SLAC Director Emeritus Sid Drell receives National Medal of Science

by Lori Ann White on February 4, 2013

SLAC Deputy Director Emeritus and Stanford University Hoover Senior Fellow Sidney Drell was one of 12 distinguished researchers presented with the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in a Feb. 1 ceremony at the White House.

An emeritus professor of theoretical physics at SLAC and member of the Hoover Institution’s Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy, Drell was recognized for “contributions to quantum field theory and quantum chromodynamics, application of science to inform national policies in security and intelligence, and distinguished contributions as an advisor to the United States Government.”

The medal recipient selections were announced in late December. “It was a surprise Christmas present,” Drell said. “Obviously, I was very pleased to hear the news.”

Drell made many significant contributions to particle physics and quantum theory during his tenure at SLAC, including research on quantum electrodynamics, which describes the interactions of matter and light, and quantum chromodynamics, which describes the behavior of quarks and gluons – two of the most fundamental constituents of matter.

Working with SLAC research associate Tung-Mow Yan, he formulated the Drell-Yan process, which explains what happens when a quark in one particle and an antiquark in a second particle annihilate into an electron and a positron.

And while serving as deputy director of SLAC for almost 30 years during its heyday as a groundbreaking particle physics facility, Drell somehow found the time and energy to establish himself as a trusted advisor on national security issues. Drell is one of the original members of JASON, a group of academic scientists established in 1960 that advises the government on issues of national importance. He has chaired panels on national security in both the House and the Senate, consulted for several national security agencies and served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the President’s Science Advisory Committee.

Drell was among the first to grasp the need for space-based reconnaissance, and in 2000 was one of 10 scientists honored as “founders of national reconnaissance as a space discipline” by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

Among his many awards and honors, Drell garnered a 1984 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recognizing his work in international security; the 2000 Enrico Fermi Award, the nation’s oldest award in science and technology; the Heinz Award for contributions in public policy; and the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Of the Feb. 1 ceremony in Washington, D.C., Drell described it as a “very nice occasion. The President was very complimentary about my work and was photographed with my family,” which included son Daniel Drell and daughters Joanna Drell and former SLAC Director Persis Drell, who stepped down in October 2012 after leading the lab for five years. “I felt very privileged, very honored,” he added.

Sidney Drell photographed by Scott R. Kline at SLAC in August, 2012

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