Nation's Top Innovators Honored at White House

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Some of the nation's top innovators were hosted at the White House today; winners of the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards. The annual honors are bestowed by the Smithsonian to creative thinkers in disciplines the organization believes are critical in shaping humanistic achievements.

This year's 11 winners range in fields from biology to fashion design, and everything in between. They include names such as Scott Wilson, whose firm collaborated on the design for Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming console and the iPod Nano. Also on the list: Tim Prestero, whose organization Design that Matters focuses on solutions for developing countries. One innovation they sprung: A neonatal care unit created out of spare car parts.

Richard Saul Wurman received a lifetime achievement award during the event. Wurman is the creator of the popular " TED Talks" conferences, yearly non-profit events where the world's top thinkers and doers share their ideas.

At a luncheon in the White House's East Room, first lady Michelle Obama said it was important to put faces on the winners for their contributions to society.

"All of them have done something really good for our country and our world. From the clothes we wear to the technologies we use to the public spaces we enjoy, their work affects just about every aspect of our lives," she said.

The sentiment was echoed by Dr. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian.

"We see design around us every day, in everything small and large, from the paper clip to the shuttle Discovery," he said. "The awards demonstrate and celebrate how design effects the quality of our life, the community, our education, and yes, our environment."

Today's event was preceded by an education program for Washington high school students. The "design fair" youths, selected for their own unique projects, also met the winners one-on-one.

Obama said she hoped the event would inspire those young people to keep at it.

"What you guys have to understand is that these honorees weren't born brilliant designers," she said. "They became brilliant designers because they worked hard. They're here today because they had a dream, and they put in long, hard, exhausting work - all of that that it takes to follow that dream."

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