdisciplinary collaboration that way of opening students and academics to thinking about and understanding the world from different points of entry that is so important in the work being done in this institute as well. And it's because of the wide-ranging science done at Cornell that we see an institute like this that will bring together astrophysics, chemistry, biology, atmospheric science in order to address the most fundamental questions, questions as deep and diverse as questions like how life emerged in the universe.
Carl Sagan once said that "science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking." This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don't conform to our preconceptions. It urges us on a fine balance between no holds barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous, skeptical scrutiny of everything, new ideas and established wisdom.
This is a wonderful description of the kind of critical thinking that we foster in the College of Arts and Sciences. The liberal arts also liberate the mind, revealing embedded presumptions, beliefs, and values that frame knowledge and understanding, while offering the freedom to ponder big questions without a short-term specific purpose, the sort of questions that make us distinctly human. It's no accident that the important science Carl Sagan did was done here, as part of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Sagan also said, "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." Already, the institute has generated some very important scientific research like the color catalog that will help us to identify the signatures of life on other worlds. I know I speak for everyone here when I say that I am looking forward to what that next discovery will be. Thank you.
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Gretchen Ritter, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, gives welcoming remarks at the inauguration of the Carl Sagan Institute, May 9, 2015. The inauguration event, "(un)Discovered Worlds," featured a day of public talks given by leading scientists and renowned astronomy pioneers.