News Release 16-047

Robert Birgeneau is National Science Board's 2016 Vannevar Bush awardee

University of California, Berkeley chancellor emeritus is recognized for extraordinary public service, scientific leadership

Robert Birgeneau

Robert Birgeneau is National Science Board's 2016 Vannevar Bush awardee. (Credit and Larger Version)

April 21, 2016

The National Science Board (NSB) announced today that Robert J. Birgeneau is the recipient of the 2016 Vannevar Bush Award. Birgeneau is chancellor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley and holds the Arnold and Barbara Silverman Distinguished Chair in the Departments of Physics, Materials Science and Engineering and Public Policy.

NSB is recognizing Birgeneau, an internationally distinguished physicist and leader in the academic community, for his exceptional public service and scientific leadership -- including lifelong, high caliber research committed to the public good, tireless advocacy for the nation's research universities and unrelenting efforts to advance equity and inclusion in higher education and science.

As chancellor, Birgeneau strengthened Berkeley's standing as a world-class university. Under his leadership, Berkeley became the first university in the nation to offer comprehensive financial aid to undocumented students and the first public university to provide significant financial aid to middle-class students.

"Robert Birgeneau has made exceptional contributions to the welfare of the nation and humanity by advancing equity and inclusion at research institutions. His exemplary, life-long dedication to public service and leadership equals his scientific achievement as a leading condensed-matter experimental physicist," said Vint Cerf, chair of the NSB's Committee on Honorary Awards. "His supreme leadership and scientific achievements make Dr. Birgeneau most worthy of the prestigious Vannevar Bush Award."

A Toronto native and graduate of University of Toronto (Bachelor of Science,1963) and Yale University (Ph.D., 1966), Birgeneau served on the faculty of Yale for one year, followed by a year at Oxford University, and then as technical staff at Bell Laboratories (1968 to 1975). He joined the physics faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975 and was named chair of the Physics Department in 1988 and dean of science in 1991. In 2000, he became president of the University of Toronto and served in that position until becoming chancellor at Berkeley in 2004.

Birgeneau is a fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the American Philosophical Society and other scholarly societies. He has received numerous awards for his teaching and research on the fundamental properties of materials, as well as honorary doctorates from a number of universities. Among his many awards are a special Founders Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the 2008 Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award as a "Champion of Excellence and Equity in Education," and the 2009 Shinnyo-en Foundation's 2009 Pathfinders to Peace Prize for his contributions to bringing about a more peaceful world. In 2012, Birgeneau received the Compton Medal from the American Institute of Physics.

"It is a great honor for me to be the recipient of the 2016 Vannevar Bush Award. It is also extraordinarily humbling when one looks at the remarkable people who have received this award in the past," Birgeneau said. "I have always felt a particular kinship with Dr. Bush because much of my research was carried out in the Vannevar Bush building at MIT. It is especially gratifying to me to be honored for simply always trying to act responsibly and do the right thing. In particular, I have worked hard to ensure that every person, regardless of his or her gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or immigration status, can be a full participant in our great science and technology enterprise. It is only by drawing on the entire talent pool that the U.S. will continue to excel."

NSB will present Birgeneau with the Vannevar Bush Award May 5, 2016, during the NSF/NSB Annual Awards Ceremony held in Washington, D.C. NSB will also recognize Sea Education Association/SEA Semester as its Public Service Award recipient, and NSF will honor Mircea Dincã, winner of this year's Alan T. Waterman Award, presented to an outstanding scientist aged 35 or younger.

All three 2016 awardees will give presentations on May 5, during the NSB's meeting. The presentations will be open to the public at NSF in Arlington, Virginia and also viewable via a live webcast. Presentation times, the webcast link, and other details will be posted on NSB's website and social media pages.

NSB initiated its Vannevar Bush Award in 1980 in memory of Vannevar Bush, who helped establish federal funding for science and engineering as a national priority and played a pivotal role in the creation of the National Science Foundation. Past award recipients include: James Duderstadt (University of Michigan), Richard Tapia (Rice University), Leon Lederman (Fermilab), Shirley Ann Jackson (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and David Packard (Hewlett-Packard Company).

About the National Science Board

The National Science Board (NSB, Board) is the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation. NSB also advises the President and Congress on science and engineering policy issues. The Board's 24 members are drawn primarily from universities and industry and represent a variety of science and engineering disciplines. Selected for their eminence in research, education or public service and records of distinguished service, board members serve six-year terms. NSF's director is an ex officio 25th member of the Board. Visit NSB's website for more information.


Media Contacts

Kim Silverman, National Science Board, (703) 292-4515,
Roqua Montez, University of California, Berkley, (510) 847-8314,
Kimberly Allen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (617) 253-2702,

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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