Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Remarks to the National Medals of Science
and Technology Awards Dinner
March 13, 2000
Thank you, Rosing, for your opening insights.
It is, indeed, a great pleasure to be a part of this
glorious event to honor our nation's most distinguished
scientists and engineers.
We are here to recognize a stellar group: people whose
contributions have greatly advanced the progress of
We admire and appreciate them for their spirit of adventure
and for their strong resolve to uncovering the unknown.
We also honor them for, in the words of President Clinton:
"Their achievements, contributions, and innovations
that have sustained U.S. leadership... [and] enhanced
our ability to shape and improve our nation's
In looking to the future, I would like to note that
tonight's 12 honorees are the last of the 20th
century to receive Medals of Science-since they are
receiving 1999 awards.
Since Einstein was recently named person of the century,
these awards now seem to carry extra significance.
We can be certain that we will reap the benefits from
the work of these outstanding scientists for centuries,
perhaps millenniums to come.
When we consider our new century, we can't help but
look back in awe at how far science and engineering
has brought us-how far the contributions of tonight's
awardees and all the previous medallists have taken
us in terms of progress and opportunity.
At the National Science Foundation, we are also doing
a bit of historical reflecting. This May marks the
Foundation's 50th anniversary.
That is 50 years that NSF has invested in science and
engineering research and in education. Or simply put,
50 years of investing in people.
Whenever we tell the story of the Foundation, we cite
the benefits of fundamental research.
It's a familiar list: MRIs, lasers, Doppler radar,
and countless others. These advances draw upon a multitude
And they emerged due to the passion, persistence and
dedication of scientists and engineers, including
the ones we are honoring here this evening.
Their work has made it possible for us to understand,
for example, the reasons for the Antarctic ozone "hole,"
the complexity of the microbial world and our environment,
and the effects of investment and technological progress
impact economic growth.
And as you view the next segment of the video clips,
you'll understand the tremendous breadth and scope
of the fields our honorees' discoveries represent.
Collectively, we have over four centuries worth of
knowledge and wisdom among these scientists. That's
I have one more note about NSF as I talk about this
amazing group being honored here. Our support for
graduate education has been crucial to all of the
areas our medallists represent.
That's why at NSF, we're making a very strong investment
in our core research activities.
This allows us to involve more students in research,
and to bring in more young investigators to stimulate
the pipeline in developing great scientific minds
that will carry us into the future.
Most of our honorees have been recognized for their
mentoring efforts and their support of young researchers.
You have inspired new generations of students to pursue
successful careers in science and engineering.
Today, NSF programs are touching 200,000 people in
some way. It's not just the research that we touch,
but the lives-the people who go out to be heads of
industry, corporations, and yes, Medals of Science
History has taught us time and again that there is
no better way to invest in the future.
Thanks to the President's recent budget proposal for
NSF, we have before us a great opportunity to continue
that strong investment. This proposal is a $675 million
That's double the largest increase ever proposed in
NSF's history. We've always known that the President
appreciates the importance of fundamental science
and engineering to society.
So, our 50th anniversary is not the only
cause for celebration.
Congratulations to all of you, for all that you have
done and continue to do for science, engineering,