"I must admit that I have an ulterior motive for presenting these awards today," said Mr. Obama. "You see, Sasha has a science fair coming up. And I was thinking that you guys could give us a few tips."
But in all seriousness, the president used the ceremony to highlight his commitment to funding and promoting science in his administration.
"This nation owes all of you an enormous debt of gratitude far greater than any medal can bestow," said Mr. Obama. "We recognize your contributions, but we also celebrate the incredible contributions of the scientific endeavor itself."
The president said his agenda includes setting a goal that three percent of GDP be used for research and development, raising standards in math and science education, and restoring the position of the U.S. as the nation with the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. He also his addressed critics of these plans made in the midst of a economic recession.
"At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we can't afford to invest in science, that it's a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I could not disagree more. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, and our health, and our way of life than it has ever been," he said.
Continuing on the science theme today, the first family will hold a "night of astronomy" on the South Lawn of the White House tonight for Washington-area middle school students to learn and interact with astronomers from across the country.
"This is going to be fun," said Mr. Obama. "They'll peer through telescopes, wander through exhibits, and hopefully feel a sense of wonder that might one day lead them here to receive a medal themselves."
Below is the list of award winners today:
National Medal of Science:
Dr. Berni Alder, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for his work in studying fluids under heavy pressure.
Dr. Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health, for his work in the Human Genome Project
Dr. Joanna Fowler, Brookhaven National Laboratory, for her work in researching the includence of drug addiction on the brain.
Dr. Elaine Fuchs, The Rockefeller University, for researching genetic skin diseases, including skin cancer.
Dr. James Gunn, Princeton University, for his astronomy work, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which documented some 100 million objects in space, including more than 200 stars.
Dr. Rudolf Kalman, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, for his Kalman filter, which measures trajectory in avionics, and space travel.
Dr. Michael Posner, University of Oregon, for his neuroscience work on the topic of attention.
Dr. JoAnne Stubbe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for her biology work, in the mechanism of enzymes involved in DNA replication and repair
Dr. J. Craig Venter, J. Craig Venter Institute, for his genetics work, including modified produce clean fuels and biochemicals
National Medal of Technology and Innovation
Dr. Forrest M. Bird, Percussionaire Corp., for his work in medical respirators and other pulmonary technology.
Dr. Esther Sans Takeuchi, SUNY-University at Buffalo, for her work in defibrilators and medical battery technology.
Dr. John E. Warnock and Dr. Charles M. Geschke (Adobe Systems Inc.), for their contribution to the "desktop publishing revolution."
IBM Corporation, for the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, for its "profound impact worldwide" on the high-performance computing industry.