Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators: President Obama Honors the Nation's Cutting-Edge Scientists and Engineers

A group of leading researchers were honored yesterday at the White House as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

After receiving their awards in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Agriculture with agency officials, friends, and relatives—a ceremony keynoted by OSTP Director John Holdren—the group of 102 ambitious scientists and engineers were greeted at the White House by President Obama who thanked them for their outstanding achievements.

PECASE April 14, 2014

President Barack Obama talks with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Official White House Photo)

The PECASE recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Intelligence Community, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions.

PECASE awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. The winners represent outstanding examples of American creativity across a diverse span of issues—from adding to our understanding of the most potent contributors to climate change to unlocking secrets to some of the most pressing medical challenges of our time to mentoring students and conducting academic outreach to increase minority representation in science fields.

For example, Derek Paley, Willis H. Young Jr. Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering Education at the University of Maryland, is studying how fish use sensory organs to perceive their environment in order to build an artificial sensing and control system that will allow underwater vehicles to navigate autonomously.

Or consider PECASE winner Dr. Young Shin Kim, an associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, who is being awarded for studying the role of environmental risks and gene-environmental interaction in increasing Autism Spectrum Disorder prevalence.

Other winners include Dr. Lucy E. Cohan with the Central Intelligence Agency, who is advancing the design and modeling of the next generation of space telescopes by employing lightweight, active mirror technologies, or Dr. Gavin Peter Hayes with the U.S. Geological Survey, whose research is helping to transform our understanding of earthquake processes and advance real-time response activities when major earthquakes occur.

This is just a snapshot of this group’s incredible accomplishments. Other PECASE recipients are studying black holes in space, using robots to advance student engagement in science, and examining the brain processes behind language and literacy acquisition. Regardless of their area of research, all have demonstrated remarkable success in the lab. Their achievements are paving the way for exciting and important advances and inspiring the next generation of researchers, makers, and innovators. The full list of PECASE awardees can be found here.

With this much progress at this early stage of their careers, we can expect even greater things from these leading lights in the years to come.

Sarah Tornetta is a student intern at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

Moira Vahey is Deputy Communications Director at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy 

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