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Sandy Faber

SANTA CRUZ -- A UC Santa Cruz professor President Barack Obama deemed "one of the world's foremost experts in the evolution of the universe" was honored Friday with one of the nation's highest science awards.

"Sandra Moore Faber had a passion for astronomy from the very beginning," Obama said at a ceremony held at the White House. "But when she visited one of our nation's top observatories as a grad student, they didn't have a dorm for female astronomers, so Sandra ended up sleeping on the sofa in the caretaker's cottage."

Luckily, that didn't stop her, he said, before shaking Faber's hand and hanging the medal around her neck.

Faber, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics, was honored for her contributions to scientific progress in understanding the history and structure of the universe. She was among 12 eminent researchers presented with the 2011 National Medal of Science Friday ceremony, along with 11 inventors honored with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

"Now this is the most collection of brain power we've had under this roof in a long time," Obama joked Friday as he handed out the awards.

The two awards are the highest honors the U.S. government bestows upon scientists, engineers and inventors.

Faber was one of four Californian professors honored, along with Solomon Golomb of the University of Southern California, Sidney Dell of Stanford University and Lucy Shapiro of the Stanford University of Medicine.

Obama thanked all of the recipients for "the sacrifices they made and the chances they've taken."

When it was announced last year that Faber would be receiving the award, she said it was "the thrill of a lifetime," and thanked UC Santa Cruz and the University of California observatories for "providing world-class telescopes and superb collaborators."

"Receiving the National Medal of Science is the thrill of a lifetime, but good science does not happen in isolation," Faber said last month. "Let me take this moment to express my gratitude to the University of California Observatories and UC Santa Cruz for providing both world-class telescopes and superb collaborators, without which the discoveries I've made would never have happened."

Faber, the interim director of UC Observatories, currently leads the CANDELS project, the largest project in the history of the Hubble Space Telescope, to extend the view of galaxy formation back nearly to the Big Bang.

"I am absolutely delighted that she has been selected to receive the National Medal of Science, an honor that Sandy richly deserves," Blumenthal said, praising her for achievements and innovation.

President John F. Kennedy awarded the first National Medal of Science in 1963 to Theodore Von Karman for his leadership in science and engineering in the fields of mechanics and aeronautics, among others.

"We are so grateful to all of you," Obama told Friday's recipients. "The contributions you've made have enhanced all of our lives."

Follow Sentinel reporter Jessica M. Pasko on Twitter at Twitter.com/jmpasko96

2011 National Medal of Science recipients

Allen Bard, University of Texas at Austin
Sallie Chisholm, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sidney Drell, Stanford University
Sandra Faber, University of California, Santa Cruz
Sylvester James Gates, University of Maryland
Solomon Golomb, University of Southern California
John Goodenough, University of Texas at Austin
M. Frederick Hawthorne, University of Missouri
Leroy Hood, Institute for Systems Biology
Barry Mazur, Harvard University
Lucy Shapiro, Stanford University School of Medicine
Anne Treisman, Princeton University