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Celebrating Presidential Medal of Freedom Winners in Science and Tech: Garwin, Hopper, and Hamilton

President Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor, on Grace Hopper, Margaret Hamilton, and Richard Garwin today.

“That spirit of discovery is in our DNA. America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride,” – President Obama, January 13, 2016

Today President Barack Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 21 Americans, including trailblazing individuals who have made significant contributions to our country in the fields of science and technology.

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Margaret H. Hamilton during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 22, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Margaret H. Hamilton during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 22, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

In his inaugural address in 2009, President Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place,” and over the past 8 years, the Administration has worked not only to reinvigorate the American scientific enterprise, restoring integrity to scientific policymaking, but it has also worked to inspire the next generation of innovators. From establishing the tradition of the White House Science Fair, to issuing a call for computer science education for every student, to driving access to new manufacturing capabilities and starting TechHire, to welcoming American Nobel Prize winners to the Oval Office, the Administration has looked to celebrate scientists and technologists for their achievements.

That effort includes recognizing members of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom awardees—a group of women and men who are being celebrated for their accomplishments in science and technology. The recipients include:

  • Grace Hopper (posthumous): Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as “Amazing Grace” and the “Queen of Code,” was at the forefront of computers and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s. Hopper’s work helped make coding languages more practical and accessible, and she created the first compiler, which translates source code from a more human-like language into machine code.  She taught mathematics as an associate professor at Vassar College before joining the United States Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade) during World War II, where she became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and began her lifelong leadership role in the field of computer science.
  • Margaret H. Hamilton: Margaret H. Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo command modules and lunar modules. A mathematician and computer scientist who started her own software company, Hamilton contributed to concepts of asynchronous software, priority scheduling and priority displays, and human-in-the-loop decision capability, which set the foundation for modern, ultra-reliable software design and engineering.
  • Richard Garwin: Richard Garwin is a polymath physicist who earned a Ph.D. under Enrico Fermi at age 21 and subsequently made pioneering contributions to U.S. defense and intelligence technologies, low-temperature and nuclear physics, detection of gravitational radiation, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer systems, laser printing, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. He directed Applied Research at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center and taught at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and Harvard University. The author of 500 technical papers and a winner of the National Medal of Science, Garwin holds 47 U.S. patents, and has advised numerous administrations. Garwin has also advised nearly every President since Eisenhower, including President Obama. 

Today, the President also recognized Bill and Melinda Gates for their leadership through the work of their foundation to help all people lead healthy, productive lives.  Additionally, he recognized basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabar, who in addition to his criminal-justice work, has been an advocate for science education – including as author of “What Color is My World: The Lost History of African-American Inventors” -- and the advancement of medical research through precision medicine; celebrated architects Maya Lin and Frank Gehry; financial leader, banker, and advocate Elouise Cobell; and renowned actor Tom Hanks, who has been a long-time advocate for space exploration.

Join OSTP in congratulating these winners and sharing their stories.

To learn more about leading figures in science and technology, including last year’s Presidential Medal of Honor awardee Katherine Johnson, check out The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology.