President Barack Obama greets 2010 Fermi Award recipients Dr. Burton Richter, right, and his wife Laurose, and Dr. Mildred S. Dresselhaus, third from right, and her husband Gene, in the Oval Office, May 7, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Ed. Note: This entry is cross-posted from the White House blog

The best science is as much about service as it is about discovery. And that’s especially true for two of our Nation’s most accomplished researchers, who were honored Monday for devoting their lives not only to doing great science but also to teaching and mentoring, public service, and inspiring others.

The two awardees, Drs. Mildred Dresselhaus and Burton Richter -- after visiting with President Obama in the Oval Office -- were joined by distinguished guests at the Ronald Reagan International Center as Secretary of Energy Steven Chu honored them as winners of the Enrico Fermi Award.

A Presidential award, the Fermi Award is one of the oldest and most prestigious science and technology honors bestowed by the U.S. Government. It is administered by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to honor individuals who have given unstintingly over their careers to advance energy science, and to inspire future scientists to follow their example.

Dr. Dresselhaus has made many discoveries that deepen our fundamental understanding in condensed matter systems. She has also served in a variety of scientific leadership roles, including as the Director of the DOE Office of Science and President of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition, Dr. Dresselhaus has devoted great energy to mentoring students, raising community awareness about science, and promoting progress on gender equity. She is widely respected as a mentor and spokesperson for women in science.

Dr. Richter has done pioneering work in the development and use of accelerator technologies that have contributed to several Nobel Prizes -- including the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physics that he shared with Dr. Samuel C.C. Ting for the discovery of a new kind of heavy elementary particle. Dr. Richter also provided visionary leadership at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (today’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) from 1984 to 1999, where he helped lead advances that not only yielded new discoveries in particle physics but also laid the foundation for major new strides in photon science. Since then, Dr. Richter has served as a leader in many other positions involving public policy and science and technology.

Drs. Richter and Dresselhaus both opened new scientific and technical horizons. But, equally important, they have been generous with their scientific knowledge and their wisdom. We are proud to salute them, winners of the Enrico Fermi Presidential Award.

Nafeesa Owens is a Policy Analyst for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.