Presidential Medal for Technological Breakthroughs Earned by Two Chemical Engineering Professors

Aug. 27, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas — Two chemical engineering professors from The University of Texas at Austin have been recognized by President George W. Bush as 2007 National Medal of Technology and Innovation laureates, the nation's highest honor for technological achievement.

In a rare recognition of two honorees from the same institution for separate discoveries, Professors Adam Heller and Grant Willson were among eight national recipients announced this week.

Professor Adam Heller, 2007 National Medal of Technology and Innovation Laureate, received his medal from President George W. Bush Sept. 29, 2008. Photo: Ryan K Morris/NSTMF

"It's sort of the American Nobel Prize," says Richard Maulsby, spokesman for the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which administers the Medal program.

Heller was cited "for his contributions to electrochemistry and bioelectrochemistry which led to the development of products that have improved the quality of life of millions, particularly in the area of human health and well-being." Heller's work enabled the creation of the painless glucose monitor for diabetics.

Willson, who holds the Rashid Engineering Regents Chair at the Cockrell School of Engineering, was cited "for creating lithographic imaging materials and techniques that have enabled the manufacturing of smaller, faster and more efficient micro-electronic components."

"With unprecedented consistency and creativity, these two engineers have spent careers continually besting their own breakthroughs," says Ben Streetman, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. "Their pioneering ability to link disciplines taught a new generation of researchers the value of reaching outside of their knowledge base to solve problems. It has been a great privilege of my career to witness their simultaneous contribution to research, education and society."

Roger Bonnecaze, Chemical Engineering Department chairman, says the dual recognition is a monumental achievement for the Cockrell School of Engineering and the department.

Professor Grant Willson, 2007 National Medal of Technology and Innovation Laureate, received his medal from President George W. Bush Sept. 29, 2008. Photo: Ryan K Morris/NSTMF

"To have two winners from the same department, let alone the same university is exceptional," he says. "These awards are extremely well deserved and are for two unique and creative contributions to technology. Heller's development of glucose biosensors has revolutionized diabetes care, improving the lives of millions of people, and created a billion dollar business (Abbott Diabetes Care, formally Therasense) employing several thousand people. Willson's innovative work on lithography for microelectronics has enabled many of the electronic devices we enjoy today and will enjoy in the future and is spawning new nanomanufacturing industries, such as Molecular Imprints in Austin."

The last University of Texas at Austin recipient was George Kozmetsky in 1993.

Established by an act of Congress in 1980, the medal was first awarded in 1985. It's awarded annually to individuals, teams, companies or divisions of companies for their outstanding contributions to the nation's economic, environmental and social well-being through the development and commercialization of technological products, processes and concepts; technological innovation; and development of the nation's technological manpower.

Laureates will receive their medals in a formal awards ceremony at the White House on Sept. 29 in the East Room.

Learn more about Professors Adam Heller and Grant Willson.

For more information, contact: Daniel Vargas;  Roger Bonnecaze, Department of Chemical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering College of Engineering, 512-471-1497.