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President Obama Names Scientists Mildred Dresselhaus and Burton Richter as the Enrico Fermi Award Winners

January 11, 2012 - 3:31pm


WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Obama has named Mildred S. Dresselhaus and Burton Richter as the winners of the Enrico Fermi Award, one of the government’s oldest and most prestigious awards for scientific achievement. The Presidential award carries an honorarium of $50,000, shared equally, and a gold medal. The award is administered on behalf of the White House by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The scientists being recognized today with the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award have provided scientific leadership throughout their careers that has strengthened America’s energy and economic security,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “I congratulate them for their achievements as pioneers in innovative research and thank them for their service.”

The Fermi Award honors the memory of Nobel Laureate Enrico Fermi. Secretary Chu will present the Fermi Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., at a date to be announced.

Enrico Fermi Award Winners

Dr. Mildred S. Dresselhaus

Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering, Emeritus Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. Dresselhaus received an A.B. summa cum laude from Hunter College in 1951, an A.M. from Radcliffe College in 1953 and a Ph.D. in 1958 from the University of Chicago. She was a Fulbright Fellow at Newnham College at the University of Cambridge from 1951 to 1952. Born and raised in New York City at the height of the Depression, she was inspired at Hunter College by future Nobel Laureate Rosalyn Yalow, who recognized her talent and encouraged her to pursue science.

Dr. Dresselhaus’ extensive portfolio of research accomplishments includes many discoveries leading to fundamental understanding in various condensed matter systems. Dr. Dresselhaus has also served in many scientific leadership roles, including as the Director of the DOE Office of Science, President of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Chair of the American Institute of Physics Governing Board, as well as Co-chair of the most recent Decadal Study of Condensed Matter and Materials Physics. She is also widely recognized as having devoted considerable energy to mentoring students, raising community awareness, and promoting progress on gender equity. She is widely respected as a premier mentor and spokesperson for women in science.

Dr. Dresselhaus was selected for her scientific leadership, her major contributions to science and energy policy, her selfless work in science education and the advancement of diversity in the scientific workplace, and her highly original and impactful research.

Dr. Burton Richter

Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Paul Pigott Professor in the Physical Sciences Emeritus, Stanford University, and former Director, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

Dr. Richter earned a B.S. in 1952 and a Ph.D. in 1956, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Richter has a body of work that is wide-ranging and enduring, including the development and exploitation of accelerator technologies that have resulted in several Nobel Prize winning discoveries, and his own Nobel Prize winning discovery in experimental particle physics in 1976. Dr. Richter also provided visionary leadership at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), which is now called the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, from 1984 to 1999, where he helped lead advances in accelerator science and technology that not only yielded new discoveries in particle physics but also laid the foundation for major new strides in photon science. 

Since stepping down as SLAC lab director in 1999, Dr. Richter turned his focus to scientific leadership and issues of public policy in science and energy. He chairs the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee within DOE, where he was a principal advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Energy on the development of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). He served for six years on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), and presently serves on the newly established Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Advisory Committee (ERAC). He has also served on the JASON advisory group, an independent group of scientists that advise the United States government on matters of science and technology. He has played a leadership role for many of the most distinguished scientific professional societies and advisory boards, including the American Physical Society, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, and Board of Physics and Astronomy.

Dr. Richter was selected for the breadth of his influence in the multiple disciplines of accelerator physics and particle physics, his profound scientific discoveries, his visionary leadership as SLAC Director, his leadership of science, and his notable contributions in energy and public policy.

Additional information about the Fermi Award is available at:

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