A year ago, Alejandro Briseño, a scientist at the University of Massachusetts, used to joke and call his mother, who still lives in Baldwin Park, pretending to be someone from the White House.
"¿Is Alejandro Briseño's mother there? We're calling from the White House," Teresa Briseño recalled smiling. "My son is really crazy, but he's a great person" she added in Spanish.
Her smile widened as she held a copy of a program from the White House awards ceremony, where her son was among the honored.
"When he called me again last week to tell me I had to go to Washington, I thought he was even crazier ... but it turned out to be true," Briseño said proudly of her son, a graduate.
Her pride seems justified. President Barack Obama just named Alejandro Briseño the recipient of the "Presidential Early Career Award" for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).
This recognition is the highest granted by the federal government to professionals in the field of science and engineering who are in the early stages of research and experimentation.
On Tuesday, Briseño shook the President's hand, along with other leaders in the field of science who were recognized.
Briseño was selected for "outstanding research accomplishments in areas of organic semiconductor nanoelectronics and molecular crystals."
"To give you an analogy, typical electricity conductors are copper, silver, gold. What we achieved here is 'plastic copper,' metal free and capable of conducting electricity," explained Briseño in a phone call from the University of Massachusetts.
"This new science is green technology, cheaper and available for use on electronics, home appliances, etcetera," he added.
Briseño, who has a bachelor's degree in biology from CSULA, 2 masters degree in chemistry from UCLA and CSULA, a doctorate from the University of Washington and a postdoctoral degree from UC Berkeley, said he felt overwhelmed by the award.
"To have the President of the United States look at you in the eyes, shake your hand and tell you that your work is important for this country, that is incredible," expressed Briseño.
"Believe me, I don't forget where I came from, I grew up in Baldwin Park, had many difficulties, but now I hope to serve as an example of what can be achieved with hard work," he added.
Briseño says that before graduating from high school, his father was murdered. Briseño interrupted his studies and, like many other young men in the city, he got into some trouble.
However, thanks to his family and his dedication, he was able to accomplish his dreams and goals.
"The reason why I am here is because I know that Latinos can make a difference," he explained.
"I have always said that you have to aim for the impossible because even if you don't reach your goal, you will still have achieved excellent results," Briseño said.
Briseño explained that the award comes with a $1 million grant to help students and to continue with research work.