Articles, Blog

The National Medals of Science and of Technology & Innovation

August 30, 2019


Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Welcome to the White House. Today, I have the privilege
to present our nation’s highest honor for
scientific and technological achievement — the National
Medals of Science, and the National Medals of
Technology and Innovation. The amount of brainpower
in this room right now is astonishing. (laughter) But when you talk to these
brilliant men and women, it’s clear the honor has
not yet gone to their heads. They still put
their lab coats on one arm at a time. (laughter) Joining us to celebrate
these achievements are members of Congress;
Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz — a pretty good
scientist himself — my Science Advisor, John
Holdren; the Director of the National Science Foundation,
France Còrdova; the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,
Michelle Lee; and Jim Rathmann from the National
Medals of Science and Technology Foundation. I want to thank them for all
the work that they do each year to help us organize
and honor the scientists and innovators in this
great nation of ours. Now, we are engaging in a
lot of science and tinkering here at the White House. We’ve got Astronomy Night. We got Hack-a-thons. We got Code-a-thons. We have Science
Fairs, Maker Faires. It is fun. I love this stuff. I get to test out some of
the cool stuff that ends up here in the White House. At this year’s Science Fair,
one nine-year-old, named Jacob Leggette, turned the
tables on me and suggested that we needed to start
a kids’ advisory group — (laughter) — so that young people can
help us understand what’s interesting to them when
it comes to STEM education, which I thought was
a pretty good idea. (laughter) So, today, I can announce
that we are launching a “Kid Science Advisors” campaign
for young scientists and innovators to send in their
suggestions for what we should be doing to support
science and technology, and inspire the next generation
of scientists and innovators. So those young people out
there who are listening, go to our website — we’re
going to be looking for some advisors, some advice. (laughter) The real reason we do this,
as I’ve said before, is to teach our young people that
it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl or the NCAA
tournament that deserves a celebration; that we want
the winners of science fairs, we want those who
have invented the products and lifesaving medicines and
are engineering our future to be celebrated as well. Because immersing young
people in science, math, engineering — that’s what’s
going to carry the American spirit of innovation through
the 21st century and beyond. That’s what the honorees who
are here today represent. Many of them came from
humble or ordinary beginnings, but along the
way, someone or something sparked their curiosity. Someone bought them
their first computer. Someone introduced
them to a lab. A child in their lives
needed specialized medical help. And because they lived in
an America that fosters curiosity, and invests
in education, and values science as important to our
progress, they were able to find their calling and
do extraordinary things. So there are few better
examples for our young people to follow than the
Americans that we honor today. Just to take a couple
of examples: Shirley Ann Jackson, who is part of my
science advisory group, grew up right here in Washington,
D.C. Hers was a quiet childhood. Her first homemade
experiment involved, I understand, collecting and
cataloging bumblebees in her backyard. (laughter) Two events happened that
would not only change our country’s course,
but Shirley’s. In Brown v. Board of Education, the
Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that
separate educational facilities are inherently
unequal, and the Soviets launched Sputnik up in the
sky, sparking a space race. As Shirley put it, “Those
two events in history changed my life for good.” She went on to become the
first African American to earn a doctorate in physics
from MIT, the second woman to do so anywhere
in America. And over the years,
Dr. Jackson has revolutionized the way
science informs public policy from rethinking
safety at our nuclear plants to training a new generation
of scientists and engineers that looks more like the
diverse and inclusive America she loves. Then you have Mark Humayan,
who immigrated to the United States with his family
when he was nine years old. When his diabetic
grandmother lost her vision, he began studying to become
an ophthalmologist, hoping he could save the
sight of others. Mark helped create the
“Argus II,” a “bionic eye” that has restored vision to
patients who’ve been blind for up to 50 years. He says the moment when he
witnessed someone seeing light and shapes, someone
experiencing the miracle of sight for the first time
in decades — those moments have been some of the
happiest and most rewarding of his professional career. In his words — and I think
no pun is intended — “There wasn’t a dry eye in
the operating room.” (laughter) Growing up in Chicago,
Mary-Claire King’s dad would sit with her in front of the
TV for Cubs and White Sox games — (laughter) — and make up story
problems for her to solve about the players
on the field. She just thought that’s how
everyone watched baseball — which explains why, when a
college advisor encouraged her to take a genetics
course, she said, “I couldn’t believe anything
could be so fun.” But every single American
should be grateful for Mary-Claire King’s path. We’re glad that she
thought it was fun because. at a time when most
scientists believed that cancer was caused by
viruses, she relentlessly pursued her hunch that
certain cancers were linked to inherited
genetic mutations. This self-described
“stubborn” scientist kept going until she
proved herself right. Seventeen years of
work later, Mary-Claire discovered a single gene
that predisposes women to breast cancer. And that discovery has
empowered women and their doctors with science to
better understand the choices that they make when
it comes to their health and their future. So these are just three
examples of the remarkable stories that are
represented here today. They illustrate why this is
such an extraordinary moment to be a scientist
in this country. America’s progress in
science and technology has countless revolutionary
discoveries within our reach. New materials
designed atom by atom. New forms of clean energy. New breakthroughs in
treating cancer and ending the wait for
organ transplants. Private space flights, a
planned human mission to Mars, a NASA probe that
broke free from the Solar System three years ago
and just kept on going. That’s some of what
America can do. That’s why we’re constantly
pushing Congress to fund the work of our scientists,
engineers, entrepreneurs and dreamers to keep America
on the cutting-edge. As President, I’m proud to
honor each of you for your contributions
to our nations. As an American, I’m proud of
everything that you’ve done to contribute to that
fearless spirit of innovation that’s made us
who we are, and that doesn’t just benefit our citizens
but benefits the world. We’re very proud of
what you’ve done. So congratulations
to all of you. With that, let’s read the
citations and present the awards. (applause) MILITARY AIDE: National
Medals of Science. Armand Paul Alivisatos. (applause) National Medal of Science
to Armand Paul Alivisatos, University of California,
and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, California. For his foundational
contributions to the field of nanoscience, for the
development of nanocrystals as a building block of
nanotechnologies, and for his leadership in the
nanoscience community. (applause) Michael Artin. (applause) National Medal of Science to
Michael Artin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Massachusetts. For his leadership in
modern algebraic geometry, including three major bodies
of work: Étale cohomology, algebraic approximation
of formal solutions of equations, and
non-commutative algebraic geometry. (applause) Albert Bandura. (applause) National Medal of Science
to Albert Bandura, Stanford University, California. For fundamental advances in
the understanding of social learning mechanisms and
self-referent thinking processes in motivation and
behavior change, and for the development of social
cognitive theory of human action and psychological
development. (applause) Stanley Falkow. (applause) National Medal of Science
to Stanley Falkow, Stanford University School of
Medicine, California. For his monumental
contributions toward understanding how microbes
cause disease and resist the effects of antibiotics, and
for his inspiring mentorship that create the field
of molecular microbial pathogenesis. (applause) Shirley Ann Jackson. (applause) National Medal of Science
to Shirley Ann Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute, New York. For her insightful work in
condensed matter physics and particle physics, for her
science-rooted public policy achievements, and for her
inspiration to the next generation of professionals
in the science, technology, engineering,
and math fields. (applause) Rakesh K. Jain. (applause) National Medal of
Science to Rakesh K. Jain, Harvard Medical School
and Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts. For pioneering research at
the interface of engineering and oncology, including
tumor microenvironment, drug delivery and imaging,
and for groundbreaking discoveries of principles
leading to the development and novel use of drugs for
treatment of cancer and non-cancerous diseases. (applause) Mary-Claire King. (applause) National Medal of Science to
Mary-Claire King, University of Washington, Washington. For pioneering contributions
to human genetics, including discovery of the BRCA1
susceptibility gene for breast cancer; and for
development of genetic methods to match
“disappeared” victims of human rights abuses
with their families. (applause) Simon Asher Levin. (applause) National Medal of Science
to Simon Asher Levin, Princeton, New Jersey. For international leadership
in environmental science, straddling ecology and
applied mathematics, to promote conservation; for
his impact on a generation of environmental scientists;
and for his critical contributions to ecology,
environmental economics, epidemiology, applied
mathematics, and evolution. (applause) Geraldine Richmond. (applause) National Medal of Science
to Geraldine Richmond, University of
Oregon, Oregon. For her landmark
discoveries of the molecular characteristics of water
surfaces; for her creative demonstration of how her
findings impact many key biological, environmental,
chemical and technological processes; and for her
extraordinary efforts in the United States and around the
globe to promote women in science. (applause) National Medals of
Technology and Innovation. Joseph N. DeSimone. (applause) National Medal of Technology
and Innovation to Joseph N. DeSimone, University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State
University, and Carbon 3D, California. For pioneering innovations
in material science that led to the development of
technologies in diverse fields from manufacturing to
medicine, and for innovative and inclusive leadership
in higher education and entrepreneurship. (applause) Robert E. Fischell. (applause) National Medal of Technology
and Innovation to Robert E. Fischell, University of
Maryland at College Park, Maryland. For invention of novel
medical devices used in the treatment of many illnesses
thereby improving the health and saving the lives of
millions of patients around the world. (applause) Arthur Gossard. (applause) National Medal of Technology
and Innovation to Arthur Gossard, University of
California, Santa Barbara, California. For innovation, development,
and application of artificially structured
quantum materials critical to ultrahigh performance
semiconductor device technology used in today’s
digital infrastructure. (applause) Nancy Ho. (applause) National Medal of Technology
and Innovation to Nancy Ho, Green Tech America,
Incorporated and Purdue University, Indiana. For the development of a
yeast-based technology that is able to co-ferment sugars
extracted from plants to produce ethanol, and for
optimizing this technology for large-scale and
cost-effective production of renewable biofuels and
industrial chemicals. (applause) Chenming Hu. (applause) National Medal of Technology
and Innovation to Chenming Hu, University of
California, Berkeley, California. For pioneering innovations
in microelectronics including reliability
technologies, the first industry-standard model
for circuit design, and the first 3-dimensional
transistors, which radically advanced semiconductor
technology. (applause) Mark S. Humayun. (applause) National Medal of Technology
and Innovation to Mark Humayun, University of
Southern California, California. For the invention,
development, and application of bioelectronics in
medicine, including a retinal prosthesis for
restoring vision to the blind, thereby significantly
improving patients’ quality of life. (applause) Cato T. Laurencin. (applause) National Medal of Technology
and Innovation to Cato T. Laurencin, University of
Connecticut, Connecticut. For seminal work in
the engineering of musculoskeletal
tissues, especially for revolutionizing achievements
in the design of bone matrices and ligament
regeneration; and for extraordinary work in
promoting diversity and excellence in science. (applause) Jonathan Marc Rothberg. (applause) National Medal of Technology
and Innovation to Jonathan Marc Rothberg, 4catalyzer
Corporation and Yale School of Medicine, Connecticut. For pioneering inventions
and commercialization of next generation DNA
sequencing technologies, making access to genomic
information easier, faster, and more cost-effective
for researchers around the world. (applause) The President: Let’s
giv another big round of applause to our honorees. (applause) Yay! Very proud of you. (applause) And let’s give a big round
of applause to my military aide, who had to read
those citations — (laughter) — with a lot of pretty
complicated phrases in them. (applause) You were practicing,
weren’t you? (laughter) Well, it just goes to show
we can all learn science. (laughter) Science rocks. (applause) Thank you very
much, everybody. Please enjoy the reception. Congratulations
to our honorees. Have a wonderful afternoon. Thank you very much everyone. (applause)

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