At MIT, we are used to the idea that our faculty members have long and impressive résumés, full of extraordinary distinctions. And we have the greatest respect for their achievements. As a community, however, we are not inclined to fanfare. But I hope that you will forgive me for departing from that tradition to make a fuss about one recent honor.
In November, the White House announced that two MIT faculty members had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Institute Professors emeriti Millie Dresselhaus and Robert Solow. Dresselhaus, a physicist, materials scientist, and electrical engineer, laid the groundwork for much of today’s carbon-based nanotechnology. Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics, revolutionized our understanding of the key role innovation plays in economic growth. Both have been recognized with an array of exceptional honors, including their rank as Institute Professor, the highest distinction granted by the MIT faculty. But the Presidential Medal of Freedom is different. In a sense, it goes beyond any professional award, because it is the greatest civilian honor in the United States. In receiving this medal, Millie and Bob demonstrate that their approach to scholarship—bold, rigorous, highly creative, and actively applied to the problems of the world—represents citizenship in the highest sense. Although their fields are very different, in their work they both embody MIT’s distinctive mission: to bring knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges, for the benefit of humankind. We could not be prouder to offer them the fanfare they deserve.