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Public Papers - 1991

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

1991-09-16

Thank you. Please be seated, and let me welcome the dignitaries, that's almost everybody. I don't know who is excluded, but -- [laughter] -- first, Secretary Mosbacher and Secretary Lujan here, Bob over my shoulder, Allan Bromley, my Science Advisor; Henson Moore, I believe is to be here, of Energy; and, of course, Rock Schnabel of Commerce; Walter Massey, the Director of the National Science Foundation. And then finally and perhaps most important today, our honorees and their friends and families. It's my pleasure to welcome all of you to this steamy Rose Garden. [Laughter]

And with us today are five Nobel laureates, leading engineers of the information age, authors of some of this century's world-changing discoveries and inventions. Men and women whose quantum leaps of learning compress generations of knowledge within a single lifetime of achievement. From the first moments of creation to the frontiers of the solar system, and now with Voyager, beyond, your knowledge spans the broad canvas of human endeavor.

Some of you are not only experts in your field, you invented your field. Your quests and questions produced new disciplines, new knowledge, new ways of looking at our world.

And today, your Nation recognizes your monumental accomplishments, honors the differences you have made: Advancing human understanding, improving the human condition, helping mankind conquer ignorance and illness, helping this Nation compete and prosper.

Today's award winners range in age from the Pegasus Team, a group of precocious 40-something scientists and one 37-year-old, who designed and built the world's first private space rocket to Admiral Grace Hopper, born in 1906, who pioneered the revolution that put personal computers on the desks of millions of Americans. And dragged even this President into the computer age. [Laughter]

I was asked for a report. It's been almost 6 months since my first computer lesson, and I'm making progress. I make the same mistakes, but I do it five times faster. It's marvelous. [Laughter]

The men and women we honor exemplify not simply the life of the mind, but the spirit of adventure and risk that accompanies the quest for advancement.

Take Stephen Bechtel, whose vision helped a city spring from the Saudi desert, helped turn the Arctic waters of James Bay into a source of energy for millions of North Americans, and who's now helping Kuwait rise up from the ashes of war.

Consider Colonel Stapp, John Paul Stapp, expert on the human impact of G-forces stress. When his experiments became too dangerous to impose on others, Colonel Stapp became his own subject. And as a former Naval aviator, I can hardly believe he's withstood 40 G's. That's the same as going from 632 miles per hour to a dead stop in 1.4 seconds. Colonel Stapp put himself on the line and made flying safer for everyone, from passengers on commuter shuttles to the astronauts now orbiting the Earth on Discovery.

From the work of a single individual come benefits that can banish suffering and prolong life for many millions of people. Consider the career of Gertrude Elion, Nobel prize-winning biochemist. Her life's work spans the quest to defeat leukemia and malaria to today's battle against AIDS and other immune system disorders.

Together, your efforts transformed our world. And yet, as a Nation, our honor for all you've done falls short if we fail to sustain your forward march. This administration has proposed what progress demands: Record funding levels for research and development, with funds channeled to the individual investigator and small research teams that so often redefine state-of-the-art. To advance technology, we've focused funds on the areas of energy and aeronautics, biotechnology and advanced materials, high performance computing and communications.

To advance science and engineering research, we've urged Congress to approve an 18 percent increase in funding for the National Science Foundation, keeping us on track with our commitment to double spending on that vital research arm by the year 1994. Our commitment to science and technology proves beyond doubt we will not shortchange the future.

In the words of astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, ``Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him, and calls the adventure science.'' Well, science and technology hold open the hope of infinite possibility, of answers that eluded Einstein, of a new world free from fear and want. And that same shining future, the new world of possibility, exists within every child.

In the end, progress of enlightenment comes down to education, and what are we doing to cultivate the children sitting today in classrooms around the country, the generation we'll ask to provide solutions to the challenges of a new century, answers to questions that haven't even yet been asked.

Unless we act immediately, the next generation may not be equipped to follow in your footsteps. All of you know our national education goals and the strategy that we call America 2000, our challenge to everyone with a stake in our schools to literally reinvent American education. Well, right now, in some studies of math and science aptitude, U.S. students rank dead last amongst the industrialized nations. And that one statistic alone should shake us out of our complacency and show us the scope of the challenge that we face.

If we're going to be first in the world in math and science by 2000, there's not a moment to waste. Because we're serious, next year's budget targets 1 million for precollege math and science education, a 1-year increase of 28 percent.

And today, I salute every one of you who has taken the time to share your wisdom in the classroom. I mentioned earlier that we have five Nobel laureates with us today. Let me recognize another medal-winner for a singular distinction: Elvin Kabat, who's had the satisfaction of seeing one of his students go on to win a Nobel.

We must preserve the vital connection between teaching and research. That's the idea behind the Commerce Department's Technology Heroes Program, to turn Medal of Technology winners into role models for our kids. And that's why today I am pleased to announce the establishment of the Presidential Faculty Fellows Program, to provide 5-year grants totaling 0,000 to as many as each of 30 young faculty members each year. These grants will support young scholars in their path-breaking work in science and technology and their teaching in the classroom. Perhaps years from now, some of those Presidential Faculty Fellows will have their own day here in the Rose Garden.

In honoring each of you, this Nation honors the boundless horizons of the human mind, the soaring spirit of inquiry, the special genius of the architects who fashion today's fantastic idea into tomorrow's usable tool. Your work stands as its own reward; so let me simply add your Nation's thanks.

Once again, welcome to the White House. Congratulations on your well-deserved honors. Now, with the help of Dr. Massey and Secretary Mosbacher and Dr. Allan Bromley, we will present the awards.

Thank you all very much.

[At this point, Walter Massey presented the awards.]

Well done to the presenter. I guess that concludes it, doesn't it?

Thank you all and, again, my congratulations. I think that concludes the ceremony. And the person that's in charge of the weather, please meet me inside. [Laughter] Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:30 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks he referred to Secretary of Commerce Robert A. Mosbacher; Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan, Jr.; D. Allan Bromley, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology; W. Henson Moore, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Energy; ``Rock'' Schnabel, Under Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism; Walter Massey, Director of the National Science Foundation; and Gertrude Elion, Nobel prize-winning biochemist.

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