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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - President George W. Bush presented the nation's highest science and technology honors Friday to MIT President Emeritus Charles M. Vest, pioneering biomedical engineer Robert S. Langer and groundbreaking atomic physicist Daniel Kleppner.
Vest, who served as MIT's president from 1990 to 2004, received the National Medal of Technology at a White House ceremony scheduled to begin at 1:40 p.m. Langer and Kleppner received the National Medal of Science at the same ceremony.
Vest's award brings to three the number of current, emeritus or deceased MIT faculty who have won the National Medal of Technology, while Langer and Kleppner's honors bring to 27 the number of current, emeritus or deceased MIT faculty who have won the National Medal of Science.
"MIT is extraordinarily proud that three esteemed members of our community have been selected for this prestigious honor," Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield said. "They have made enormous contributions to MIT, to our nation and to science."
The National Medal of Science was established in 1959 to honor individuals "deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical or engineering sciences." In 1980 Congress expanded this recognition to include the social and behavioral sciences.
The National Medal of Technology was created in 1980 "to recognize those who have made lasting contributions to America's competitiveness, standard of living, and quality of life through technological innovation, and to recognize those who have made substantial contributions to strengthening the nation's technological workforce."
About the recipients and their citations:
Charles M. Vest
Charles Vest was cited "for his visionary leadership in advancing America's technological workforce and capacity for innovation through revitalizing the national partnership among academe, government and industry."
During his 14 years as president of MIT, Vest won acclaim for placing special emphasis on enhancing undergraduate education, exploring new organizational forms to meet emerging directions in research and education, building a stronger international dimension into education and research programs, developing stronger relations with industry, and enhancing racial and cultural diversity at the Institute.
Vest also devoted considerable energy to bringing issues concerning education and research to broader public attention and to strengthening national policy on science, engineering and education.
Selected as a member of the bipartisan Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, which completed its report in 2005, Vest brought a strong science and engineering background to the analysis. He led a U.S. Department of Energy task force on the future of science programs in 2002-2003 and chaired a presidential advisory commission on the redesign of the International Space Station in 1992-1994. Vest was vice chair of the Council on Competitiveness for eight years, is a former chair of the Association of American Universities, and serves on the U.S. Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education.
On July 1, Vest began serving a six-year term as president of the National Academy of Engineering in Washington.
Robert S. Langer
Robert Langer was cited "for revolutionary discoveries in the areas of polymeric controlled release systems and tissue engineering and synthesis of new materials that have led to new medical treatments and have profoundly affected the well being of mankind."
Langer, who holds the title of Institute Professor at MIT, is renowned for his revolutionary work on new and different ways to administer drugs to cancer patients. At MIT, he runs the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world. He holds more than 550 issued and pending patents and has written some 900 research papers.
Langer's achievements have had a profound impact on the field of cancer research. His accomplishments are also unique in that he entered the field with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering when he teamed with cancer researcher Judah Folkman at Children's Hospital in Boston in 1974. At that time, the scientific community believed that only small molecules could pass through a plastic delivery system in a controlled manner.
In the 1970s, Langer developed polymer materials that allowed the large molecules of a protein to pass through membranes in a controlled manner to inhibit angiogenesis, the process by which tumors recruit blood vessels. Blocking angiogenesis is critical in fighting cancer because the new blood vessels allow tumor cells to escape into the circulation and lodge in other organs.
Daniel Kleppner was cited "for pioneering scientific studies of the interaction of atoms and light including Rydberg atoms, cavity quantum electrodynamics, quantum chaos, for developing techniques that opened the way to Bose Einstein Condensation in a gas; for lucid explanations of physics to non-specialists, and for exemplary service to the scientific community."
Kleppner, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics, Emeritus, is a principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at MIT. He has made fundamental contributions to atomic physics and quantum optics, mainly using hydrogen and hydrogen-like atoms. He built new devices, performed spectroscopic tests of extreme precision and investigated novel quantum phenomena.
In 1960, Kleppner developed with Norman Ramsey the hydrogen maser, which was later used as an atomic clock of unprecedented stability. Applications of this early work range from coordination of radio-signals in long base-line radio astronomy to satellite-based global positioning systems.
Kleppner and colleagues also pioneered a whole new field of physics, the study of ultra-cold gases. They developed tools instrumental to the 1995 discovery of Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) in alkali atoms by Eric Cornell, Carl Weiman and MIT's Wolfgang Ketterle. (The three shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics for that work.) BECs, which represent a new form of matter at the lowest temperatures ever achieved, are currently created under various forms in many laboratories around the world. Their study opens fascinating perspectives for applications in both fundamental and applied research.