President Barack Obama today presented MIT biochemist JoAnne Stubbe with the National Medal of Science during a White House ceremony.
Stubbe received the nation's highest science honor for her work in understanding the mechanisms of enzymes that play an essential role in DNA replication and repair. The research has had significant impacts on fields ranging from cancer drug development to synthesis of biodegradable plastics.
Stubbe was among nine researchers selected to receive the award this year, and Obama thanked the group for their contributions to fields as diverse as medicine, energy, computing, genetics and neuroscience. "They have fostered innovation that has saved millions of lives and improved the lives of countless others," he said. "This nation owes all of them a debt of gratitude far greater than any medal can bestow."
After returning from Washington, Stubbe said that the East Room ceremony was an emotional experience. Before the ceremony, the medal recipients took a tour of the White House, and Stubbe noted that "the whole atmosphere in the White House, with all the young people he has working there, was so upbeat."
Stubbe's studies of ribonucleotide reductases (RNRs), which play a key role in DNA copy and repair, have led to the design of a drug, gemcitabine, which is now used to treat pancreatic and other cancers. She also discovered the structure and function of bleomycin, an antibiotic used as a cancer drug.
Before beginning his official remarks, Obama joked that he had an ulterior motive in inviting the distinguished group of scientists to the White House. "Sasha has a science fair coming up," he noted. "I was thinking you guys could give us a few tips. Michelle and I are a little rusty on our science."
Stubbe, who joined the MIT faculty in 1987, is the Novartis Professor of Chemistry and a professor of biology. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.
In addition to Stubbe, this year's winners include MIT alumnus Rudolf Kalman of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Kalman earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT in 1953 and 1954, respectively.