News

March 31, 2020

CO2 capture technology

If humans ever hope to colonize Mars, the settlers will need to manufacture on-planet a huge range of organic compounds, from fuels to drugs, that are too expensive to ship from Earth. University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) chemists have a plan for that.

March 27, 2020

Bay Area air quality improves as people forced to stay home

Fewer vehicles on the road and the slowing world economy has lead to blue skies over the world including the Bay Area, China, and Italy. Locally, every day since March 14, the EPA Air Quality Index has reported all nine Bay Area counties bathed in green on its color scale, for good quality air. It’s rare to have so many consecutive clean-air days. And last week, air-quality sensors that measure particulate matter showed the lowest average readings of any week so far in 2020 — down 21% in Oakland, 36% in San Jose and 41% in San Francisco from the week before.

scientists look for COVID-19 treatment

UC Berkeley and UCSF Professor Kevan Shokat, along with members of his lab, have joined with other scientists around the world in a unique research project under the auspices of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute Coronavirus Research Group (QBI) spearheaded by UCSF Professor Nevan Krogan. The international team is testing an unusual new approach to identify potential antiviral drugs with proven efficacy to treat SARS-Cov-2 infections. Given the world crisis, the strategy of testing known/approved drugs could help reduce the numbers of deaths in the near term while the world health community battles the epidemic.

March 24, 2020

College of Chemistry goes online

The growing coronavirus pandemic compelled campus officials to halt all lectures and most in-person classes as of March 10. Faculty and lecturers were caught off guard. Few had experience teaching online courses. Most had to scramble to learn how to deliver lectures via Zoom or through b-Courses or other teleconferencing services and to pick up tricks from colleagues about how to be remotely engaging. By March 13, the campus canceled all in-person classes too, throwing a wrench into the interactive training critical in many fields.

March 16, 2020

film review of 'Human Nature

How many newspaper stories, magazine features and TV segments have been produced so far that marvel at the revolutionary capabilities of CRISPR while giving almost no idea at all how the gene-editing discovery actually works? Those who lament the state of science journalism should take note of 'Human Nature', in which Adam Bolt and helpful scientists offer an easily understood introduction to techniques often described with head-scratching phrases like "it's a word processor for DNA!" A cogent, wide-ranging look at both the discovery and the nascent, soon-to-be-giant fights humans are having over it, the documentary should be welcomed in its limited theatrical release and will be even more useful on video.

new CRISPR based test for coronavirus

A potential solution to speeding up the diagnostics of coronavirus may have presented itself in the form of the gene editing molecular tool called CRISPR. Combined with high-scale advances in automation and computation, CRISPR promises to be a real game-changer in the field of synthetic biology, impacting everything from chemicals and materials to food and health. CRISPR’s precision has an uncanny ability to find a specific sequence within a sample, and one startup has a way to test for coronavirus in 30 minutes (the whole process including sample preparation will take about 4 hours).

March 10, 2020

 Charles B. Harris

It is with tremendous sadness that I write to share the news that Charles Harris, respected colleague and dedicated champion of the College, passed away at his home this morning; he was 79 years old. Charles was born in New York in 1940 but spent most of his youth in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb just outside of Detroit. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1963 and his Ph.D. degree from MIT in 1966. Charles joined the Berkeley faculty in the Department of Chemistry in 1967.

March 9, 2020

women trailblazers

Guided by CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, a formidable entrepreneur in her own right, C&EN profiled 15 women working in the Chemical industry in academics and startups in C&EN's 2020 Trailblazers. Four of them are affiliated with UC Berkeley's College of Chemistry. They have collectively launched more than 30 start-ups aimed at developing treatments for rare diseases, building better batteries, and more. They’re chemical scientists at the top of their game. They’re role models building and mentoring teams. And yes, they’re badasses. They live by the motto “Nobody ever got anywhere by listening to no.”

March 4, 2020

Omar Yaghi

Omar Yaghi has been awrded the the 2020 August-Wilhelm-von-Hofmann-Denkmünze. The German Chemical Society bi-annually presents this prestigious award to an outstanding national and international chemists in a wide range of fields. Among the oldest chemistry awards, the August-Wilhelm-von-Hofmann-Denkmünze gold medal was first awarded in 1903. The award is intended to recognize outstanding achievements in chemistry; in particular by scientists working outside of Germany.

Gabor Somorjai

Gabor A. Somorjai, Professor of the Graduate School and Emeritus Chemistry Professor has been awarded the Helmholtz Medal by the members of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (formerly the Prussian Academy of Sciences.) The award honors his outstand­ing scientific achievements in the field of surface chemistry and catalysis, and especially the catalytic effects of metal surfaces. The Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities contin­ues the tradition established by the Prussian Academy of Sciences of awarding the Helmholtz Medal which was established in 1892.

March 3, 2020

plastic recycling

Plastic is a certainly versatile element. There is much we can do with it. Utensils, tools, parts for cars, technological devices. There is only one thing we do not know how to do with plastic: disappear when it is no longer useful. There the real headache begins and the enormous challenge of obtaining a circular or fully recyclable plastic is posed. Plastics contain various additives, such as dyes, fillers or flame retardants and very few of them can be recycled without loss of performance or aesthetics. The most recyclable plastic, PET (ethylene polyterephthalate), is only recycled at a rate of 20-30%. The rest generally goes to incinerators or landfills where it takes centuries to decompose.

polymer membranes

Biological membranes, such as the "walls" of most types of living cells, primarily consist of a double layer of lipids, or "lipid bilayer," that forms the structure, and a variety of embedded and attached proteins with highly specialized functions, including proteins that rapidly and selectively transport ions and molecules in and out of the cell. Scientists have long sought to develop synthetic membranes that could match the selectivity and high-speed transport offered by their natural counterparts. Now a team led by University of California Berkeley researchers has designed a novel polymer that is as effective as natural proteins in transporting protons through a membrane. The results of their research were published in Nature.

February 26, 2020

criegee intermediate research

Scientists in the lab of Kevin Wilson (Ph.D. '03, Chem), at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have made a surprising discovery that could help explain our risk for developing chronic diseases or cancers as we get older, and how our food decomposes over time. What’s more, their findings, which were reported recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), point to an unexpected link between the ozone chemistry in our atmosphere and our cells’ hardwired ability to ward off disease.

martin mulvihill

Wondering which plastic containers to avoid and which are safe to eat from? How to learn about chemicals in food packaging? Or how to make sure you are buying BPA-free foods? Foodprint recently held a Twitter chat with Dr. Martin Mulvihill (Ph.D. ’09, Chem), researcher and advisor at the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry and general partner with Safer Made, a mission-driven venture capital fund that invests in companies that remove or reduce the use of harmful chemicals in products and manufacturing processes and asked that very question.

Naomi Ginsberg

The American Society of Chemistry (ACS) has announced Naomi S. Ginsberg is a recipient of the 2020 early-career award in experimental physical chemistry. She is being recognized "For the development of new time- and space-resolved imaging and spectroscopy methods to study dynamical phenomena in heterogeneous materials". The Physical Chemistry Division of ACS annually sponsors senior and early-career awards in theoretical and experimental physical chemistry that are intended to recognize the most outstanding scientific achievements of members of the Division. The recipients will be honored at the the Fall ACS National Meeting in San Francisco.

February 19, 2020

heavy elements

As we push the Periodic Table of the Elements further and further into the unknown, its familiar columns and rows are threatening to crumble. What’s next for this science icon? Superheavy elements exist for a fraction of time and are nearly impossible to catch. But understanding them could force us to reimagine the most iconic scientific symbol of all time..

Yao Yue Lao

In honor of Engineers Week, Aerospace Corporation is spotlighting a few of our many great engineers and getting a peek at the exciting projects that they’re focused on. Find out about Yao (B.S. '08, Chem) wound up at the Aerospace Corporation doing exciting work in photovoltaic characterization and solar array modeling.

water adsorption

Adsorption is a process which plucks water molecules from air that has less than 100% relative humidity by attaching them to the surface of a solid material. The molecules are held there by electrostatic connections called Van der Waals forces that link them with the molecules of the pertinent surface. To collect a lot of water this way therefore requires a material that has two properties. One is a large surface area. The other is an appropriate Van der Waals response. Experimental traps that employ this principle have been made using substances called metal-organic frameworks.

February 12, 2020

David Altman

On the brink of his 100th trip around the sun, the secret to David Altman’s (Ph.D. '43, Chem) long and illustrious life isn’t rocket science. At least, not entirely. It’s a strategy that seems to have worked well for Altman, who will officially become a centenarian on Thursday. His dizzying number of accomplishments in rocket science — papers written, patents held, awards won — seem to indicate that not a moment was wasted in all of his one hundred years.

Discovery of new class of phages

Scientists have discovered hundreds of unusually large, bacteria-killing viruses with capabilities normally associated with living organisms, blurring the line between living microbes and viral machines as reported in new research findings in Nature. These phages — short for bacteriophages, so-called because they “eat” bacteria — are of a size and complexity considered typical of life, carry numerous genes normally found in bacteria and use these genes against their bacterial hosts.