Chisholm, Langer receive nation’s highest honors for scientists and inventors

President Barack Obama on Friday presented MIT professors Sallie (Penny) Chisholm and Robert Langer with the nation’s highest honors for scientific discovery and invention. They were among 22 eminent scientists nationwide honored during a White House ceremony.

Chisholm, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies, was presented the National Medal of Science for her research on photosynthetic marine organisms. Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor — who won the 2006 National Medal of Science — received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for inventing new and different ways to administer drugs to patients.

“We are so grateful to all of you,” Obama said to the 12 science medal recipients and 10 technology medal recipients during the ceremony. “The incredible contributions that you’ve made have enhanced our lives in immeasurable ways, in ways that are practical but also inspirational. And so we know that you are going to continue to inspire and in many cases teach the next generation of inventors and scientists who will discover things that we can’t even dream of at this point.”

Chisholm, an oceanographer, helped revolutionize scientific understanding of marine life with her research on photosynthetic ocean organisms, such as the phytoplankton Prochlorococcus — the smallest, most abundant photosynthetic organism and a major producer of oxygen in the ocean. She helped discover Prochlorococcus in 1988 and has since worked with other scientists to understand the organism’s biology, from the genomic level to its role in the global biosphere.

Langer, a biomedical engineer who focuses on biomaterials, has developed a variety of novel drug-delivery systems based on polymers, including materials that can release drugs continuously over a prolonged period of time. He is developing nanoparticles that precisely target disease sites, including tumors. Langer is also a pioneer in the field of tissue engineering, where his discoveries led to the creation of new tissues such as artificial skin for burn victims.

The National Medal of Science was established in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Awarded annually, it recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering.

The National Medal of Technology and Innovation was established in 1980 and is administered for the White House by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Patent and Trademark Office. The award recognizes those who have made lasting contributions to America’s competitiveness and quality of life and helped strengthen the nation’s technological workforce.