The 67 engineers and scientists called to the White House in December for a prestigious award were not old hands with lots of tenure working in their fields for decades. They were young professionals exploring not only the frontiers of science and engineering research but also real-world applications that break ground and cross traditional barriers. The government is betting at least $400,000 on each of these high-achieving but tenure-lacking GenX-ers over the next five years to transform their technology arenas and the image of engineering and science.
The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), given annually since 1996, is considered the nation’s highest honor for young science researchers based on research proposals. They must first win the five-year "career-development" cash award from a U.S. agency such as the National Science Foundation and Cabinet departments. The agency then nominates them for PECASE. Agency awards are also based on community-service achievement in outreach, education and leadership. Sources say PECASE had included an additional $100,000 for each winner but that was cut in the Bush administration. An NSF spokeswoman declined to elaborate.