A much cherished Nobel Prize medal stolen from the University of California, Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science late last week has been recovered and a suspect has been arrested, university police announced today (Wednesday, March 7).
Campus police received a tip about the theft that led them to the suspect, a UC Berkeley student who worked in the building where the medal was in a locked display case. The student told police that he took the medal on a whim.
Ian Michael Sanchez, 22, a senior majoring in biology, was arrested early this morning and booked into jail on suspicion of felony grand theft. The 23 karat gold medal has an estimated monetary value of $4,200.
The medal was awarded in 1939 to Professor Ernest O. Lawrence for his discoveries in physics. It was the first Nobel given to a UC Berkeley professor. The medal's value to the university and the Lawrence Hall of Science, where it had been placed in a special memorial room to honor the scholar, is immeasurable, officials said.
Campus police will return the medal to the hall this afternoon.
"We are thrilled, as is the Lawrence family, that the medal will be returned to the Lawrence Hall of Science," said Susan Gregory, the hall's deputy director.
Gregory noted that officials at the lab also were saddened to learn from UC police that the suspect is a student employee at the hall. She noted that the hall has had thousands of outstanding student employees over the past 39 years who have been "incredible representatives" for UC Berkeley.
According to Lt. Doug Wing with UC police, the suspect said that at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 28, during normal open visiting hours at the hall of science, he used a key to open the display case and take the medal. A few days later, police said, Sanchez showed it off to friends and others, one of whom contacted police about the theft.
Hall staff discovered that the lock was broken and the medal missing on the morning of Thursday, March 1. They immediately called police.
Police are continuing to interview witnesses and are preparing to turn over the case to the district attorney's office. Sanchez also could face student conduct charges, which would be considered following the police investigation. Student conduct charges are handled by the campus and if conduct charges are found to be true, can result in outcomes that range from warnings to suspension to expulsion.
Hall officials said the medal will be secured until it is unveiled in a new and even more secure display setting as part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Lawrence Hall of Science in May 2008. Plans already were under way prior to the theft for an updated display.
Lawrence died in 1958. When his widow, Molly, died in 2003, the family chose to house the medal at the hall of science. The award became part of the E. O. Lawrence Memorial Room that displays artifacts of his life and work.
Lawrence was not only a great scientist whose discoveries changed the course of science, hall officials said, but a passionate advocate of science education for everyone. The hall opened in 1968, 10 years after the scholar's death, as a living memorial to him and has since served millions of students with educational programs, teacher professional development and curriculum materials.
"The hall is really the memorial to Dad, and I'm really glad that the medal is back at the hall and UC Berkeley, where it belongs," said Barbara Petit, Lawrence's daughter.
Hall officials had offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who took the medal. Since the case remains in the investigation stage, it is too soon, officials said, to determine who might receive the reward.