Jan Vilcek Receives National Medal from President Obama

Jan Vilcek Receives National Medal from President Obama


– Thank you so much, please,
everyone have a seat. Well, it is my incredible
pleasure and honor to welcome this incredibly talented group of men and women in the White House, and I want to congratulate them on earning America’s highest honor for
invention and discovery. The National Medals of Science and the National Medals of
Technology and Innovation. Before we start, I want to acknowledge the head of the National
Science Foundation, Dr. Subra Suresh, as well
as the members of my cabinet who are with us here today. Where is everybody? (audience laughing) Where’d Subra go? There you go, all right. I just wanted to make
sure they all showed up. (audience applauding) I especially want to thank
Secretary Steven Chu, who announced this morning
that he will be leaving the Department of Energy,
that will be a loss for us. Steven’s been a great friend, a tremendous colleague
over the past four years working on a whole range of energy issues, but also designing a cap to plug a hole in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico when nobody else could figure it out, and that’s typical of the
incredible contributions that he’s made to this country. Because of his leadership,
this country’s further along on the path to energy independence, it’s better positioned for the jobs and industries of the future, so Steve, you have earned
more than your fair share of relaxation time, but we are grateful for
your extraordinary service. (audience applauding) So thank you. Now, this is the most
collection of brainpower we’ve had under this roof in a long time. (audience laughing) Maybe since the last time
we gave out these medals. I have no way to prove that, and I know this crowd likes proof. But I can’t imagine too
many people competing with those who we honor here today. There’s 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. We don’t always recognize
the genius behind these ideas right away. The New York Times once
described Robert Goddard’s belief that rockets could one day go to the moon as “lacking the knowledge ladled
out daily in high schools.” (audience laughing) One engineer called Einstein’s brand new Theory of Relativity “voodoo nonsense.” But with enough time,
we usually come around. And you know, we don’t give
folks the same treatment that Galileo got when he
came up with new ideas. (audience laughing) 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. So these honorees are at the
forefront of that mission. Thanks to the sacrifices they’ve made, the chances they’ve taken, the gallons of coffee they’ve consumed, we now have batteries
that power everything from cellphones to electric cars, we have a map of the human genome and new ways to produce renewable energy, we’re learning to grow organs in the lab and better understand what’s happening in our deepest oceans, and if that’s not enough, the people on this stage are
also gonna be responsible for devising a formula to tame frizzy hair, (audience laughing) as well as inspiring the game Tetris. But what also makes
these individuals unique is how they’ve gotten here. The obstacles they’ve overcome and the commitments they’ve made to push the boundaries
of our understanding. Jim Gates’s father, for
example, was in the army, and by the time Jim was in sixth grade, he had attended six different schools, but he still remembers the day he came home and saw his
father standing on the porch with a big smile on his face, and that’s how Jim knew
he had gotten into MIT, on his way to becoming one
of our foremost experts in supersymmetry and string theory. When Gholam Peyman first
accepted a position at the University of Illinois, his office was a converted restroom. (audience laughing) But he carved out enough
space for himself, his secretary, and his lab equipment, and today, he’s known as the
father of Lasik eye surgery. Sandra Moore Faber had
a passion for astronomy from the very beginning. But when she visited one of
our nation’s top observatories as a grad student, they didn’t have a dorm
for female astronomers, so Sandra ended up sleeping on the sofa in the caretaker’s cottage. Now luckily, that didn’t slow her down and she became one of the
world’s foremost experts in the evolution of the universe. You know, 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
two million Americans in 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, 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. And one of the scientists
being honored today is Jan Vilcek. Jan was born in Slovakia to Jewish parents who fled
the Nazis during World War II. To keep their young son
safe, his parents placed him in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns, and later he and his mother were taken in by some brave farmers in
a remote Slovak village and hidden until the war was over. And today, Jan’s a pioneer in
the study of the immune system and the treatment of inflammatory
diseases like arthritis. People like Jan obviously
had enormous talent. In some fundamental
ways, they were destined to be on this stage. The minds they were born with, the drive they innately possess, the positive forces
that shaped their lives, were more powerful than the
forces aligned against them. So they beat the odds, but
even with all those gifts, every one of today’s honorees also had somebody who offered them a hand. A teacher who sparked their interest, a scholarship that paid the way, and an opportunity to come to America and bring even the most
distant dream within our reach. And that reminds us of our
obligations to each other and to this country. We can… No matter how many talented
folks there are in this country, if we’re not offering a hand up, a lot of those folks are gonna miss out on what might be their destiny. We can make it easier for our young people to learn the skills of the future. We can attract the brightest
minds to our shore. We can celebrate and lift up and spotlight researchers and scientists, like the ones here today. So that somewhere, a boy on an army base, or a girl looking through a telescope, or a young scientist working
out of a converted bathroom can make it their goal to stand where these
honorees will be standing when they receive their medals. That’s what we can do and
that’s what we must do. That’s what I intend to do
as long as I’m president. So I want to congratulate
these extraordinary Americans once again for all their accomplishments, I want to wish our military
aides the best of luck as they attempt to read the citations, (audience laughing) because… I can assure you, they practiced
hard on this all week long. You good? You feel good? (audience laughing) All right. There are a lot of syllables
in some of these things. (audience laughing) All right. I won’t know the
difference, but they will. (audience laughing) All right. Congratulations, everybody. (audience applauding) – Allen J. Bard. 2011 National Medal of
Science to Allen J. Bard, University of Texas, Austin, for contributions in electro-chemistry, including electro-luminescence, semiconductor photo electro-chemistry, electro-analytical chemistry, and the invention of the scanning electro-chemical microscope. (audience applauding) Sallie W. Chisholm. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to 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. (audience applauding) (audience applauding) Sidney D. Drell. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to 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. (audience applauding) (audience applauding) Sandra M. Faber. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to Sandra M. Faber, University of California, Santa Cruz, for leadership in numerous
pathbreaking studies of extra-galactic astronomy
and galaxy formation and for oversight of the construction of important instruments,
including the Keck telescopes. (audience applauding) Sylvester James Gates, Jr.. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of Science to 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. (audience applauding) Solomon W. Golomb. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to 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. (audience applauding) John B. Goodenough. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to John B. Goodenough, the 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. (audience applauding) (audience laughing) M. Frederick Hawthorne. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of Science
to M. Frederick Hawthorne, University of Missouri, for highly creative pioneering research in the inorganic, organo-metallic, and medicinal boron 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. (audience applauding) Leroy Hood. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to 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. (audience applauding) Berry C. Mazur. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to Berry 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. (audience applauding) Lucy Shapiro. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to 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. (audience applauding) Anne M. Treisman. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Science to 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. (audience applauding) (audience applauding) Frances H. Arnold. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to Frances H. Arnold, California Institute of Technology, for pioneering research
on biofuels and chemicals that could lead to the replacement of pollution-generating materials. (audience applauding) (audience applauding) George Carruthers. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to 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. (audience applauding) Robert Langer. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to 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. (audience applauding) (audience laughing) (audience applauding) Norman R. McCombs. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to 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. (audience applauding) Gholam A. Peyman. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to 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 intro-ocular drug administration and expanding the field
of retinal surgery. (audience applauding) Arthur H. Rosenfeld. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to Arthur H. Rosenfeld, American Council for an
Energy-Efficient Economy and California Institute
for Energy and Environment and Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, for extraordinary leadership
in the development of energy-efficient building technologies and related standards and policies. (audience applauding) Jan T. Vilcek. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to Jan T. Vilcek, New York University School of Medicine, for pioneering work on interferons and key contributions to the development of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. (audience applauding) Rangaswamy Srinivasan and James Wynne. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to Samuel Blum, Rangaswamy
Srinivasan, and James Wynne, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, for the pioneering discovery
of excimer laser ablative photo-decomposition of
human and animal tissue, laying the foundation for PRK and Lasik, laser refractive surgical techniques that have revolutionized
vision enhancement. (audience applauding) (audience laughing) (audience applauding) Edward Campbell. (audience applauding) 2011 National Medal of
Technology and Innovation to 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. (audience applauding) – That wasn’t bad. (audience laughing) Well, again, I just want to congratulate all the honorees here today. Can everybody please give them one more big round of applause? (applauding) Well, we are so grateful to all of you, the incredible contributions
that you’ve made have enhanced our lives
in immeasurable was, in ways that are practical, but also inspirational. And so we know that you are
gonna continue to inspire and in many cases teach
the next generation of inventors and scientists
who will discover things that we can’t even
dream of at this point. So, thank you so much for
everything that you’ve done. I hope that all of you enjoy
this wonderful reception. Feel free to, you know, party here. (audience laughing) You know, this looks like
a somewhat wild crowd. (audience laughing) So… You know, just remember
there are Secret Service here (audience laughing) if you guys get out of hand. Thank you very much, everybody. (audience applauding)

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