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Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
National Science Foundation

"Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemoration"
National Science Foundation
Arlington, Virginia

January 15, 2009

These are auspicious times for Americans.

Today is the 80th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr, in Atlanta, Georgia.

In four days we will celebrate the Martin Luther King federal holiday for the 24th time.

The following day, the nation will celebrate, and all the world will note, the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America -- Barack Obama, the first African-American to be elected president.

When President Obama gives his inaugural address, he will speak looking west to the Lincoln Memorial, where in the summer of 1963 Dr. King laid out both an indictment of American injustices and his dream that one day this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. King's audience was some quarter million people taking part in the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" -- and millions more people at home listening on radio and watching on television.

That dream envisioned "a reign of freedom and a rule of justice," as King said in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964. He continued: "I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind."

Jobs and freedom, justice and fairness, audacity and faith in the future of humanity are themes dear to many scholars, scientists and engineers.

Today we are honored to welcome a distinguished scientist, Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he is also director of the Center for String & Particle Theory.

Professor Gates received his bachelor's degrees in both mathematics and physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973, and he earned a Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1977. After postgraduate work at Harvard and at Cal Tech, he joined the faculty at MIT in 1982 and moved to the University of Maryland in 1984. In 2002, Gates also became Director for the Center for String and Particle Theory at the University of Maryland. He is perhaps most noted for his seminal work in establishing the theoretical basis for "supersymmetry."

Dr. Gates is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and he has been featured on four PBS television series: "Breakthrough: The Changing Face of Science in America," "A Science Odyssey," "The Elegant Universe," and "E = MĚc-squared: The Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation." I'm delighted to note that all four were supported by NSF.

On this day when we recognize a great American leader born into a segregated nation, Professor Gates will share his insights into another remarkable American: this one, a secular Jew born in Germany, later a citizen of Switzerland, later still a refugee from the Third Reich. That American is Albert Einstein: the genius and the refugee who became a symbol -- perhaps The Symbol -- to the post-WWII world of the scientist as a seeker of justice.

On behalf of the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, please join me in welcoming Professor Gates to NSF as he speaks to us on "Einstein and the American Civil Rights Movement."