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President Obama presents the National Medal of Science to Stanford's Lucy Shapiro and Sidney Drell

The two scientists, one a biologist, the other a physicist, have won what President Obama calls "America's highest honor for invention and discovery."

Photos by Ryan K. Morris Lucy Shapiro with President Obama
Sidney Drell with President Obama

Lucy Shapiro and Sidney Drell with President Obama at the White House ceremony.

Two of Stanford's leading scientists shook hands with President Barack Obama on Friday as they were awarded the National Medal of Science.

At a White House ceremony, Obama draped the medal around the necks of biologist Lucy Shapiro and physicist Sidney Drell. They were among the dozen recipients of the 2011 award.

Shapiro is the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Professor at the School of Medicine and director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine. She is deeply involved in studying the dangers of emerging infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance and climate change.

Drell, a physicist, has served as the deputy director of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and has contributed significantly to quantum electrodynamics, which describes the interactions of matter and light, and quantum chromodynamics, which describes the behavior of quarks and gluons, two of the most fundamental constituents of matter.

When not conducting research, he has dedicated himself to national security issues, especially the threat of nuclear weapons. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a co-founder of Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and has been a longtime adviser to presidents and Congress.

Drell described the White House ceremony as "a very nice occasion. The president was very complimentary about my work and was photographed with my family."

"I felt very privileged, very honored," he said.

Obama lauded the winners as "extraordinary Americans" who had won "America's highest honor for invention and discovery."

Coincidentally, there was another Stanford connection at the awards ceremony. As the event got under way, Obama noted that U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics for research conducted while he was at Stanford, is stepping down after four years. The president wished Chu well and said he had more than earned his share of relaxation time.

Obama ended the ceremony on a playful tone. "Feel free to party here," he told the not-so-young audience. "This looks like a somewhat wild crowd. Just remember there are Secret Service here if you guys get out of hand."

The National Medal of Science was established in 1959 and is administered by the National Science Foundation. The annual award is meant to honor extraordinary knowledge in and outstanding contributions to science and engineering.