National Medal of Science

The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and physics. The twelve member presidential Committee on the National Medal of Science is responsible for selecting award recipients and is administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF). On November 17, 2010, President Barack Obama presented the award to its ten most recent recipients, which brings the total number of awardees to 461.[1]



The National Medal of Science was established on August 25, 1959, by an act of the Congress of the United States under Public Law 86-209. The medal was originally to honor scientists in the fields of the "physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences." The Committee on the National Medal of Science was established on August 23, 1961 by executive order 10961 of former president John F. Kennedy.[2]

On January 7, 1979, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) passed a resolution proposing that the medal be expanded to include the social and behavioral sciences.[3] In response, Senator Ted Kennedy introduced the Science and Technology Equal Opportunities Act into the Senate on March 7, 1979, expanding the medal to include these scientific disciplines as well. President Jimmy Carter's signature enacted this change as Public Law 96-516 on December 12, 1980.

In 1992, the National Science Foundation signed a letter of agreement with the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation that made the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation the metaorganization over both the National Medal of Science and the very similar National Medal of Technology.

The first National Medal of Science was awarded on February 18, 1963, for the year 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to Theodore von Kármán for his work at the Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The citation accompanying von Kármán's award reads:

For his leadership in the science and engineering basic to aeronautics; for his effective teaching and related contributions in many fields of mechanics, for his distinguished counsel to the Armed Services, and for his promoting international cooperation in science and engineering.[4]

Although Public Law 86-209 provides for 20 recipients of the medal per year, it is typical for approximately 12–15 accomplished scientists and engineers to receive this distinction each year. There have been 6 years where no National Medals of Science were awarded between 1962 and 2004. Those years were: 1985, 1984, 1980, 1978, 1977, 1972 and 1971. As of September 16, 2010, there have been a total of 441 individuals recognized.

The award's ceremony is organized by the Office of Science and Technlogy Policy and takes place at the White House.

Award process

Each year the National Science Foundation sends out a call to the scientific community for the nomination of new candidates for the National Medal of Science. Individuals are nominated by their peers with each nomination requiring three letters of support from individuals in science and technology. Nominations are then sent to the Committee of the National Medal of Science which is a board composed of fourteen presidential appointees comprising twelve scientists, and two ex officio members - the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).[5]

According to the Committee, successful candidates must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are applying for U.S. citizenship, who have done work of significantly outstanding merit or that has had a major impact on scientific thought in their field. The Committee also values those who promote the general advancement of science and individuals who have influenced science education, although these traits are less important than groundbreaking or thought-provoking research. The nomination of a candidate is effective for three years; at the end of three years, the candidates peers are allowed to renominate the candidate. The Committee makes their recommendations to the President for the final awarding decision.

The Medal

The National Medal of Science depicts Man, surrounded by earth, sea, and sky, contemplating and struggling to understand Nature. The crystal in his hand represents the universal order and also suggests the basic unit of living things. The formula being outlined in the sand symbolizes scientific abstraction.

Notable laureates

Year Laureate Citation
2010 Susan Lindquist "For her studies of protein folding, demonstrating that alternative protein conformations and aggregations can have profound and unexpected biological influences, facilitating insights in fields as wide-ranging as human disease, evolution, and biomaterials."
2009 JoAnne Stubbe "For her ground-breaking experiments establishing the mechanisms of ribonucleotide reductases, polyester synthases, and natural product DNA cleavers compelling demonstrations of the power of chemical investigations to solve problems in biology."
2007 Mostafa El-Sayed "For his seminal and creative contributions to our understanding of the electronic and optical properties of nano-materials and to their applications in nano-catalysis and nano-medicine, for his humanitarian efforts of exchange among countries and for his role in developing the scientific leadership of tomorrow."
2007 Leonard Kleinrock "For his fundamental contributions to the mathematical theory of modern data networks, and for the functional specification of packet switching, which is the foundation of Internet technology. His mentoring of generations of students has led to the commercialization of technologies that have transformed the world."
2007 Robert Lefkowitz "For his discovery of the seven transmembrane receptors, deemed the largest, most versatile, and most therapeutically accessible receptor signaling system, and for describing the general mechanism of their regulation, influencing all fields of medical practice."
2006 Peter B. Dervan "For his fundamental research contributions at the interface of organic chemistry and biology, and for his influence in education and industrial innovation."
2005 Torsten Wiesel "For providing key insights into the operation of the visual system and for the discovery of the manner in which neural connections in the brain are made during development and how they are maintained."
2004 Stephen J. Lippard "For pioneering research in bioinorganic chemistry, which enriched our understanding of how metal compounds interact with DNA, provided important synthetic models for the active sites of metalloproteins, and elucidated key structural and mechanistic features of methane monooxygenase."
2003 G. Brent Dalrymple "For his pioneering work in determining the geomagnetic polarity reversal timescale; a discovery that led to the theory of plate tectonics."
2002 Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao "For his theoretical work which solely help to lay the foundation of modern statistics."
2002 Edward Witten "For his leadership in a broad range of topics in mathematics and theoretical physics, including attempts to understand the fundamental forces of nature through string theory, and his inspired use of insights from physics to unify apparently disparate areas of mathematics."
1998 William Julius Wilson "For his innovative approach to studying urban poverty, his dedication to the proposition that rigorous social science change will improve his fellow American's lives, and his advocacy of policies which reflect more accurately what we have learned from research and which therefore take a broader point of view with respect to the interactions of race, class, and location."
1997 James D. Watson "For five decades of scientific and intellectual leadership in molecular biology, ranging from his co-discovery of the double helical structure of DNA to the launching of the Human Genome Project."
1994 Robert K. Merton "For founding the sociology of science and for his pioneering contributions to the study of social life, especially the self-fulfilling prophecy and the unintended consequences of social action."
1991 G. Evelyn Hutchinson (posthumously)
1990 Stephen Cole Kleene "For his leadership in the theory of recursion and effective computability and for developing it into a deep and broad field of mathematical research."
1990 Leonid Hurwicz "For his pioneering work on the theory of modern decentralized allocation mechanisms."
1990 Herbert Boyer "For his contributions to the basic research of the development of recombinant DNA technology. This seminal breakthrough has opened new vistas in experimental biology, and it has led directly to the development of the biotechnology industry."
1989 Samuel Karlin "For his broad and remarkable researches in mathematical analysis, probability theory and mathematical statistics, and in the application of these ideas to mathematical economics, mechanics, and population genetics."
1988 Stanley Norman Cohen "For his discovery of methods for propagating and expressing the hereditary information of DNA introduced into living cells, thereby enabling the cloning of individual genes and the study of their structure and function."
1988 George W Housner "For his profound and decisive influence on the development of earthquake engineering worldwide."
1987 James Van Allen "For his central role in the exploration of outer space, including the discoveries of the magnetospheres of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn."
1987 Robert B. Bird "For his profoundly influential books and research on kinetic theory, transport phenomena, the behavior of polymeric fluids, and foreign language study for engineers and scientists."
1986 Chen-Ning Yang "For his pathbreaking research in theoretical physics, which he has influenced for many years by his profound questions and deep mathematical insight. His ideas have had great impact not only on theoretical developments but also on experiments in elementary particles and condensed matter."
1986 Stanley Cohen "For his pioneering discovery and characterization of hormone-like growth factors which specifically control the multiplication of certain cells during growth and development."
1982 Edward Teller "For his outstanding contribution to molecular physics, understanding the origin of stellar energy, the theory and application of fusion reaction, the field of nuclear safety, and for his continued leadership in science and technology."
1982 Gilbert Stork "For his contributions as one of the world's most innovative and productive organic synthetic chemists who has discovered a variety of important synthetic reactions which have made possible the synthesis of some of the most complicated and important biologically active compounds."
1981 Philip Handler ""For his outstanding contribution to biochemical research, resulting in significant contributions to mankind, including research which led to a clearer understanding of pellagra"
1979 Richard P. Feynman "In recognition of his essential contributions to the quantum theory of radiation and to his illumination of behavior of constituents of the atom, of the atomic nucleus, and of the subnuclear particles."
1979 Severo Ochoa "Ochoa continued research on protein synthesis and replication of RNA viruses until 1985, when he returned to Spain and gave advice to Spanish science policy authorities and scientists."
1976 Edward O. Wilson "For his pioneering work on the organization of insect societies and the evolution of social behavior among insects and other animals."
1975 Wernher von Braun "For his work in making the liquid-fuel rocket a practical launch vehicle and for individual contributions to a series of advanced space vehicles, culminating in the Saturn series that made the Apollo program possible."*
1974 Kurt Gödel "For laying the foundation for today's flourishing study of mathematical logic."
1974 Linus Pauling "For the extraordinary scope and power of his imagination, which has led to basic contributions in such diverse fields as structural chemistry and the nature of chemical bonding, molecular biology, immunology, and the nature of genetic diseases."
1973 Carl Djerassi "In recognition of his major contributions to the elucidation of the complex chemistry of the steroid hormones and to the application of these compounds to medicinal chemistry and population control by means of oral contraceptives."
1973 Earl Sutherland "For the discovery that epinephrine and hormones of the pituitary gland occasion their diverse regulatory effects by initiating cellular synthesis of cyclic adenylic acid, now recognized as a universal biological second messenger, which opened a new level of understanding of the subtle mechanisms that integrate the chemical life of the cell while offering hope of entirely new approaches to chemotherapy."
1970 Barbara McClintock "For establishing the relations between inherited characters in plants and the detailed shapes of their chromosomes, and for showing that some genes are controlled by other genes within chromosomes." [6]
1970 John Archibald Wheeler "For his basic contributions to our understanding of the nuclei of atoms, exemplified by his theory of nuclear fission, and his own work and stimulus to others on basic questions of gravitational and electromagnetic phenomena."
1969 Ernst Mayr "For notable contributions to systematics, biogeography, and the study of birds, and especially for great work on the evolution of animal populations."
1969 B.F. Skinner "For basic and imaginative contributions to the study of behavior which have had profound influence upon all of psychology and many related areas."
1967 Paul J. Cohen "For epoch-making results in mathematical logic which have enlivened and broadened investigations in the foundation of mathematics."
1966 Claude Shannon "For brilliant contributions to the mathematical theories of communications and information processing and for his early and continuing impact on the development of these disciplines."
1964 Harold Urey "For outstanding contributions to our understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system and the origin of life on Earth and for pioneering work in the application of isotopes to the determination of the temperatures of ancient oceans."
1963 Vannevar Bush "For his distinguished achievements in electrical engineering, in the technology of computing machines, in the effective coupling of the physical and life sciences; and in his mobilizing science, engineering and education in enduring ways in the service of the Nation."
1963 Norbert Wiener "For his marvellously versatile contributions, profoundly original, ranging within pure and applied mathematics, and penetrating boldly into the engineering and biological sciences."

See also


  1. Office of the Press Secretary (October 15, 2010). . The White House. 
  2. John F. Kennedy (21 August 1961). . The White House. Archived from on 2007-08-19. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  3. AAAS Council (7 January 1979). . American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  4. . National Science Foundation. 24 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-10. 
  5. . National Science Foundation. 15 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-10.