It was mid-afternoon on May 19 in the White House when President Barack Obama addressed the East Room full of what he called an “astonishing amount of brainpower.” Gathered with their families were some of the greatest scientific minds in the country, among them the University of Oregon’s Geri Richmond, waiting to be honored with National Medals of Science or National Medals of Technology and Innovation.
“Geraldine Richmond, The National Medal of Science,” President Obama called out. “For her landmark discoveries of the molecular characteristics of water surfaces; for her creative demonstration of how her findings impact many key biological, environmental, chemical, and technological processes; and for her extraordinary efforts in the United States and around the globe to promote women in science.”
There was applause as she accepted the medal and posed for pictures with the President.
It wasn’t the first time Richmond had been honored at the White House. The first was under President Bill Clinton for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science. But this was the first time she and her family were able to actually tour the entire East Wing and take photos with the President.
“The event was spectacular,” Richmond said. “President Obama is such a warm and friendly person that being able to meet him in person was awesome.”
Growing up on a small farm in Kansas, Richmond got her Bachelor’s of Science from Kansas State University before attending UC Berkeley to get a PhD in Physics Chemistry.
She came to the University of Oregon to teach and pursue research in 1985 and is currently the Presidential Chair in Science.
“I am so honored to receive this medal as it represents years of hard work and dedication of many research [associates] that have worked tirelessly in my laboratory to make the discoveries we have made,” Richmond said.
Richmond just got back from Okinawa, Japan, where she is helping female faculty and students advance their careers in science, a part of her COACh program, which has taken her around the world to countries where it is difficult for women in science fields.
She also directs the Presidential Undergraduate Research Scholars Program at the university, which directs undergraduate students to conduct world-class research while earning money toward their education.
Former head of the UO Chemistry Department Michael Haley succeeded Richmond as the Richard and Patricia Noyes Professor of Chemistry in 2013 and has worked closely with her over her more than 20 year career in education.
“This award is well-deserved,” Haley said. “She has been a great, visible ambassador for the UO. She pushes frontiers, not only in her own research but in all the other things she does too, like promoting women in science.”
Richmond said she hopes to continue and expand her work with all these different programs that she either founded or currently directs.
“My research goals are to continue doing the best cutting-edge science that we can,” Richmond said.