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President Obama Honors Oregon, Washington Women With Science Medals

<p>President Barack Obama awards the National Medal of Science to Dr. Mary-Claire King from the University of Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2016, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.</p>

Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama awards the National Medal of Science to Dr. Mary-Claire King from the University of Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2016, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

A smiling President Obama introduced University of Washington geneticist Mary-Claire King as a Chicago native who first got interested in science through baseball.

"Mary-Claire King's dad would sit with her in front of the TV for Cubs ... and White Sox games," the president, one of the most famous White Sox fans said, pausing to draw laughs from a room crowded with scientists, "and make up story problems for her to solve about the players on the field. She just thought that's how everyone watched baseball."

King was one of nine people who received the National Medal of Science, considered the federal government’s highest honor for scientists.

Mary-Claire King went on to study genetics, specializing in cancer's possible genetic causes. Obama said King was working on genes, when other scientists were focused on finding viral causes for cancer.

“This self-described stubborn scientist kept going until she proved herself right," Obama said. "Seventeen years of work later, Mary-Claire discovered a single gene that pre-disposes women to breast cancer.”

Obama also gave a National Medal of Science to a groundbreaking chemist at the University of Oregon. Geri Richmond studies reactions at the surface of water when it’s affected by oil or other substances. Richmond is also a federal science envoy to Southeast Asia and a member of the National Science Board.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning is a news editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting, with oversight of reporters covering education, healthcare and business. Rob became an editor in 2019, following about 15 years covering schools and universities in Oregon and southwest Washington as OPB’s education reporter.