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Obama Honors Scientists and Engineers

President Barack Obama stands with Stephen J. Benkovic, of Pennsylvania State University, recognized for his accomplishments in organic chemistry, at a ceremony for recipients of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innov

President Barack Obama honored a group of scientists and innovators Wednesday with the U.S. government's most prestigious science and technology awards.

The president placed a medal of honor around each of the recipients' necks as a military aide noted their accomplishments.

"The 2009 National Medal of Science to Yakir Aharonov, Chapman University, for his contributions to the foundations of quantum physics and for drawing out unexpected implications of that field ranging from the Aharonov-Bohm effect to the theory of weak measurement," the aide said.

Aharonov was the first of ten laureates to be handed the Medal of Science at a ceremony in the White House East Room. Another six were given the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

Some of their inventions and innovations are commonly known - such as superglue, the computer microprocessor and the digital camera. Many of the others are not. Nevertheless, the president said the men and women in the room have changed the way the rest of us live.

"You have truly revolutionized the world in ways that are profoundly important to people in their day-to-day lives, but also help to create those steps in human progress that really make us who we are as human beings," Mr. Obama said.

The president praised some of the laureates for breaking down barriers for minorities and women working in science.

He said that at the start of her career, Esther Conwell was told that as a woman she could only get a job as an engineer's assistant. "Of course, that didn't stop her from becoming a pioneer in semiconductors and materials science," he said.

As he shook hands with Steven Sasson, the inventor of the digital camera, the president looked at the photojournalists in the back of the room and said, "This picture better be good."

Mr. Obama stressed that technological innovation is essential to America's economic success. And he added: "I believe one of the most important jobs that I have as President is to restore science to its rightful place."

The statement recalls his position as a candidate, when Mr. Obama often sought to distinguish himself from his predecessor, who was accused of ignoring science for political or ideological purposes.