The celebrated and accomplished individuals selected by President Obama to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — include figures such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill and Melinda Gates, Robert Redford, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan– and Richard L. Garwin.
As noted by a November 16 White House news release, “Richard Garwin is a polymath physicist who earned a Ph.D. under Enrico Fermi at age 21 and subsequently made pioneering contributions to U.S. defense and intelligence technologies, low-temperature and nuclear physics, detection of gravitational radiation, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer systems, laser printing, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.”
The Medals will be presented at the White House on November 22.
The giving of awards is fraught with latent meanings and assertions of power and identity (as the hullabaloo over Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize, and Dylan’s muted response to it, show).
In this case, a Presidential Medal of Freedom will hardly enlarge the reputation of Garwin, who could not be more highly esteemed by those who know him or are familiar with his work.
But it casts a somewhat unexpected and therefore moving new light on the Obama White House, which had the breadth of awareness to recognize Garwin and to select him for this honor, together with those who are more widely famous.
Over here, Garwin is practically family, having been a member of the Board of the Federation of American Scientists for many years and a supporter of the organization, including the project on government secrecy, for even longer.
FAS maintains the Garwin Archive, an online collection of many of his published and unpublished works. Earlier this week, we posted slides from his latest paper entitled “Don’t Reprocess Spent Fuel from Light-Water Reactors,” which was presented this month at a seminar in China.