The National Medal of Science depicts Man, surrounded by earth, sea, and sky, contemplating and attempting to understand Nature. The crystal in his hand represents the Universal Order, and also suggests the basic unit of living things. The formula being outlined in the sand symbolizes scientific abstraction.
The National Medal of Science was established August 25, 1959, by an act of the Congress of the United States. President John F. Kennedy awarded the first medal on February 18, 1963, for the year 1962. The award went to Theodore von Karman for his work at the Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Although provision is made for 20 recipients per year, typically approximately 12 to 15 accomplished scientists and engineers receive this distinction. Individuals are nominated by their peers, each nomination requiring three letters of support from individuals in science and technology. Final selection is made by the Committee of the National Medal of Science, a board composed of twelve scientists, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the President of the National Academy of Sciences.