President Obama welcomed SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s Claudio Pellegrini into the Oval Office yesterday morning (10/27) as a recipient of the Enrico Fermi Award, one of the highest honors the U.S. government can give to a scientist.
Pellegrini, a visiting scientist and consulting professor at SLAC and distinguished professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, received the award for research that aided in the development of X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs) including SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility that started up in 2009.
Charles V. “Chuck” Shank, director emeritus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and senior fellow with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, shared this year’s Fermi Award with Pellegrini and also met with the president Tuesday. Shank is honored for contributions to ultrafast science and energy research, his leadership of national scientific and engineering communities and his service in advancing the national laboratories.
“The president opened the door and greeted us,” Pellegrini said. “He asked Chuck Shank and me about what we have done. He was interested in what we could do with an XFEL, with the science and the applications.”
Pellegrini said he explained how XFELs have broad uses in studying materials science, biology, physics and chemistry. “We had a tour of the White House before going to the Oval Office. It was a great visit,” Pellegrini said.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz also attended, as did Pellegrini’s wife, Maria Grazia, who got an unexpected hug from the president and was deeply moved. “He made my day,” she said.
Pellegrini’s and Shank’s scientific achievements were celebrated in a separate Fermi Award ceremony Tuesday evening at the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, D.C. Two of Pellegrini’s children, five grandchildren and his sister from Italy also attended the ceremony.
The presidential award was first presented in 1956 to honor the memory of Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, a pioneer in the field of nuclear and particle physics. It recognizes distinguished achievement, leadership and service related to all basic and applied research, science and technology supported by the DOE and its programs.
Recipients receive a gold medal and share an honorarium of $50,000. SLAC Director Emeritus Burton Richter, a Nobel Prize winner, received the 2012 Fermi Award.
Pete Souza/Official White House Photo