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Recipients Neal Lane (left) and Vernon J. Ehlers (center) are congratulated by APS President-elect William F. Brinkman. (Photo by Rick Kozak)
On May 16th, Representative Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) and Neal Lane, former presidential science advisor under the Clinton Administration, were awarded the second annual Public Service Awards, following a reception in their honor in the historic Rayburn Building in Washington, DC. The awards are jointly sponsored by the APS, the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and the American Mathematical Society (AMS), which collectively represent more than 100,000 scientists and mathematicians.
The Public Service Award is intended to honor public figures who have made sustained and exceptional contributions to public policies that foster support for research, education, and industrial innovation in the physical sciences and mathematics. Both awardees have been instrumental in highlighting the importance of federal investment in science and technology research and development, and the need for a more balanced federal portfolio, as well as improvements in science education and public outreach.
AMS President Hyman Bass, University of Michigan, praised Ehlers for understanding the importance of investment in science: "He's one of us." Ehlers became the first PhD physicist elected to Congress in 1993 and is now in his fourth full term of office. He came to Capitol Hill following a distinguished tenure of service in teaching, scientific research and communication service. Ehlers received his PhD in nuclear physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1960, where he taught and did research for six years until joining the physics department of Calvin College, later chairing the physics department.
He currently sits on the House Science Committee, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards, and is also a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee. Ehlers was instrumental in rewriting the nation's science policy, culminating in the report, "Unlocking the Future" in 1998, and is currently directing his efforts to ensure that science is an integral part of the education bill currently under consideration by Congress. And as a member of the House Administration Committee, he guided the program to revamp the House computer system, connect it to the Internet, and allow all US citizens access to House documents.
Ehlers expressed his appreciation for this public recognition of his efforts on behalf of science "There is precious little reward in Congress for pursuing science policy and the advancement of science," he said. "We don't get positive feedback from fellow Congressmen or constituents, or from the scientific community, since scientists tend to be apolitical." However, he noted that scientists are becoming more active on Capitol Hill which is "making my job much easier."
Lane received his PhD in physics from the University of Oklahoma and has had a long, distinguished career in both academia and government, in which he has been widely recognized as a scientist and educator. He served as Provost at Rice University from 1966 until 1984, when he spent two years as chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He served as director of the National Science Foundation until his selection as chief science advisor to President Clinton. As director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Lane had responsibility for providing advice to the president in all areas of science and technology policy.
AAS President Anneila I. Sargent, Caltech, praised not only Lane's past accomplishments, but also his continued efforts as "a vocal and efficient advocate for science outside the Beltway." Lane returned to Rice University in January as University Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, a special appointment entitling him to teach in any department in the university, and the first such appointment to be made by Rice. He is also a senior fellow at the Baker Institute, and plans to work with the Clinton library on the Administration's accomplishments in science and technology.
In receiving his award, Lane thanked all three societies for their efforts on behalf of science: the AAS and all astronomers "for keeping us excited about science with constant magnificent breakthroughs"; the APS and all physicists "for keeping astronomers' feet on the ground"; and the AMS and mathematicians: "We don't always know what you do, but we know we wouldn't have any science without you."
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