On the occasion of receiving the National Medal of Science, Dr. Falkow wrote an email to the Executive Director of the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation expressing his gratitude for the honor and appreciation for a lifetime of support that made his work possible. His words and the legacy he leaves behind elucidate the power of public support for science and basic research.
We had a splendid time although it was a whirlwind trip and it was a bit surreal at times. I just couldn’t believe it was happening to me. When I look in retrospect at my life in terms of what my country did for me it is amazing. My father left Russia in 1908 to escape the pogroms. The USA welcomed him. He became a citizen because he served in the US Army and he later benefitted from the GI Bill of Rights. My education was all in public schools. I went to a land grant college, The University of Maine. The Sputnik went up and President Eisenhower managed to have the National Defense Education Bill passed through the Congress. The funds provided by this act of Congress permitted me to go to Brown University, tuition-free, to earn my Ph.D. After graduation, I worked at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research for 6 years and their support not only launched my research career but included support to spend time at Brandeis University that proved to be the very foundation of my later scientific career. I’ve taught for over 50 years at three universities and the USA paid for all of my research. They invested millions in me and paid all, or almost all, of the expenses for over 125 students, most of whom have gone on to do great things in academia, industry, government and world health. And, finally, my nation gives me a medal to honor my work. Truly, only in America. It’s different now and, alas, it’s very much harder for young people but the USA is the best place in the world to do research in an atmosphere of freedom and cooperation.
It was a memorable day for me and I honor the country that honored me.
With every best wish,