At an impressive East Room ceremony in the White House last Friday, President Obama presented the federal government’s highest awards given to scientists, engineers and inventors. The National Medal of Science is awarded annually, according to a White House statement, “to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions” in the fields of “chemistry, engineering, computing, mathematics, or the biological, behavioral/social, and physical sciences.” Awardees are selected by a presidentially appointed committee.
The following twelve researchers were awarded the 2011 National Medal of Science:
Allen Bard, University of Texas at Austin
Sallie Chisholm, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sidney Drell, Stanford University
Sandra Faber, University of California, Santa Cruz
Sylvester James Gates, University of Maryland
Solomon Golomb, University of Southern California
John Goodenough, University of Texas at Austin
M. Frederick Hawthorne, University of Missouri
Leroy Hood, Institute for Systems Biology
Barry Mazur, Harvard University
Lucy Shapiro, Stanford University School of Medicine
Anne Treisman, Princeton University
Eleven inventors received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. A committee of individuals from the private and public sectors selects awardees “who have made lasting contributions to America’s competitiveness and quality of life and helped strengthen the Nation’s technological workforce.” This 2011 award was presented to:
Frances Arnold, California Institute of Technology
George Carruthers, U.S. Naval Research Lab
Robert Langer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Norman McCombs, AirSep Corporation
Gholam Peyman, Arizona Retinal Specialists
Art Rosenfeld, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Jan Vilcek, NYU Langone Medical Center
Samuel Blum, IBM Corporation
Rangaswamy Srinivasan, IBM Corporation
James Wynne, IBM Corporation
Raytheon BBN Technologies, represented by CEO, Edward Campbell
Note that some of the above awardees are retired; their most recent employer is listed.
Before making the presentations, President Obama offered some remarks, excerpts from which follow. A complete transcript and a video of his remarks, with award citations, are available here.
“It is my incredible pleasure and honor to welcome this incredibly talented group of men and women in the White House. And I want to congratulate them on earning America’s highest honor for invention and discovery -- the National Medals of Science, and the National Medals of Technology and Innovation.”
“If there is one idea that sets this country apart, one idea that makes us different from every other nation on Earth, it’s that here in America, success does not depend on where you were born or what your last name is. Success depends on the ideas that you can dream up, the possibilities that you envision, and the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears you’re willing to put in to make them real.
“We don’t always recognize the genius behind these ideas right away. The New York Times once described Robert Goddard’s belief that rockets could one day go to the moon as ‘[lacking] the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.’ One engineer called Einstein’s brand-new theory of relativity ‘voodoo nonsense.’ But with enough time, we usually come around. . . . And today, it’s clearer than ever that our future as a nation depends on keeping that spirit of curiosity and innovation alive in our time.
“So these honorees are at the forefront of that mission. Thanks to the sacrifices they’ve made, the chances they’ve taken, the gallons of coffee they’ve consumed -- we now have batteries that power everything from cell phones to electric cars. We have a map of the human genome and new ways to produce renewable energy. We’re learning to grow organs in the lab and better understand what’s happening in our deepest oceans.”
“In a global economy where the best jobs follow talent - whether in Calcutta or Cleveland - we need to do everything we can to encourage that same kind of passion, make it easier for more young people to blaze a new trail.
“Right now, only about a third of undergraduate students are graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math -- areas that will be crucial if we expect to complete the work that has been done by these folks and compete for the jobs of the future. And that’s why we’ve worked to make more affordable college opportunities, and set a goal of training 100,000 new math and science teachers over the next decade. And we’re working to train 2 million Americans at our community colleges with the skills businesses are looking for right now.
“We also need to do something about all the students who come here from around the world to study but we then send home once they graduate. On Tuesday, I was in Las Vegas talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. And one important piece of that reform is allowing more of the best and brightest minds from around the world to start businesses, initiate new discoveries, create jobs here in the United States of America. If we want to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class, we need an immigration system built for the 21st century. It’s that simple.”
The President later continued,
“In some fundamental ways, they were destined to be on this stage. The minds they were born with, the drive they innately possess, the positive forces that shaped their lives were more powerful than the forces aligned against them. So they beat the odds. But even with all those gifts, every one of today’s honorees also had somebody who offered them a hand - a teacher who sparked their interest; a scholarship that paved the way - and an opportunity to come to America and bring even the most distant dream within our reach.
“And that reminds us of our obligations to each other and to this country. We can -- no matter how many talented folks there are in this country, if we’re not offering a hand up, a lot of those folks are going to miss out on what might be their destiny. We can make it easier for our young people to learn the skills of the future. We can attract the brightest minds to our shore. We can celebrate and lift up and spotlight researchers and scientists like the ones here today, so that somewhere, a boy on an Army base, or a girl looking through a telescope, or a young scientist working out of a converted bathroom can make it their goal to stand where these honorees will be standing when they receive their medals.
“That’s what we can do and that’s what we must do. That’s what I intend to do as long as I’m President.
“So I want to congratulate these extraordinary Americans once again for all their accomplishments.”