Rice University’s Neal Lane has been chosen to receive the National Academy of Sciences’ most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal.
Established in 1914, the medal is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for public good. The academy is recognizing Lane for serving the scientific community in many executive and leadership roles and for his continuing efforts to advance and promote science and technology in the United States.
Lane, a physicist, is the Malcolm Gillis University Professor at Rice and senior fellow in science and technology at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
“The National Academy of Sciences could not have found a more deserving recipient for this recognition and honor,” said David Leebron, president of Rice University. “We are extremely proud of Neal for all he has done to advance scientific policy and to promote funding for research. His dedication to promoting science in the public interest is unrivaled.”
Lane is well-known for his work as assistant to the president for science and technology and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1998 to 2001, and as director of the National Science Foundation from 1993 to 1998. At OSTP, Lane was instrumental in establishing the National Nanotechnology Initiative, nearly doubling the national expenditure in nanotechnology. The initiative now has an annual budget of approximately $1.5 billion. NSF also benefited from an increase of 17 percent in its fiscal year 2001 budget with Lane’s help.
“Neal Lane’s leadership and effective advocacy of the research community has greatly advanced basic scientific research,” said Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. “His ability to work across political lines was crucial to the success of such projects as the National Nanotechnology Initiative and research in Antarctica.”
When Lane went to NSF in 1993, he worked to build consensus with Washington policy leaders to strengthen federal funding for basic research. Lane and his team developed a long-range plan for Antarctic research, securing funding for the construction of the new Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station, which was dedicated last year.
Other NSF initiatives on Lane’s watch included construction of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory and the Gemini telescopes; reorientation of the NSF Supercomputer Centers and NSF Science and Technology Centers; formation of the CAREER program for young investigators; establishment of funding lines for major research equipment and for interdisciplinary projects; creation of NSF’s online proposal submission and review process; and revision of NSF review criteria to include broader impacts of projects, for example, to innovations in education and mentoring of women and underrepresented minorities. Lane also began a conversation with the science community about the concept of the “civic scientist” and encouraged dialogue among scientists, the public, and policymakers.
Before becoming NSF director, Lane taught physics at Rice University, starting as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics in 1966 and then serving as chairman of the department. In 1984 he left Rice to become chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He returned to Rice in 1986 as its provost and chief academic officer. Much of Lane’s research during this period focused on theoretical investigations of collisions between electrons, atoms, and molecules and the behavior of excited atoms in liquid helium and on electron-ion collision processes in high-temperature, dense plasmas.
From 1979 to 1980, Lane took a leave from Rice to direct NSF’s physics division, and in the mid-1980s he served as chairman of the agency’s advisory committee for advanced scientific computing, which helped set up a series of national supercomputer centers and networks.
Since leaving government service in 2001, Lane has continued his work in support of science and technology policy. At Rice’s Baker Institute, Lane established the Science and Technology Policy Program, which spans such fields as climate change and energy technology, health and medicine, K-12 education, national security (nuclear non-proliferation) and U.S. space policy.
His work continues to influence policy at all levels – international, domestic, state, and local. Lane was instrumental in establishing the international stem cell policy program at the Baker Institute, which organizes conferences and workshops in the U.S. and Qatar. Closer to home, Lane chaired a statewide task force on health care in Texas, which led to legislative initiatives.
A native of Oklahoma City, Lane earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in physics from the University of Oklahoma. He has published numerous papers on atomic and molecular physics and has received over a dozen honorary degrees from U.S. universities and from the Queen’s University of Belfast. Lane has participated on review and advisory committees for federal and state agencies as well as for the National Research Council. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for Advancement of Science, and the Association for Women in Science and a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Chemical Society.
Lane and his wife, Joni, have two children, John and Christy Saydjari, and four grandchildren, Alex and Allia Saydjari and Matthew and Jessica Lane.
The Public Welfare Medal, consisting of a medal and an illuminated scroll, will be presented to Lane April 26 during the academy’s 146th annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Previous recipients of the medal include Norman Neureiter, William T. Golden, Maxine F. Singer, Norman R. Augustine and Carl Sagan.
The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.