[Updated: 8:40 pm ET/5:40 pm PT] Leroy Hood, the man who transformed biology by leading the team that invented automated DNA sequencers, has picked up one of the highest honors a scientist can get in the United States—the National Medal of Science.
Hood, the co-founder and president of the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, was named one of the 12 winners of the National Medal of Science, according to a statement from the White House on Friday afternoon. Bob Langer, the legendary bioengineering professor and entrepreneur at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was among the 11 winners of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Hood and Langer are both Xconomists.
“I am proud to honor these inspiring American innovators,” President Obama said in a statement. “They represent the ingenuity and imagination that has long made this Nation great—and they remind us of the enormous impact a few good ideas can have when these creative qualities are unleashed in an entrepreneurial environment.”
The National Medal of Science has been awarded each year since 1959, and the Technology and Innovation award has been given every year since 1980, according to the statement. The winners will be honored at a White House ceremony in early 2013.
Hood and Langer, longtime friends, exchanged congratulatory e-mails after they learned about the awards, Hood said when reached by phone Friday afternoon. Although both men have trophy cases full of honors for their contributions to science and technology, Hood said today’s honor is “right up there.” He also said Langer’s award is “well-deserved.”
“The medals are really for the body of work, and that’s why I think this is a special honor,” Hood says. “It’s what you contributed over your career. It’s a validation of some paradigm changes that I’ve pushed for the past 40 years.”
Hood’s nomination for the prize was assisted by letters of support from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Bill Bowes, the longtime venture capitalist with U.S. Venture Partners. Gates famously recruited Hood from Caltech to the University of Washington in 1991 to develop new technologies that would speed the rate of discovery in biology. Bowes and Hood go back even further, as the two worked together in 1980 to co-found Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) and Applied Biosystems, the developer of DNA sequencers that made the Human Genome Project possible. Applied Biosystems is now part of Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE).
Hood has won a number of other prestigious awards for his work, including the Lasker Prize, the Kyoto Prize, the Russ Prize, and the Lemelson-MIT Prize.
Langer, likewise, has a long list of awards to his name. His honors include the Millennium Technology Prize, the Priestly Award, the Charles Stark Draper Prize, and the National Medal of Science. To get a sense of Langer’s impact on the biotechnology industry, see this family tree of the 17 companies he had co-founded with Polaris Venture Partners through April 2011.
[Updated with comment from Langer.]
“I feel incredibly fortunate,” Langer said via e-mail. “I feel particularly pleased that I will be one of the very few people to have received both the National Medal of Science (I received the 2006 Medal) and this—the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.”
Winning this award means Langer will get a chance to meet President Obama, who he met in 2006 when the two received honorary degrees at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. When asked what issue he might want to discuss with the President at the ceremony, Langer said it’s the same thing he brought up six years ago: “The importance of funding basic research in science+engineering and of funding young scientists,” Langer wrote.
Here’s the full list of winners:
National Medal of Science
Dr. Allen Bard, University of Texas at Austin, TX
Dr. Sallie Chisholm, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Dr. Sidney Drell, Stanford University, CA
Dr. Sandra Faber, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA
Dr. Sylvester James Gates, University of Maryland, MD
Dr. Solomon Golomb, University of Southern California, CA
Dr. John Goodenough, University of Texas at Austin, TX
Dr. M. Frederick Hawthorne, University of Missouri, MO
Dr. Leroy Hood, Institute for Systems Biology, WA
Dr. Barry Mazur, Harvard University, MA
Dr. Lucy Shapiro, Stanford University School of Medicine, CA
Dr. Anne Treisman, Princeton University, NJ
National Medal of Technology and Innovation
Dr. Frances Arnold, California Institute of Technology, CA
Dr. George Carruthers, U.S. Naval Research Lab, DC
Dr. Robert Langer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Dr. Norman McCombs, AirSep Corporation, NY
Dr. Gholam Peyman, Arizona Retinal Specialists, AZ
Dr. Art Rosenfeld, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, CA
Dr. Jan Vilcek, NYU Langone Medical Center, NY
Dr. Samuel Blum, IBM Corporation, NY
Dr. Rangaswamy Srinivasan, IBM Corporation, NY
Dr. James Wynne, IBM Corporation, NY
Raytheon BBN Technologies, MA, *Represented by CEO, Edward Campbell
[Full disclosure: I’m currently working on a biography of Hood.]
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