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Obama honors Arizona doctor for pioneering eye-surgery work

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WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama bestowed the nation’s highest award for innovation Friday on an Arizona doctor for his work in the development of laser eye surgery.

Obama called Dr. Gholam Peyman the “father of LASIK” eye surgery, a type of surgery that uses a laser to correct the shape of the eye to refocus light, eliminating the need for glasses or contact lenses.

Peyman got the first U.S. patent for the now-common procedure in 1989. It is one of more than 100 patents he has received.

He was at the White House to receive the National Medal for Technology and Innovation, one of a handful of innovators to receive the award Friday. Seven individuals, one team of scientists and one business, Raytheon, were honored.

The president also awarded the National Medal of Science to 12 individuals at the ceremony.

“We are so grateful to all of you,” Obama said. “The incredible contributions that you’ve made have enhanced our lives in immeasurable ways, in ways that are practical but also inspirational.”

Peyman is a professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine based in Phoenix, and runs a clinic in Sun City West called Arizona Retinal Specialists. Throughout his career, he has invented new ways to deliver drugs to the eye, new medical devices and new treatments for glaucoma.

He declined to be interviewed after Friday’s ceremony, but colleagues praised his work.

Stuart D. Flynn is the dean who oversees Peyman’s work. He said Peyman excels as a teacher, a researcher and in his clinical practice.

“It’s a rare person who can do all three and do all three phenomenally,” Flynn said.

Peyman is also a joy to work with, said Flynn, who called his colleague “very understated, very humble.”

Obama joked about Peyman’s humble start, but noted that the Iranian-born doctor went on to become an example of how greatness can be achieved with persistence.

“When Gholman Peyman first accepted a position at the University of Illinois his office was a converted restroom,” Obama said. “But he carved out space for himself, his secretary and his lab equipment.”

Other recipients of the technology medal ranged from a scientist who created biofuels that could reduce pollution to another who developed controlled-release medicines. The science medal recipients were honored for work that led to the invention of the lithium battery and for research on galaxy formation, among other achievements.

The president said many of the honorees, like Peyman, had inspiring stories. And he used the opportunity to call for more investment in math and science education that could cultivate more visionaries like those at the White House on Friday.

“We need to do everything we can to encourage that same kind of passion, make it easier for more young people to blaze a new trail,” Obama said.