At an award ceremony at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce meeting on April 3, President Charles M. Vest presented Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) an award from the Science Coalition, recognizing the senator's "distinguished leadership on behalf of university research and education."
Dr. Vest told the meeting that the purpose of the Science Coalition "is to increase understanding among policy-makers and the media about the critical importance of broad, deep and sustained national investment in science and engineering. Such an investment -- particularly by the federal government -- is critical because research and education in these areas are the essential driving forces behind our health, our security, our technological innovation and the vitality of our spectacular economy.
"Today more than 60 universities are members of the coalition -- and 400 national organizations have endorsed the efforts of the coalition and work collaboratively with it. I should note that the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce has been one of the earliest and most ardent supporters of the coalition," Dr. Vest continued.
"Even in challenging political times, a strong bipartisan consensus has emerged in support of the proposition that investment in research and education is indeed a national priority.
"None of this would be possible without the support and exceptional personal leadership of champions in the political arena. And no one has been a better friend or more stalwart advocate in this regard than Ted Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts.
"As a champion of science, Senator Kennedy is, quite simply, in a class by himself. For seven terms in the Senate, his voice has been raised in eloquent support of university research and education. As chairman and now ranking Democrat of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, he has been a tireless proponent of all science -- especially the biomedical research programs of the National Institutes of Health and the physical sciences and engineering programs of the National Science Foundation.
"He has long understood that it is at the often overlapping boundaries of these disciplines that our future is being discovered and created. The Science Coali-tion's leadership award is designed to tell that story of interconnected-ness. I would like to tell it to you briefly.
"Several years ago, John Santini was an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan -- an institution I happen to know well. Professor Bob Langer of MIT invited John to work in his laboratory for a summer between his junior and senior years. He invited John to explore the possibilities of applying the technology then used to manufacture silicon computer chips to the delivery and metering of pharmaceuticals into the human body.
"This was a bold, unprecedented undertaking, but Professor Langer is a national treasure who dreams elegant dreams and makes them reality. In this case, the dream embraced chemistry, biology, chemical engineering, computer science and health care.
"John began his work that summer and then later enrolled at MIT as a graduate student, continuing his work with Professor Langer. In May of last year, John defended his doctoral dissertation and demonstrated his new drug delivery system. It instantly became known as the 'pharmacy on a chip.' On one side of the chip are all of the computer controls essential to direct the chip's operation. On the other side are tiny wells filled with medication and covered with gold foil. This chip can be implanted in a patient to deliver exact dosages on precise, computer-controlled schedules. And true to the innovative spirit of MIT and Massachusetts, John is now the CEO of a new company -- MicroCHIPS, Inc. -- that will commercialize the chip and bring it to patients and doctors.
"The Science Coalition selected the pharmacy on a chip as a symbolic element in its leadership award because the chip is a wonderful story of how science and engineering are interconnected and -- of course -- how research and education are intertwined as well.
"Senator Kennedy, although this may be one of the smallest awards you have ever received, there is no doubt that the chip it contains represents the promise of brighter tomorrows -- a promise that you have worked so tirelessly to achieve for all of us... congratulations," Dr. Vest concluded, as Sen. Kennedy beamed.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 12, 2000.