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Secretary Moniz's Remarks at the 2013 Enrico Fermi Awards Ceremony -- As Delivered

February 3, 2014 - 4:55pm


Well, thank you, Pat (Dehmer).  It’s great to be here for a very, very enjoyable occasion indeed.  And actually, with Pat, speaking of Office of Science, I’ve been told there’s a Bill Brickman in the audience some place.  Where is he?  Oh, there he is, back there.  Former head of Science until recently.  I also see Jim Decker.  If there are other Office of Science past luminaries, you know who you are.  Declare yourself. Also our friend Dick Garwin.  Great group to be here with.

And also, to talk about the Fermi awards, really one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious awards for scientific achievement, as a physicist, it’s hard not to start out by thinking about Fermi once again, all his contributions to quantum theory and nuclear particle physics, stat mech, first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, Chicago Pile, Nobel for induced radioactivity, transuranic elements and both a great theorist and a great experimentalist.  So it’s really great to have the Fermi award soon in the hands or around the necks of such distinguished scientists.

As Pat said, we just got back from the White House.  And the President was very gracious, very engaged because he pointed out to our award winners how much he likes being around rational people. And it was – and then Andy gave him a lecture on the importance of recognizing scientists as well as other accomplished people.

So Allen and Andy join a very long and distinguished list of Fermi award winners.  And with the Berkeley and Texas connections, of course, we go back to – Berkeley was all over the early awards, Lawrence, Seaborg, Oppenheimer, but also more recently from both institutions – Art Rosenfeld, for example, from Berkeley, the 2005 awardee; and John Goodenough from Texas, 2009 awardee.  And you will both be going back to places with colleagues who will share this.

Let me just say a few words about the winners, starting with Allen Bard, sometimes called the father of modern electrochemistry.  Son of European immigrants, born and raised in New York.  And he credits the time he spent as a child at the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium as inspiring him to go into science.  And there rumors, at least, that this led to a long collection of bugs being brought home.  But perhaps then his parents pushed him into chemistry so it would be slightly cleaner than that pursuit.  But he really did help to found the field of electrochemistry, which obviously is critical for what we’re doing in energy storage, fuel cell, solar, photochemistry, et cetera, not to mention underpinning advances in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering.

So we all know that success in impact is not measured by the number of papers, number of patents, but nevertheless, one can’t resist.  After all, he’s a chemist, you know.  We physicists have so many fewer papers, but Allen has over 900 peer-reviewed research papers, 75 book chapters, 23 patents, three books, the last of which was on nanotechnology.

But a better measure of his mark is the impact on the next generation, his mentoring record with 75 Ph.D. students, 150 post-docs he’s worked with.  I understand there may be some of the students in post-doc in the audience.  If there are, why don’t you stand up?

So – ah, yes, there are a few. That’s great.  So congratulations on that, Allen.  That’s really terrific.

So just quoting Allen, he said, “Whatever I’ve done as a scientist will be there for a while but then fade away.  The big names in science quickly become unknown.  But through your students, you maintain a presence in future generations, and they go on and on and on.”  And we have some of those here today.

So clearly, from his cutting-edge work in chemistry to his legacy as a mentor and teacher, Allen embodies very much the spirit of the Fermi award.

Andy Sessler, well-known to many of us here at the Department of Energy, particularly in his – well, in many roles, including his former service as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from ’73 to ’80s and president of the American Physical Society.  Andy has made outstanding and very, very well-known contributions to the establishment of beam physics that has underpinned the development of many of the essential discovery tools that of course we host today in many of national laboratories.

As an example, his work on synchrotron light sources helped lay the foundation for the Berkeley lab’s advanced light source but also at Brookhaven and Argonne.  He also contributed to the development of high-intensity free electron lasers, as had been at Jefferson lab and at SLAC.  These tools are clearly, again, critical enabling tools in so many areas, going beyond the sciences themselves into medical imaging and other sciences like environmental sciences.

But as I’m sure many of you know, in addition to his scientific contributions, he’s also been an exemplary humanitarian.  He’s led research into new ways to increase the efficiency and reliability of landmine discovery and disposal technology.  During the Cold War, he co-founded scientists for Sakharov, Orlov and Shcharansky, which championed the cause of Sakharov, a nuclear physicist and winner of the ’75 Nobel Peace Prize; Orlov, accelerator physicist and human rights activist; and Shcharansky, Jewish computer export – all of whom were being persecuted under the Soviet Union.

As Andy got the organization off the ground and the scrambled to fly family members of the persecuted scientists to America to garner public support, he and other founders simply charged the plane tickets to their credit cards. And I recall very well Shcharansky’s wife in Massachusetts and a frequent visitor to MIT.  Eventually, the organization gained the support of more than 7,000 researchers and academics, led an academic boycott of the Soviet Union.  And because of those courageous actions and those of other scientists, Shcharansky, Orlov and Shcharansky, not to mention other dissidents and scientists, were eventually freed.

Andy later wrote of his humanitarian work that for younger people, it may serve as an example showing how an active research physicist sacrificed a paper or two but still believes the time was more than well-spent.

And in fact, I’ll just add kind of a personal connection to that in the sense of Andy was also an inaugural member of the National Advisory Board of the Union of Concerned Scientists.  It’s a connection because first of all, we stole our chief of staff from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Kevin Knobloch, who was president of that organization.  But even more for me, going back to my early years in academia, my mentors, like Henry Kendall, Henry – Herman Feshbach, Vicky Weisskopf – all among the founders of the UCS.  And that mentoring is – again, we come back to the word “mentoring” – is so important.  The only question is this kind of track, having led me to where I am now, it’s still out whether the time is being well-spent. But we will see.

But anyway, these are two terrific winners of the prize.  In recognition again of your long record of outstanding scientific contributions in public service and mentorship, please accept our country’s warmest congratulations, and join me, please, in applauding the winners.