THE BLOG
10/14/2014 03:01 pm ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

National Medalists

Win McNamee via Getty Images

Answer: The U.S. equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Question: What are the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (previously the National Medal of Technology)?

This question came to mind when I was in Washington, DC in late September for the inaugural Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship. Brill received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in October 2011 "for innovation in rocket propulsion systems for geosynchronous and low earth orbit communication satellites, which greatly improved the effectiveness of space propulsion systems." Other women have received these medals, also for groundbreaking accomplishments. Match the following women with her National Medal citation: (answers at the end):

____ 1. For her contributions to the discovery, development and liquid crystal processing of high-performance aramid fibers which provide new products worldwide to save lives and benefit humankind.

____ 2. For her ingenious experiments that led to new and surprising understanding of the decay of the radioactive nucleus.

____ 3. For establishing the relations between inherited characters in plants and the detailed shapes of their chromosomes, and for showing that some genes are controlled by other genes within chromosomes.

____ 4. For her pioneering accomplishments in the development of computer programming languages that simplified computer technology and opened the door to a significantly larger universe of users.

A. Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
B. Barbara McClintock
C. Chien-Shiung Wu
D. Stephanie Kwolek

Barbara McClintock was fascinated by genetics, specifically cytogenetics -- the study of the structure and function of chromosomes. Throughout her long career, she focused on corn, examining the changes that occurred through generations of corn plants. Her research led her to conclude that genes "jumped" or were transposable. This was contrary to scientific thinking at the time (1950). The first woman to receive the Medal of Science (1975), her citation reads: "For establishing the relations between inherited characters in plants and the detailed shapes of their chromosomes, and for showing that some genes are controlled by other genes within chromosomes." Among her many honors, McClintock was the first recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant and the first woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize (1983). She is pictured on a U.S. postage stamp and she has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

The recipient of the National Medal of Science "For her ingenious experiments that led to new and surprising understanding of the decay of the radioactive nucleus," Chien-Shiung Wu proved the theory for which its two male developers received the Nobel Prize. Physicist Wu came to the U.S. for graduate studies in the 1940s and joined the Manhattan Project in 1944, to develop the atomic bomb. Called "one of the giants of physics", Wu wrote the textbook on beta decay which was still the standard textbook decades later. She received many awards for her work and has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Admiral Grace Murray Hopper made it possible for all of us to use computers by developing the computer compiler -- the computer software that translates human languages into the zeros and ones that a computer understands. Her 1991 National Medal of Technology citation reads "For her pioneering accomplishments in the development of computer programming languages that simplified computer technology and opened the door to a significantly larger universe of users." She was also responsible for the first English-based computer language and instrumental in the development of the business language, COBOL. Hopper loved to take credit for finding the first computer bug -- it was a moth, stuck in the relays of the computer at Harvard. Among her many honors, Hopper has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

When Stephanie Kwolek was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame, she was escorted to the stage by a policeman whose Kevlar bulletproof vest had saved his life. Kwolek invented Kevlar (1965). Her National Medal of Technology citation reads: "For her contributions to the discovery, development and liquid crystal processing of high-performance aramid fibers which provide new products worldwide to save lives and benefit humankind." Kevlar is used today in hundreds of products from steel-belted radial tires to the armor worn by our armed forces. Kwolek has been inducted into the Hall of Fame of Delaware Women and the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These National Medal recipients are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We salute their outstanding accomplishments and are proud to stand on their shoulders.

(answers: 1-D, 2-C, 3-B, 4-A)