Two statesmen of science are first of the new century to receive the Vannevar Bush Award

April 11, 2000

The National Science Board (NSB) has taken the unprecedented step of naming two renowned scientists to receive the coveted Vannevar Bush Award for lifetime achievement in science and public service. This is the first time in its 20-year history that the award is being given to more than one person.

Norman E. Borlaug, a 1970 Nobel Peace Prize-winning agronomist who led the agricultural movement to increase food production in developing countries, is one of the Vannevar Bush honorees. A 1997 Atlantic Monthly profile said that Borlaug's work to expand global food production at a rate faster than the growth in human population "may have prevented a billion deaths." Borlaug will be honored at an NSB dinner May 3 hosted at the Department of State.

Herbert F. York, a nuclear physicist, will receive the other award for his work in nuclear energy and for leadership in the arms control movement.

York's contributions were marked by the merging of scientific advance- ment with public policy that emphasizes social responsibility. He will also be honored at the NSB's May dinner event.

The Vannevar Bush Award pays tribute to a senior statesperson and pioneer in science and technology who has a distinguished record in public service, or whose achievements contribute to the nation and mankind. These century-spanning scientists, whose work covered more than half the century just concluded, are still active.

Borlaug is a distinguished professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M University, teaching graduate students and doing guest lectures. He also spends nearly six months a year near Mexico City as a consultant to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

Known widely as the "father of the green revolution," Borlaug taught and employed methods to increase wheat production around the world, "saving more lives than any other person who has ever lived," said the Atlantic Monthly article on Borlaug in January 1997. His Nobel Prize in 1970 recognized his contributions to reversing widespread food shortages in India and Pakistan the previous decade.

York is professor and director emeritus for the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation located at the University of California, San Diego, an organization he founded in 1983. Over nearly a half century, York's list of firsts put him near the top of the scientific leader board: first director of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory from 1952-58; co-founder and first chief scientist of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (1958); member of the first President's Science Advisor Committee (1958-61); first chancellor of the University of California at San Diego (1961-64); and member of the First Advisory Committee on Arms Control (1962-69).

York's leadership in designing sophisticated nuclear weapons, then becoming a leading voice in arms control and disarmament, moved the U.S. from responding to a "missile gap" to leading the discussions toward disarmament as a next logical stage in national security.


Background. The National Science Board (NSB) established the Vannevar Bush Award in February, 1980 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award is presented to a person, who through public service activities in science and technology, makes outstanding contributions toward mankind and the nation.

It was Vannevar Bush who, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, recommended in 1945 that a foundation be established by Congress to serve as a focal point for the federal government's support and encouragement of research and education in science and technology and for the development of a national science policy. Five years later, Congress passed a bill creating the NSF. President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law on May 10, 1950. Establishing the Vannevar Bush Award was the NSB's way to honor Bush's unique contributions to public service.

Criteria. The Vannevar Bush Award is given annually to a senior statesperson in science or technology. The award is signified by a medal in Bush's likeness and recognizes the recipient's public service contributions in addition to calling attention to the important role science and technology play in improving our way of life.

To be chosen for the Bush Award, a nominee must be an American citizen, considered a senior statesperson in science and technology, with a distinguished record in public service. He or she must have been a pioneer in a chosen field, displaying leadership and creativity, while inspiring others to distinguished careers, and contributing to the welfare of the nation and mankind.
Program contact: Susan Fannoney 703-306-1096

National Science Foundation

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