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President honors CMU fellow for scientific achievement

| Tuesday, March 15, 2005

President Bush honored a Carnegie Mellon University fellow and 13 others during a ceremony Monday to recognize achievement in science and technology.

Watts S. Humphrey, a research scientist at CMU's Software Engineering Institute, received a National Medal of Technology for his work in improving intellectual productivity in computer programming.

Humphrey, a retired IBM executive who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., said in a phone interview that the industrial changes of the 19th and 20th centuries were driven by time-motion studies. The studies helped companies find the most cost-effective ways for workers to build products.

"Our approach, sort of the dream we've followed, is to use those principles in intellectual work," he said.

Finding ways to improve intellectual productivity is easy compared to the task of getting programmers to adopt new work methods, Humphrey said.

"You can't tell people how to think. They're going to think the way they think," he said.

In the institute's Personal Software Process, participants keep track of their work habits while they write computer programs. Then, as they try different techniques, the data shows them that they're writing more code with fewer errors and taking less time to do it, Humphrey said.

Other honorees made breakthroughs in various fields including geology, genetics and neurology.

"All of you have been blessed with great talent, and you have applied your talent to great purposes. Your work is making our country more competitive, more hopeful, and more prosperous," Bush said before awarding the 2003 National Medals of Science and Technology at the White House.

The medals are usually handed out annually, but the 2003 awards were delayed because of scheduling conflicts, according to a Commerce Department official.

"Many of your breakthroughs are changing entire industries, from airline safety to chemical production, to computer software and networking," Bush said.

Established by Congress in 1959, the award is administered by the National Science Foundation.

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