Alum Mary-Dell Chilton awarded National Medal of Technology and Innovation

Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton with President Biden at the White House. Photo courtesy of Ryan K. Morris and the NSTMF.

In a ceremony at the White House on October 24, 2023, Illinois chemistry alum Mary-Dell Chilton (MS, '60; PhD, '67; Hager) was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Joe Biden.

Dr. Chilton led the team of Syngenta researchers that produced the first transgenic plant and pioneered plant biotechnology, discovering novel methods to improve plants’ ability to control pests and withstand extreme conditions. Dr. Chilton retired in 2018, but her legacy of innovation continues through the Syngenta Seeds R&D program.

The National Medal of Technology and Innovation is the highest honor awarded for achievements in technology in the United States, recognizing innovators whose skills have “strengthened America’s economy and improved quality of life.” The award, first presented in 1985, was established by Congress and is administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

“Mary-Dell Chilton is a true trailblazer and icon in our industry, and this extraordinary award further confirms the scale and impact of her contributions to the field,” said Justin Wolfe, President Syngenta Seeds in an announcement of the award. “We are honored to recognize this achievement alongside our former colleague and leader who has inspired innovative thinking and approaches to research during her 35 years at Syngenta and beyond.”

This award is the latest recognition in a history of awards and achievements for Dr. Chilton, including the recent honor of the Golden Goose Award on September 27, which celebrates federally funded research that benefits society. Previous awards include the World Food Prize in 2013 and the Benjamin Franklin Medal.

In 2016, Dr. Chilton received the Illinois Alumni Association’s Alumni Achievement Award, which was established in 1957 to recognize alumni of the University of Illinois who have attained outstanding success and national or international distinction in their chosen business, profession or life's work, and whose accomplishments reflect admirably on or bring honor to their Alma Mater.