Physicist Appointed To National Committee

President Obama appointed Physics Professor Lisa J. Randall ’84 to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science last week.

Randall, a prominent theoretical physicist responsible for several major breakthroughs in string theory, said she is looking forward to serving on the committee.

“It’s an honor and should be an interesting experience,” Randall said.

Randall—the first tenured woman in the Princeton physics department and the first tenured female theoretical physicist at Harvard—will be one of twelve scientists and engineers appointed by the President to evaluate nominees for the award.

Randall’s co-workers in the Harvard physics department are enthusiastic about the announcement.

“I don’t think there’s much to say beyond the obvious—that she is a terrific scientist,” said Howard M. Georgi ’68, Mallinckrodt professor of physics and master of Leverett House.

Since its establishment, the National Medal of Science has been awarded to 468 scientists and engineers. Former winners of the medal include chemist Arnold O. Beckman, the creator of the pH meter, physicist and science popularizer Richard P. Feynman, and mathematician Kurt Gödel.

According to the National Science Foundation records, the medal has been awarded to more than 30 researchers with Harvard affiliations.  A number are still active at the University today, including professors George M. Whitesides, E.O. Wilson, Elias J. Corey, and Shing-Tung Yau—all dominant members of their fields and widely respected for the magnitude of their contributions to science or mathematics.

Scientists may be nominated for the award through the National Science Foundation website until March 31, and the committee will meet for deliberations soon thereafter.

Randall said she believes that awarding the National Medal of Science not only affects the award recipient but also has a significant impact on public perception of science.

“It is a good opportunity to raise awareness of science in general and one person’s accomplishments in particular,” she said. “Recognition by the President and the scientific community at large is a big deal.”

Randall also shows concern about the future of science education, especially in light of the current budget environment.

“I hope people see the wisdom, especially in the long term, of promoting these goals,” Randall said.

—Staff writer Nitish Lakhanpal can be reached at nitishlakhanpal@college.harvard.edu.

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