By Amy Slanchik,
(AXcess News) Washington - When Dr. Gholam Peyman discovered via email he was to receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, he thought it was a prank. The inventor of the Lasik eye surgery procedure almost deleted the message.
"I feel very much humbled and honored. This is a once-in-a-lifetime award," Peyman said. "One has a lot of moments of happiness in life. But from a professional point of view, this is one of the happiest."
Peyman is a professor at the University of Arizona and an emeritus professor of Ophthalmology at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Peyman said in an interview that he never had the procedure because he didn't need it.
President Barack Obama awarded the 2011 National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to 23 laureates Friday at the White House. The 2011 medal winners were named in December.
"We are so grateful to all of you. The incredible contributions that you've made have enhanced our lives in immeasurable ways, in ways that are practical but also inspirational," Obama said at the East Room ceremony.
One of the Medal of Science laureates, John B. Goodenough, 90, said the award came as a surprise. He is known for the development of the lithium-ion rechargeable battery. He teaches mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
"I didn't know that anybody put my name in the bucket," Goodenough said. "Of course, I'm pleased, and surprised. I'm pleased for the University of Texas because it's more important for them than it is for me at my age."
Obama acknowledged Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who announced Friday that he would leave his post. Chu won a Nobel prize in physics in 1997.
The president noted that it can take a long time for scientific discoveries to gain acceptance, citing those who doubted rockets could ever reach the moon or that Einstein's theory of relatively was more than the "voodoo nonsense" that one critic dubbed it.
Obama also joked with the scientists.
"Now, this is the most collection of brainpower we've had under this roof in a long time - maybe since the last time we gave out these medals. I have no way to prove that, and I know this crowd likes proof. But I can't imagine too many people competing with those who we honor here today," Obama said.
He encouraged what he called the "somewhat wild crowd" to enjoy the reception after the ceremony, adding, "just remember there are Secret Service here if you guys get out of hand."
The National Medal of Science was established 1959. The National Medal of Technology and Innovation was first awarded 26 years later in 1985. The awards are considered to be the most coveted and well-respected U.S. awards in science and technology.