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President pays tribute to a dozen big thinkers

President Barack Obama awards medals to 12 Americans for their achievement in science, technology and innovation — and says their work puts his own science projects to shame.
Image: Barack Obama, Jacqueline Barton
President Barack Obama presents the National Medal of Science to Caltech chemist Jacqueline Barton on Friday during a ceremony at the White House. Barton's husband, Peter Dervan, was awarded the same medal in 2006, and Obama said the two chemists "plan on displaying their medals next to each other on a mantle at home."Charles Dharapak / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

President Barack Obama distributed medals on Friday to 12 Americans for their achievement in science, technology and innovation — and said their work put his own science projects to shame.

"It’s safe to say that this is a group that makes all of us really embarrassed about our old science projects," Obama joked during the White House ceremony. "You know, the volcano with the stuff coming out, with the baking soda inside. Apparently, that was not a cutting-edge achievement, even though our parents told us it was really terrific."

Seven researchers received the National Medal of Science, while five inventors were honored with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

The researchers were recognized for such work as discovering a new property of the DNA helix. The inventors were honored for such contributions as improving energy efficiency and reducing the cost of gas liquefaction and separation, and developing flight-safety sensors used in aircraft worldwide.

"Thanks to the men and women on the stage, we are one step closer to curing diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s," Obama said. "Because of their work, soldiers can see the enemy at night and grandparents can see the pictures of their grandchildren instantly and constantly.  Planes are safer, satellites are cheaper, and our energy grid is more efficient, thanks to the breakthroughs that they have made."

The medals are awarded annually, through programs that are administered by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The science medal program was established in 1959, and the technology medals were first awarded in 1985.

National Medal of Science recipients include:

Jacqueline K. Barton, California Institute of Technology, for discovery of a new property of the DNA helix long-range electron transfer, and for showing that electron transfer depends upon stacking of the base pairs and DNA dynamics.  Her experiments reveal a strategy for how DNA repair proteins locate DNA lesions and demonstrate a biological role for DNA-mediated charge transfer.

Ralph L. Brinster, University of Pennsylvania, for his fundamental contributions to the development and use of transgenic mice.  His research has provided experimental foundations and inspiration for broad progress in germ line genetic modification in a range of species, which has generated a revolution in biology, medicine and agriculture.

Shu Chien, University of California at San Diego, for pioneering work in cardiovascular physiology and bioengineering, which has had tremendous impact in the fields of microcirculation, blood rheology and mechanotransduction in human health and disease.

Rudolf Jaenisch, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for improving our understanding of epigenetic regulation of gene expression, the biological mechanisms that affect how genetic information is variably expressed.  His work has led to major advances in the scientific understanding of mammalian cloning and embryonic stem cells.

Peter J. Stang, University of Utah, for his creative contributions to the development of organic super-molecular chemistry, and for his record of public service.

Richard A. Tapia, Rice University, for his contributions in optimization theory and numerical analysis, and for his dedication and sustained efforts in fostering diversity and excellence in mathematics and science education.

Srinivasa S.R. Varadhan, New York University, for his work in probability theory, especially his work on large deviations from expected random behavior which has revolutionized this field of study during the second half of the 20th century, and become a cornerstone of both pure and applied probability.  The mathematical insights he developed have been applied in diverse fields, including quantum field theory, population dynamics, finance, econometrics and traffic engineering.

National Medal of Technology and Innovation recipients include:

Rakesh Agrawal, Purdue University, for an extraordinary record of innovations in improving the energy efficiency and reducing the cost of gas liquifaction and separation.  These innovations have had significant positive impacts on electronic device manufacturing, liquefied gas production and the supply of industrial gases for diverse industries.

B. Jayant Baliga, North Carolina State University, for development and commercialization of the insulated gate bipolar transistor and other power semiconductor devices that are extensively used in transportation, lighting, medicine, defense and renewable energy generation systems.

C. Donald Bateman, Honeywell, for developing and championing critical flight-safety sensors now used by aircraft worldwide, including ground-proximity warning systems and wind-shear detection systems.

Yvonne C. Brill, RCA Astro Electronics, for innovation in rocket propulsion systems and geosynchronous and low Earth orbit communication satellites, which greatly improved the effectiveness of space propulsion systems.

Michael F. Tompsett, TheraManager, for pioneering work in materials and electronic technologies including the design and development of the first charge-coupled device imagers.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and