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The Power of Discovery

Posted on: December 5th, 2016 by Guest Blogger

Dan Powers

By Dan Powers, Executive Director


Colorado is fortunate to be home to more than 30 federally-funded research laboratories and joint institutes, with world-class discoveries constantly being revealed in the realms of climate science, public health, agricultural production, geologic science and much more. While we often tend to assess scientific activity in how many problems they solve, how many jobs they create and other tangible metrics, the deeper rationale for supporting our scientific resources is the profound impact discovery has on our society.

There is an undeniable pride and unspoken expectation that brilliant insights and solutions to complex problems are part of the American way of life. Yet this reputation for scientific progress requires a constant influx of curious minds – which I suggest comes from two single-word thoughts: “wow!” and “how?”

The “wow!” factor is what we feel as we learn about a discovery that speaks to our individual sense of wonder. While different for everyone, at times we all feel jolt of awe when something the world has never known before comes to light. From a new star light years away that cold support a planet like Earth to a new creature discovered deep in a rainforest (and countless other themes) the power for discovery to enrich our lives is boundless. It would be a boring life indeed if we never were to be surprised by a discovery of something new. And for those who pursue any field of scientific research, finding your own particular “wow!” is intoxicating.

The “how?” factor is perhaps more practical, driven by a desire to discern, to solve and to clarify. Often prompted by pragmatic needs: how to cure a disease, make a safer machine, track and assess a toxic substance – the how driver of discovery matches our insatiable human effort to improve the world for ourselves and our children. The bulk of society has benefited immeasurably from the focused efforts of how-motivated scientists with a motive to guide, assess and mitigate forces and attributes of the natural world.

picture1In this spirit, In October CO-LABS is proudly recognizing four projects from Colorado research labs that are the result of years of tenacious effort on the forefront of their fields. Speaking with the scientists who have lead these projects, I am always amazed at their humble demeanor and the consistent deference they give to prior researchers who came before them. Perhaps most inspiring is how they all can describe how their discoveries answer profound scientific questions – and prompt even more curiosity on what they want to discover next. From the furthest reaches of space to the smallest quantum particles to measurements of atmospheric gases and assessment of human B cell antibodies – this year’s winners in four categories are:

Earth Systems and Space Sciences: LASP Director Dr. Daniel Baker Leads Research on Critical Space Weather Forecasting Missions (Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics)

Foundational Science and Technology: The JILA Quantum Machine Team: Extending Mastery of Quantum Mechanics from Microscopic Particles to Human-Made Machines (JILA is a joint institute between CU-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology)

Public Health and Life Sciences: Innovative Diagnostic Response to Public Health Emergencies – Zika and Yellow Fever Epidemics (Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases)

Sustainability: Preparing and Maintaining Critical Greenhouse Gas Calibration Standards and Methods Used in the Worldwide Monitoring of these Critical Atmospheric Gases (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth Systems Research Laboratory)

I am looking forward to hearing about these discoveries from the scientists and their teams directly as Fireside Production has been asked to interview and film our winners so CO-LABS can share their efforts broadly across Colorado and our national network of curious scientists, elected officials, teachers and everyone who loves to ask “how?” and even more so loves to say “wow!”

About CO-LABS:

CO-LABS is a non-profit consortium of federal laboratories, research institutions, businesses and economic development organizations that provide financial and in-kind support for programs that promote the retention and expansion of Colorado scientific resources. Through events, economic analyses, strategic communications and networking activities we work to:

To learn more, visit

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