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Two from MIT to receive National Medal of Science

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Economist Robert M. Solow, Institute Professor emeritus and professor of economics emeritus, and Kenneth N. Stevens, the Clarence J. LeBel Professor of Electrical Engineering and principal investigator in the Speech Communication Group of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, are among this year's recipients of the National Medal of Science. President Clinton today named 12 of the nation's most respected researchers, three of them Nobel Prize winners, to receive the 1999 awards.

Nobel laureate Solow will receive his science medal in economics. Prof. Stevens will receive a medal in engineering for his research in speech sciences that laid the groundwork for many of today's speech synthesis and recognition technologies.

"It was surprise, partly because I'm in a field that normally doesn't receive that kind of recognition," Prof. Stevens said. "It was gratifying for the field, in a sense, and meaningful in terms of my career and in terms of great colleagues and students I've had here."

"MIT has been a great place to work in this field. I've brought together engineers with scientists in linguistics and psychology because speech covers quite a wide area."


Honoring the discoveries and lifetime achievements of the nation's top scientists, the Medal of Science recipients are a diverse group that: created new scientific fields such as conservation biology and speech sciences and led to discoveries that determined why the ozone "hole" exists, among other things.

"The contributions of these scientists are so profound, so connected to our everyday lives and so lasting that these medals go only a short way to express the gratitude the nation owes them," said Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The new medalists will receive their medals along with five awardees of the National Medal of Technology, which were also announced today, on March 14 at the White House.

In addition to Professors Solow and Stevens, two former members of the MIT faculty and two MIT alumni were awarded National Medals. David Baltimore, Nobel laureate, professor of biology and president of the California Institute of Technology, was recognized for "far-reaching, fundamental discoveries that dramatically altered field of study in virology, molecular biology and immunology, for excellence in building scientific institutions, and in fostering communication between scientists and the general public." He was a former Institute Professor at MIT.

John Ross, professor of chemistry at Stanford University, was cited for his enormous impact in physical chemistry, especially in molecular studies, statistical mechanics, nonlinear kinetics, and for opening up new fields in chemical science. Ray Kurzweil (SB 1970), chairman and CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc., received a National Medal of Technology for "pioneering and innovative achievements in computer science such as voice recognition which have overcome many barriers and enriched the lives of disabled persons and all Americans." The late Robert Swanson, former chairman of K&E Management, Ltd. who received MIT bachelor's and master's degrees in 1970, received a posthumous National Medal of Technology for his contribution in establishing and developing the biotechnology industry.

Other medal recipients include chemist Stuart A. Rice; physicists James W. Cronin and Leo P. Kadanoff from the University of Chicago; Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colo.; Jared Diamond, physiology professor at the UCLA School of Medicine; Lynn Margulis, a University of Massachusetts distinguished professor; Felix E. Browder of Rutgers University ;and Ronald R. Coifman at Yale University.

Congress established the Medal of Science in 1959, which NSF administers. Counting today's recipients, there have been 374 medals bestowed on leading US scientists and engineers.

Background on researchers:


Robert M. Solow, Institute Professor Emeritus, holds doctorate, masters and bachelor of arts degrees in economics from Harvard University. He created the modern framework for analyzing the effects of investment and technological progress on economic growth, which has greatly influenced economics and economic policy worldwide.

Dr. Solow showed how to separately measure the growth of the economy among increases in the labor supply, capital stock, and improved technological possibilities. The analysis showed the critical importance of technological advances for economic growth, an importance considerably larger than had been stressed before. The framework was sufficiently flexible to easily accommodate further factors affecting growth, including human capital and increasing returns to scale. The analysis of economic growth, based on the Solow model, continues to be one of the major research areas of economics and is employed worldwide in the study of policies to improve economic growth.

Solow's work also revolutionized research in much of economics, including statistical processes of inequality, the effects of taxation, the level of the national debt, the design of institutions in developing countries, the use of both renewable and nonrenewable resources, the determination of exchange rates, and the long-run effects of monetary policy. Subjects previously studied separately and without adequate dynamics are now studied in an integrated fashion with attention to dynamic and long-run consequences. For this contribution, Solow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1987.

Dr. Solow also made important contributions to macroeconomics, particularly in the study of unemployment. His analysis of the relationship between inflation and unemployment highlighted many ways in which the relationship might not be stable over time.

Dr. Solow is an outstanding teacher, lecturer and thesis supervisor who has influenced an unusually large number of economists. He was part of the John F. Kennedy Council of Economic Advisors, and has an enormous long-standing impact on the economics profession.


How people move the tongue, lips, and other articulators fast enough to accomplish speech is one of the classical puzzles of speech science. Kenneth N. Stevens has shown that many of the distinctions between speech sounds utilize special non-linear relations between articulation and acoustic output that enable speakers to produce correct sounds without having to hit all of the individual articulator targets with particular accuracy. In this way, he has unraveled an important part of the mystery that shrouds our ability to produce and understand speech.

Dr. Stevens, who received the Sc.D. in electrical engineering from MIT and bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering physics from the University of Toronto, has pioneered contributions to the theory, mathematical methods and analysis of acoustics in speech production, leading to the contemporary foundations of speech science.

Stevens' theoretical work on acoustic properties of speech sounds that comprise the linguistic elements of language has led to the contemporary foundations of speech science. His theoretical work on acoustic invariance has defined unifying principles that have integrated major portions of acoustic phonetics, phonology, speech science and linguistics.

Many of the leading speech scientists throughout the world have been Prof. Stevens' students or post-doctoral fellows, or have sought out sabbaticals in his laboratory. Stevens' laboratory has been referred to by colleagues as a "national treasure."

In addition to this year's recipients, 21 past or present members of the MIT faculty have received the National Medal of Science. They are Manson Benedict (1975), Vannevar Bush (1963), Morris Cohen (1976), Charles Stark Draper (1964), Mildred S. Dresselhaus (1990), Harold E. Edgerton (1973), Herman Feshbach (1986), Hermann Haus (1995), Har Gobind Khorana (1987), Edwin H. Land (1967), Warren K. Lewis (1965), Salvador E. Luria (1991), Alexander Rich (1995), Bruno B. Rossi (1983), Paul A. Samuelson (1996), Claude E. Shannon (1966), Isadore M. Singer (1985), John G. Trump (1983), Robert A. Weinberg (1997), Victor F. Weisskopf (1979), and Norbert Wiener (1963). In 1988, Harold E. Edgerton was awarded the National Medal of Technology.

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