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National Archives

Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Medals of Science and Technology


Secretary Mosbacher and Secretary Sullivan, Dr. Bromley, and award-winning recipients and other distinguished scientists, ladies and gentlemen and friends: first, a welcome to the White House. And on behalf of every American, thank you for your magnificent efforts on behalf of this nation and, indeed, the whole world. It's an honor to address this singularly diverse and distinguished group of Americans and to present America's highest honor in the areas of science and technology: the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology.

Three decades ago the National Medal of Science was created by Congress, and its purpose was to recognize individuals for their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences. And then 9 years ago the National Medal of Technology was established. Its purpose was to recognize scientists and engineers for projects that improve the well-being of the United States through the development or application of technology.

Over the past several decades these contributions and projects have helped make America a richer and better place. And new types of grain and fertilizers have spurred greater crop yields. Diagnostic technology has helped combat disease. And progress in biology and biotechnology has begun unmasking the secrets of heredity. And the work goes on through pioneers like you, for ours is a pioneering heritage, from Eli Whitney to Lee DeForest to the Salk vaccine for polio. And this year's 27 recipients of the Science and Technology Medals embody the best and brightest of that heritage, Americans inspired by the belief that the trailblazers of today will be the heroes of tomorrow.

Think just over our shoulder of just a handful of last year's recipients. Think of Edwin Land, who invented a plastic material that absorbed light of a specific polarization, or Maurice Hilleman, whose brilliant discoveries in basic research and vaccine creation are combating infectious disease, or Rosalyn Yalow, whose breakthrough diagnostic technique is helping to save thousands of lives.

And think, too, of how another of last year's recipients has been a trailblazer in the aircraft industry. Since the 1940's, Kelly Johnson has designed more than 40 aircraft, including the world's largest aircraft and highest flying jet. And he not only led their development programs but on the maiden flights was the flight test engineer himself, putting his own life on the line, if you will. Like each of you, Kelly Johnson has shown that progress often comes neither quickly nor cheaply. And it demands devotion, sometimes even danger; it knows adversity and pain. And like each of you, he knows that dreams realized make possible even bigger dreams.

So, today we celebrate dreams that you are making possible -- dreams that will keep America competitive, raise our standard of living, improve our quality of life. And your dreams presage a new, golden age of information, understanding, and technology and show how creativity comes from the human heart and mind. And so, in closing, let me first salute your achievements and your commitment. Many of you have been teachers, and some have served in the Government, and all have shown that America has no natural resource more precious than her intellectual resources. And next let me promise you that our administration will do its part. And if I fall down, I expect my able Science Advisor [D. Allan Bromley], friend to all in this room, to dust me off and push me back into the game so I don't forget.

We know that scientific knowledge must be renewed and expanded. And so, we will continue the American tradition of strong, broad-based support for the basic research and R D in the areas of science and technology. The approach is going to be well-balanced and fair, and it includes both large science and technology projects as well as small science principal investigator funding. In large science and technology, look at the opportunities ahead: the superconducting supercollider and the human genome initiatives or space station Freedom, which will lead us toward the stars. And then the small science potential is no less dazzling. We want to stay on the path to doubling the National Science Foundation budget -- if Congress will cooperate -- and give our youth a special incentive to excel in science, math, and engineering through our new program of National Science Scholars.

So, ladies and gentlemen, these priorities constitute an investment in our own future, strengthening the education which is crucial to that future. This investment in education is vital if America is to remain the leader in a very, very competitive world, both intellectually and commercially, and if science and technology are to uplift this generation, as you already have. You've done that. You've displayed your own contribution in a brilliant way. You've inspired generations to come, as you must. For you are, in essence, our true pioneers, dreaming the dreams that enhance our energy and health, medicine, and productivity, national security, and education.

Again, my heartfelt congratulations on behalf of each and every citizen to you for your contributions. And now it is my great pleasure to introduce the Secretary of Commerce, Bob Mosbacher, and my Assistant for Science and Technology, Dr. Allan Bromley, who will describe your achievements. I like my end of the bargain somehow: I get to present you with America's highest technological and scientific award, and I also get to shake your hands. So, thank you very much, and thank you for your magnificent contribution not just to our country but to the people around the world.

Note: The President spoke at 2:09 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

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