WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama linked scientific discovery to helping the struggling economy Wednesday as he honored those who invented batteries for implanted defibrillators, mapped the human genetic code and made global positioning systems possible.
Awarding the National Medal of Science and the Medal of Technology and Innovation, Obama said the United States must continue to invest in "the next generation of discoveries and the next generation of discoverers." Repeating his pledge to put thousands more students in college classrooms, he committed to spending 3 percent of the gross domestic product to educate future scientists and researchers.
"Because throughout our history, amid tumult and war and against tough odds, this nation has always looked toward the future and then led the way," he said.
With the country facing economic and security challenges, Obama said the recipients of the nation's highest research honor are reminders that the United States can pull itself out of an economic recession that has defined his first year of his presidency.
"For at our best, this nation has never feared the future," he said. "We've shaped the future. Even when we've endured terrible storms, we haven't given up or turned back – we've remain fixed on that brighter horizon. That's how we've led in the pursuit of scientific discovery; and in turn that's how science has helped us lead the world."
Among those honored was Dr. Francis Collins, Obama's director of the National Institutes of Health, who mapped the human genome. The president also honored the IBM Corp. for its supercomputers and a pair of Adobe Systems Inc. officials for changing how Americans use their computers to find information.
Other medal recipients included scientists who created the ventilator and batteries for implanted defibrillators, whose research helped others understand brain functions and addiction, and who studied genetic links with skin diseases.
"The scientists in this room have plumbed the furthest reaches of the universe and the deepest recesses of the human mind. They've sequenced the human genome and stimulated the workings of the atom. They've developed technologies that have greatly improved our understanding of the human body and the natural world, and they've fostered innovations that have saved millions of lives and improved countless more," Obama said.
"So this nation owes all of you an enormous debt of gratitude far greater than any medal can bestow."
In the evening, Obama planned to welcome school children to the White House for an astronomy event. He joked he would be using the pair of science-based events to help his family.
"You see, Sasha has a science fair coming up," Obama said, referring to his 8-year-old daughter. "And I was thinking that you guys could give us a few tips. Michelle and I are a little rusty on our science."
(This version CORRECTS references to 'implanted defibrillators' instead of 'pacemakers')