Nominations Sought for US National Medal of Science Candidates

Every year the Unites States president awards the nation’s highest honor for scientists and engineers, the National Medal of Science. The National Science Foundation, which alongside the purpose-built National Science and Technology Medals Foundation administers the awarding process, is accepting nominations for the award until May 20 and a webinar later this month will highlight background information on the award and provide tips for submitting nominations.

As an email from the NSF explains, “There are numerous American scientists and engineers, many of them women and minorities, now reaching the point where their contributions are worthy of recognition. The [awards] committee asks your assistance in identifying them.”

When it was established by an act of Congress in 1959, the medal was designated for individuals “deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences.”  You may notice an omission in sciences represented in that list, and in 1980 Congress explicitly added social and behavioral sciences. (Psychologist Neal Elgar Miller of Yale University did receive the medal, nonetheless, in 1964 for his “sustained and imaginative research on principles of learning and motivation and illuminating behavioral analysis of the effects of direct electrical stimulation of the brain.”)

Two sides of a gold medal showing a naked man's figure with head bowed and hand outstretched offering item
Artist Donald DeLue, who also made sculptures for Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast of France, and the Boy Scout Memorial Tribute in Washington, designed the Medal of Science. (Photo: NSF)

Since the first medal ceremony in 1963, 506 medals have been awarded, and since the expansion into social and behavioral sciences 23 scientists (only three of them women) from those fields have been so honored. It has been eight years, however, since a social or behavioral scientist, the late psychologist Albert Bandura of Stanford University, received a medal.

According to the awards website, individuals are nominated by their peers with each nomination requiring three letters of support from individuals in science and technology. Nominations are then sent to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science, comprising 14 presidential appointees, 12 of them scientists and engineers and two ex officio members – the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the president of the National Academy of Sciences. (We’ll note that the acting head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Alondra Nelson, is a social scientist.)

Successful candidates must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are applying for U.S. citizenship, who have done work of significantly outstanding merit or that has had a major impact on scientific thought in their field. The committee also values those who promote the general advancement of science and individuals who have influenced science education.

Nominations are submitted through the NSF Fastlane system ( For more information, please visit the NMS website at www.nsf.nms/gov.

An hour-long  webinar detailing all this will be held on March 30 at 3 p.m. ET. You can register in advance at Links to participate in the ZOOM webinar and view closed captioning will be provided in the registration confirmation page. 

On March 23 President Joe Biden named the members of the committee: May Berenbaum, Rafael Bras, Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Erika Gonzalez, Juan Maldacena, Cora Bagley Marrett, Valerie Montgomery Rice, Craig Partridge, Padma Raghavan, Pedro A. Sanchez, Robert Sellers, and Cherese Winstead. Two come from the social and behavioral science world – Marrett, the former head of the NSF’s social science directorate, is professor emerita of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, while Sellers, the former chair of the University of Michigan Department of Psychology, is now that university’s vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.

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