Lane receives National Science Board award for leadership in science and technology

Physicist Neal Lane, Rice’s Malcolm Gillis University Professor and senior fellow in science and technology policy at the Baker Institute of Public Policy, has earned the National Science Board’s 2013 Vannevar Bush Award.

NEAL LANE

The award is presented by the National Science Board (NSB) each year to exceptional, lifelong leaders in science and technology who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service activities in science, technology and public policy.

Lane served as assistant to former President Bill Clinton for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from August 1998 to January 2001. Prior to his White House appointments, Lane served as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) from October 1993 to August 1998.

“I am thrilled but also a bit in disbelief,” said Lane, who also is a professor of physics and astronomy.  “I am honored, of course, to be chosen to receive this award; but I think it really represents the influence of my mentors and the contributions of the many outstanding people – at Rice, in Washington, D.C., and around the country – that I have had the good fortune to work with over the years.”

NSB Chairman Dan Arvizu said, “Among the hallmarks of Neal’s NSF directorship was the recognition that scientists must be an integral part of, rather than standing apart from, the civic life of our nation and have the willingness to be a vocal advocate for their position. He spoke publicly and wrote widely about the need for researchers to engage in a dialogue with the broader public, the majority of whom seldom have any interaction with scientists, about the centrality of science — and engineering and mathematics — to the functioning of modern society.”

Lane joined Rice’s Department of Physics in 1966 and became professor of physics and space physics and astronomy in 1972. He left Rice in mid-1984 to serve as chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and returned to Rice in 1986 as provost, a position he held until 1993.

From 1979 to 1980, while on leave from Rice, he worked at NSF as director of the Division of Physics.

“Neal Lane epitomizes the scholar-practitioner,” said Edward Djerejian, founding director of the Baker Institute, which Lane joined in 2001. “He bridges the world of ideas and action as exemplified in his illustrious career as an a noted physicist and academic, provost at Rice University and science and technology adviser to President Clinton as well as his leadership at the NSF. We are proud to have him as our senior fellow in science and technology policy at the Baker Institute.”

The award was established in 1980 in memory of Vannevar Bush, who served as science adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II. Bush helped establish federal funding for science and engineering as a national priority during peacetime and helped create the NSF.

“The NSF is very special to me, having spent many years with that great agency,” Lane said. “Thus I am particularly pleased to receive an award presented by the NSB. “The notion of ‘civic scientist’ was created for me by one of my speechwriters at NSF; but I immediately embraced the idea and have been talking about it ever since.”

At the Baker Institute, Lane and science and technology policy fellow Kirstin Matthews oversee the institute’s Civic Scientist Program, which is of crucial importance to Lane. The program brings to campus distinguished scientists who have endeavored to engage the public and policy makers. These scientists also spend time with K-12 students in Houston schools.

Lane is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Women in Science. He has been awarded more than a dozen honorary degrees and received several other honors, including, in 2009, the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, the American Institute of Physics K.T. Compton Medal for Leadership in Physics and the Association of Rice Alumni Gold Medal for service to Rice University. In 2011, he received the Distinguished Friend of Science Award from the Southeastern Universities Research Association.

The late Norman Hackerman, a former president of Rice, received the Bush Award in 1993 when he was chair of the scientific advisory board for the Robert A. Welch Foundation.

About Jeff Falk