Two Local Scientists Honored at White House

Photo courtesy of Arnold Family
Photo courtesy of Arnold Family


On Friday, two La Cañada residents received science honors from President Barack Obama at a ceremony at the White House.

Dr. Frances Arnold (shown below with President Obama), a professor at the California Institute of Technology, was chosen as one of 11 recipients of the 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Solomon Golomb, a mathematician and professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California, was chosen as one of 12 recipients of the 2011 National Medal of Science.

Obama congratulated those being honored on earning America’s “highest honor for invention and discovery.”

Arnold received her award for pioneering research on biofuels and chemicals that could lead to the replacement of pollution-generating materials.

“I was thrilled to get the call,” Arnold said. The call telling her she won the medal was in December. She knew that she was in the running because the White House office had contacted her this summer for background information.

“Our world runs on petroleum-based transportation fuels. We’re now in a race to replace them with fuels from renewable sources before we’ve used up this precious resource and irretrievably committed ourselves to living on a much warmer planet,” stated Arnold on the Caltech website.

Her research is a new field all together. Her research on directing the evolution of new biomolecules is helping to create “superbugs,” according to her statement, that eat renewable plant materials like grass and trees and convert them to biofuels and chemicals like isobutanol.

“Creating new enzymes and biosynthetic pathways by evolution in the laboratory circumvents our profound ignorance of how DNA sequences encode function, and allows us to reprogram life to solve important human problems,” stated Arnold.

Arnold said she is happy that science and technology is getting attention through this White House honor.

“It may help get our children to study science and engineering,” she said.

The nation was impressed by her work, and her kids were too.

“My kids were impressed that I went to the White House,” she said.

She did have a few moments to speak to the president, but she did not talk science.

“I have a boy in Afghanistan,” she said. “Two of my [children] were at the White House, the third was in Afghanistan. That’s what I spoke to the president about.”

“Dr. Frances Arnold has worked her entire life to use biology to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges,” said Congressman Schiff. “She’s known as a prodigious worker-conducting thousands upon thousands of experiments during her time at Caltech. Dr. Arnold possess a keen and curious mind, and has served as a role model for countless women looking to break into a field once dominated by men. Dr. Arnold’s work on ‘green fuel’ is particularly important and one of the reasons that President Obama rightly selected her as one of the top scientists across the country.”

Golomb received his award for pioneering work in shift register sequences that changed the course of communications from analog to digital, and for numerous innovations in reliable and secure space, radar, cellular, wireless and spread-spectrum communications.

“For almost his entire career, Dr. Solomon Golomb has shaped the way we communicate with each other, including work on cellphones and communicating in deep space. During his time with Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Golomb developed technology critical to the lunar and planetary missions. He’s even the godfather of Tetris, creating polyominoes which served as the game’s inspiration,” stated Congressman Adam Schiff.