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Stanford Nobel Laureate wins top U.S. science honor

Former director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) Burton Richter was awarded the Presidential Enrico Fermi Award on Thursday. The award is one of the oldest and most prestigious science and technology distinctions granted by the U.S. Government.

 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science conferred the honor on Richter, who is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and on Mildred Dresselhaus of M.I.T.

 

“The Fermi Award is given to recognize scientists, engineers and science policymakers who have given unstintingly over their careers to advance energy science and technology,” the DOE webpage states.

 

Richter boasts a lifelong career in the physical sciences that has taken him from a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford in 1956 to a professorship in 1967 and a 15-year tenure as director of SLAC, from 1984 to 1999.

 

Richter won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1976 along with Samuel Ting for their work on the discovery of the subnuclear particle that came to be known as the J/ψ meson particle. His general research focused on experimental particle physics with high-energy electrons and electron-positron colliding beams.

 

In addition to his work in physical sciences, Richter has become a leader in energy policy and national security affairs in recent years, serving on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, Laboratory Operations Board and Nuclear Energy Task Force. He chaired the National Research Council’s Board on Physics and Astronomy.

 

And in 2010, Richter published “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors” a book that examines the issues of nuclear energy and climate change in the 21st century. The book received the 2011 Phi Beta Kappa Book award in science in early December.

 

The Presidential Enrico Fermi Award was named in honor of Enrico Fermi, an Italian-American who discovered the first nuclear chain reaction. The $50,000 honorarium and the gold medal bearing an image of Fermi are granted to scientists who excel in both theory and experiment.

 

Energy Secretary Steven Chu will present the award to Richter and Dresselhaus later this year. The two scientists will split the honorarium.

 

- Kristian Davis Bailey