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Honoring Innovation and Discovery at the White House

With the greatest “collection of brainpower we’ve had under this roof in a long time,” President Obama at the White House today bestowed the nation’s highest honors for invention and discovery – the National Medals of Science and the National Medals of Technology and Innovation – on an incredibly talented group of men and women.  The President noted that the accomplishments of these women and men are in the greatest traditions of our country.

“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.

“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.”

President Obama used the occasion to make a pitch for high-skilled immigration reform – something that has won bipartisan support in the House and Senate and that has been at the forefront of immigration discussions this week.

“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, [and] 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 honorees are listed below (and include two leaders from ITI-member IBM).  Congratulations to each recipient and the teams that have supported the dynamic breakthroughs that these women and men have championed.


National Medal of Science Recipients

Sallie W. Chisholm, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for contributions to the discovery and understanding of the dominant photosynthetic organisms in the ocean, promotion of the field of microbial oceanography, and influence on marine policy and management.

Sidney D. Drell, Stanford University, for contributions to quantum field theory and quantum chromodynamics, application of science to inform national policies in security and intelligence, and distinguished contributions as an advisor to the United States government. 

Sandra M. Faber, University of California, Santa Cruz, for leadership in numerous path-breaking studies of extra-galactic astronomy and galaxy formation, and for oversight of the construction of important instruments, including the Keck telescopes. 

Sylvester James Gates, Jr., University of Maryland, for contributions to the mathematics of supersymmetry in particle, field, and string theories and extraordinary efforts to engage the public on the beauty and wonder of fundamental physics. 

Solomon W. Golomb, University of Southern California, for pioneering work in shift register sequences that changed the course of communications from analog to digital, and for numerous innovations in reliable and secure space, radar, cellular, wireless, and spread-spectrum communications.

John B. Goodenough, University of Texas, Austin, for groundbreaking cathode research that led to the first commercial lithium ion battery, which has since revolutionized consumer electronics with technical applications for portable and stationary power. 

M. Frederick Hawthorne, University of Missouri, for highly creative pioneering research in inorganic, organometallic, and medicinal borane chemistry; sustained and profound contributions to scientific and technical advice related to national security; and for effective, prolific, and devoted service to the broad field of chemical sciences. 

Leroy Hood, Institute for Systems Biology, for pioneering spirit, passion, vision, inventions, and leadership combined with unique cross-disciplinary approaches resulting in entrepreneurial ventures, transformative commercial products, and several new scientific disciplines that have challenged and transformed the fields of biotechnology, genomics, proteomics, personalized medicine, and science education. 

Barry C. Mazur, Harvard University, for original and landmark contributions to differential topology, number theory, and arithmetic algebraic geometry, where, among other applications, his work was fundamental to Wiles’ proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, and for his dedication to communicating subtle mathematical ideas to the broader public. 

Lucy Shapiro, Stanford University, for the pioneering discovery that the bacterial cell is controlled by an integrated genetic circuit functioning in time and space that serves as a systems engineering paradigm underlying cell differentiation and ultimately the generation of diversity in all organisms. 

Anne M. Treisman, Princeton University, for a 50-year career of penetrating originality and depth that has led to the understanding of fundamental attentional limits in the human mind and brain.


National Medal of Technology and Innovation

Frances H. Arnold, California Institute of Technology, for pioneering research on biofuels and chemicals that could lead to the replacement of pollution-generating materials. 

George Carruthers, U.S. Naval Research Lab, for invention of the Far UV Electrographic Camera, which significantly improved our understanding of space and earth science. 

Robert Langer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for inventions and discoveries that led to the development of controlled drug release systems, engineered tissues, angiogenesis inhibitors, and new biomaterials.

Norman R. McCombs, AirSep Corporation, for the development and commercialization of pressure swing adsorption oxygen-supply systems with a wide range of medical and industrial applications that have led to improved health and substantially reduced health care costs. 

Gholam A. Peyman, University of Arizona College of Medicine and Arizona Retinal Specialists, for invention of the LASIK surgical technique and for developing the field of intraocular drug administration and expanding the field of retinal surgery. 

Arthur H. Rosenfeld, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and California Institute for Energy and Environment and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, for extraordinary leadership in the development of energy-efficient building technologies and related standards and policies. 

Jan T. Vilcek, New York University School of Medicine, for pioneering work on interferons and key contributions to the development of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

Rangaswamy Srinivasan and James Wynne, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, for the pioneering discovery of excimer laser ablative photodecomposition of human and animal tissue, laying the foundation for PRK and LASIK, laser refractive surgical techniques that have revolutionized vision enhancement. 

Edward Campbell, Raytheon BBN Technologies, Cambridge, Massachusetts, for sustained innovation through the engineering of first-of-a-kind, practical systems in acoustics, signal processing, and information technology.  

Public Policy Tags: Skills/STEM