Maryland's Jim Gates Wins National Medal Of Science From President Obama

9:30 PM, Feb 1, 2013   |    comments
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WHITE HOUSE, DC (WUSA) -- University of Maryland Physics Professor Jim Gates is part of a rare group: he not only understands the most arcane sciences -- he can explain them to the rest of us.

That and 40 years of teaching, explaining, and helping the President as a science advisor, has earned him a National Medal of Science.

"Imagine if you had a yardstick and cut it into thirty pieces," he says in a popular PBS video on YouTube. He does his best to explain string theory -- a theory of the universe from the smallest particles to the biggest galaxies -- in thirty seconds. "We think there are filaments there!" he says with a flourish at 29 seconds.

For the BBC, he explains super symmetry -- which brings together matter and force.

In the briefing room after the ceremony, he was beaming. "Oh this is like winning the World Series, and the lottery and having a birthday party and Christmas at the same time."

Gates' dad was in the Army, and he was in schools all over the country. He was in Orlando when word came that he'd been accepted to one of the country's top science schools.

"He came home and saw his father standing on the porch with a big smile on his face," said President Obama. "And that's how Jim knew he had gotten into MIT."

"Instead of going to Disney World, going to MIT was my dream," says Gates.

He's now spent 40 years trying to invest his students with the same enthusiasm. "If we're going to make money as a country, we have got to invest in our young people."

But Gates is also convinced that global warming is science's next huge challenge. And he says if scientists fail to find a way to control it, the Earth will be a far less friendly place for the next generation.

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