News from the National Academy of Sciences

Date: Jan. 23, 2013


Bill and Melinda Gates to Receive Public Welfare Medal – Academy's Most Prestigious Award

WASHINGTON — For improving the lives of millions by applying science to some of the world's most difficult global health challenges, the National Academy of Sciences is presenting its 2013 Public Welfare Medal to Bill and Melinda Gates, co-chairs and trustees of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The medal is the Academy’s most prestigious award, established in 1914 and presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good.

"Bill and Melinda Gates have changed the trajectory of international public health," said Susan Wessler, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee for the award. “Their science-driven approach to tackling so many seemingly intractable problems—from reducing the spread of deadly diseases to curbing hunger and poverty—has benefitted the world’s neediest people.”

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. As co-chairs of the foundation, the Gateses shape and approve grant-making strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues, and help set the overall direction of the organization. They also participate in national and international events and travel extensively to bring attention to the issues the foundation addresses.

In developing countries, the foundation focuses on improving people's health and giving them the tools to eliminate hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Since 1994, the foundation has invested $25 billion in grants and supports work in more than 100 countries.

“Bill and Melinda Gates have chosen to harness the power of science to fight grinding poverty and devastating diseases that have a major impact in developing countries but often receive little funding or attention,” said Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. “By investing in research that generates new knowledge, interventions, and tools, the Gateses have re-energized public health and development efforts worldwide.”

In global health, Bill and Melinda Gates have concentrated on polio eradication, providing life-saving vaccines to children everywhere, in addition to efforts to address HIV/AIDS, malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases as well as family planning, nutrition, and maternal and child health. The foundation also targets global development issues such as agricultural development, water and sanitation, and financial services for the poor. “I can think of no other people whose lives are clearer examples of dedicated service to the disadvantaged of our world through the rigorous application of science to their work,” wrote Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in his letter supporting the nomination.

Bill Gates began his major philanthropic efforts in 1994, when he created the William H. Gates Foundation, which centered on global health. In 2000, it merged with the Gates Learning Foundation to form the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bill Gates left Harvard University in 1975 to focus on Microsoft, the company he co-founded with childhood friend Paul Allen. In 2008, Gates transitioned to the new role of chairman of the company and adviser on special projects. He is also the founder of Corbis, which is developing a comprehensive digital archive of art and photography around the world.

Melinda Gates received a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics from Duke University in 1986 and a master's in business administration from Duke's Fuqua School of Business in 1987. After joining Microsoft in 1987, she distinguished herself as a business leader in the development of many of Microsoft's multimedia products and was appointed general manager of information products. Melinda Gates left Microsoft In 1996 to direct her energy toward the nonprofit world.

The Public Welfare Medal will be presented to Bill and Melinda Gates on April 28 during the Academy’s 150th annual meeting. More information, including a list of past recipients, is available at

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and—with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council—provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

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Molly Galvin, Senior Media Relations Officer
Shaquanna Shields, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail

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