Two La Cañada residents win national science and technology medals

Two longtime residents of La Cañada Flintridge will take a trip to the White House early next year to receive recognition for their groundbreaking scientific work.

Frances Arnold, a Caltech professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry, was recognized Friday as one of 11 recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

Solomon Golomb, a mathematician and professor of electrical engineering at USC, is one of 12 recipients of the National Medal of Science.

Awarded annually since 1959, the medals honor those who have made significant contributions in their fields. The winners will be feted at the White House early in 2013.

“I am proud to honor these inspiring American innovators,” President Obama said in a statement. “They represent the ingenuity and imagination that has long made this nation great — and they remind us of the enormous impact a few good ideas can have when these creative qualities are unleashed in an entrepreneurial environment.”

Arnold, 56, focuses her work on “directed evolution” and developing biofuels.

“I direct the evolution of DNA sequences to encode useful, new properties, particularly enzyme catalysts that can be used to make chemicals and fuel,” she said.

Natural materials such as petroleum will eventually run out, she added, and creating renewable fuel is important.

“It's a very exciting time now for this kind of work,” she said. “The possibilities are exploding.”

She said receiving the award is a “huge honor,” though it is not her first.

In 2008, Arnold was elected to serve on the National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. Last year, she was the first woman to win the prestigious Draper Prize — the Nobel Prize of the engineering world.

Golomb, 80, has worked in some aspect of communications — from cellphones to deep space — for most of his career.

He worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the late 1950s and early '60s, developing technology that was used on lunar and planetary missions.

In 1953, Golomb created the name polyomino for the geometric figure formed by joining equal squares, later popularized in the computer game Tetris.

He's also known for his work in shift register sequences, which are used in wireless phones and coded communications.

Winning the medal is an honor, he said, and it's “good news for La Cañada” that two residents were recognized for their work.


Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ or on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.


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