Sylvester James Gates Jr. and President Barack Obama (Getty Images)

(The Root) — At the ceremony for the National Medals of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, held at the White House on Friday, President Obama awarded the highest honors bestowed by the U.S. government upon scientists, engineers and inventors. 

"If there is one idea that sets this country apart, one idea that makes us different from every other nation on Earth, it's that here in America, success does not depend on where you were born or what your last name is. Success depends on the ideas that you can dream up, the possibilities that you envision, and the hard work — the blood, sweat and tears — you're willing to put in to make them real," the president said as he introduced the 23 scientists and inventors who received medals in the East Room ceremony.

Those sentiments about overcoming adversity through determination were likely all the more true for the African-American science and technology pioneers honored on this first day of Black History Month. 

National Medal of Science recipient Sylvester James Gates Jr. of the University of Maryland earned his place on the list for contributions to the mathematics of supersymmetry in particle, field and string theories and extraordinary efforts to engage the public on the beauty and wonder of fundamental physics.

George Carruthers of the U.S. Naval Research Lab, who was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, made his impact with the invention of the far UV electrographic camera, which significantly improved our understanding of space and earth science. 


The president's remarks included an appeal to create the conditions for similar achievements by the next generation. "Right now," he said, "only about a third of undergraduate students are graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math — areas that will be crucial if we expect to complete the work that has been done by these folks and compete for the jobs of the future."

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