A Santa Rosa Junior College and Maria Carrillo High School graduate has been named by President Obama as one of the nation's top up-and-coming scientists.

Doug Hofmann, 33, now of Altadena, is one of 102 researchers given the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

All recipients' work is funded by the federal government and all are within five years of receiving their doctorate degrees.

"Basically these are all very ambitious, scientific superstar people, people who just had their foot on the gas pedal," Hofmann said.

"For those people in the world of academia, this is career-making," he said. "(For) those people who work in the federal government, it's a distinguished honor for your agency."

Hofmann, who in 1999 was a member of Maria Carrillo's first graduating class, works in both worlds.

He researches metals for space travel at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena but also teaches and guides Ph.D. candidates at his alma mater, California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

"I'm working on developing new materials for gears for future missions like the Mars Rover," he said.

The award was started by President Clinton in 1996.

Hofmann's award is one of five from NASA's category.

The scientists are expected to honored by Obama at the White House early next year.

"The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead," Obama said in a statement. "We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America's global leadership for many years to come."

Hofmann, who said he drew the original Maria Carrillo puma mascot that is still used today, had a keen interest in art and graphic design as a younger student but was compelled to take an engineering class when he enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College.

"I was an artist," he said. "I had a bright future in the world of graphic arts."

Hofmann's father, longtime school teacher at Cook Middle School, Terry Hofmann, credits his son's teachers and schools for giving him a strong academic foundation.

"He was able to succeed really because of the math courses that he took at Maria Carrillo and at the JC," Terry Hofmann said. "(The JC was a) fantastic school for Doug and really gave Doug a leg up when he went on to the university."

The younger Hofmann, who with his wife is expecting a second son in February, said meeting a sitting president has long been on his "bucket list."

"The president is your ultimate boss," he said. "It's just a great honor."

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)