Elizabeth Lada awarded at White House
When CLAS astronomer Elizabeth Lada won a prestigious $390,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation in May 1998, it didn't seem like her academic life could get much better.
That October, it did: Lada was notified that because of her "ground-breaking exploration and documentation of star forming histories of stellar clusters, development of undergraduate and graduate courses, and outreach to high school girls," the National Science Foundation had chosen her from among hundreds of CAREER recipients to be awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). This new award subsumes her CAREER prize, giving Lada a total of $500,000 in research support from the White House over a five-year period.
PECASE, considered "the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers," was approved by President Clinton in 1996. "These talented young men and women show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge," Clinton said of PECASE recipients. "Their passion for discovery will spark our can-do spirit of technological innovation and drive this nation forward." In all, 60 scholars from nine federal agencies (20 from the NSF alone) were given 1998 Presidential awards.
In February of this year, Lada, her husband Richard Elston (also a noted CLAS astronomer) and her parents were invited to Washington, DC for a day of special events organized for PECASE awardees. Lada particularly valued the open discussion among PECASE participants. "It was a nice, informal part of the ceremony, and since it was held in a very 'presidential' room--all blue and gold with an American flag--you really felt like you were in the White House, too, which added to the whole experience." A formal reception followed in the White House Indian Treaty Room, where Donna Shalala officially congratulated the scientists.
Despite all this time in the limelight, Lada says the impact of winning is difficult to grasp. "Being able to take five years to explore things I love without having the pressure of thinking, 'Oh my goodness, next year I have to file this report and I need to get this grant finished' will be amazing. But I still don't think it's really sunk in."