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Margaret Murnane, a physics professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has been chosen by President Obama to chair the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science. Murnane is a Fellow of APS and a recent recipient of the APS Schawlow Prize, and is currently a member of the editorial board of Physical Review X, as well as a former APS Executive Board member. She has served on many nominating committees and was a committee member, and later chair, of the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics.
“It’s very important to honor people who really have devoted their lives to science, and beyond just science,” Murnane said of the award. “They’re that caliber of person who has transformed science, has served the nation and has made a difference.”
The National Medal of Science, first established in 1959, is awarded by the President to individual scientists and engineers who have made significant contributions to science over the course of their careers. Administered by the National Science Foundation, it’s considered the highest national honor that can be given to a researcher. Murnane was first appointed to the committee that selects the recipients in 2010, and will now chair the committee. Past laureates include Mildred Dresselhaus, Charles Townes and Eugene Shoemaker.
“It’s a different award from the Nobels because it counts both scientific excellence and service to the country,” Murnane said.
Murnane’s own research focuses on laser applications, specifically ultrafast laser pulses. In 2009, she and her team at JILA developed a tabletop x-ray laser produced by laser pulses. In addition she has also used laser pulses to study the motions of electrons, atoms, molecules and acoustic oscillations.
She said that her area of research has helped her on the committee because of its broad applications across science, including in chemistry, biology and engineering. In addition in 1994 she and her husband Henry Kapteyn started KMLabs which specializes in producing research-grade optics equipment, which she said has given her a lot of perspective on the economic importance and impact of research.
The committee has issued a call for nominations for the National Medal of Science, as well as the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation was established in 1985 as the highest national honor for technological innovation.
The committee for the National Medal of Science is looking for nominees whose work has significantly advanced science, and has had broad impacts on society, such as advancing the national health, prosperity, welfare or national security. The submission deadline for both awards is March 31, 2012. Submitters can nominate anyone except themselves and members of their immediate family.
National Medal of Science
National Medal of Technology and Innovation
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