Douglas Clark tapped to be next College of Chemistry Dean

May 9, 2013

Douglas S. Clark, 56, the current Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) and the Warren and Katharine Schlinger Distinguished Professor in Chemical Engineering, has been designated the new Dean of the College of Chemistry.

Clark is a pioneering researcher in the field of biochemical engineering, with particular emphasis on enzyme technology, biomaterials, extremophiles and all areas of biofuels research. Before his appointment as CBE chair in July 2011, Clark served the college as the Executive Associate Dean, starting in January 2008.

Clark will begin his new responsibilities, pending formal approval of his appointment from the UC Regents, on July 1. He will succeed Richard A. Mathies, who has served as dean for five years.

“Doug Clark is a great choice for the position,” says Mathies. “I have very much enjoyed working with Doug in his role as Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and I am confident he will be even more successful at the helm of the great College of Chemistry.”

Clark was born and raised in the town of New Kensington, PA, 20 miles up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. Clark graduated from high school there in 1975 and headed to the University of Vermont. He graduated with a B.S. in chemistry from UVM in 1979 and began to look for graduate schools.

Clark's father was an engineer, and Clark liked the broad perspective of engineering, with its emphasis on problem-solving skills and the production of useful products. Caltech admitted Clark into its chemical engineering program in the fall of 1979. The department was impressed with Clark's undergraduate work and his research experience. He was the first student ever admitted to the chemical engineering graduate program without a ChemE undergrad degree.

Clark's hard work paid off at the end of his first year, with the arrival of James (Jay) Bailey, whom Caltech had lured away from the University of Houston. “Jay Bailey,” says Clark, “was one of the first chemical engineers to understand how important biology would become.” In 1977, Bailey had completed Biochemical Engineering Fundamentals, the first biochemical engineering textbook in the emerging field.

Clark wrote his dissertation with Bailey on immobilized enzymes. “Enzymes are nature's catalysts,” he says. “Not all enzymes circulate freely in fluids like blood or cell cytoplasm. Many enzymes are bound to cell membranes, and these immobilized enzymes act in a manner similar to heterogeneous catalysts.”

Clark completed his Ph.D. in 1983 and took a position as an assistant professor at Cornell University that fall. His academic career successfully launched, Clark was asked to visit Berkeley to give a seminar in 1986. Clark was offered a job on the chemical engineering faculty by the end of the visit. He accepted, and has been at Berkeley ever since.

Clark joined the department in July 1986, at the same time Charles Wilke, Berkeley's biochemical engineering leader, retired. Clark's research group has continued to work in the area of his dissertation research, immobilized enzymes, but has also branched out into broader research on enzymes, the identification of new ones, and innovative uses of them in industrial and biomedical settings.

Clark's current projects include the structural characterization and activation of enzymes in non-aqueous media, the development of metabolic biochips for high-throughput catalysis and bioactivity screening, protein design and assembly for the development of advanced biomaterials, and enhanced conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to biofuels.

Clark is part of a team that has discovered how to use a long-abandoned fermentation process once used to turn starch into explosives to produce renewable diesel fuel to replace the fossil fuels now used in transportation.

Clark, along with CBE colleague Harvey Blanch and Berkeley chemist Dean Toste, teamed up to produce diesel fuel from the products of a bacterial fermentation discovered nearly 100 years ago by the first president of Israel, chemist Chaim Weizmann. The retooled process produces a mix of products that contain more energy per gallon than the ethanol that is used today in transportation fuels — and it could be commercialized within 5-10 years.

While the fuel's cost is still higher than diesel or gasoline made from fossil fuels, the scientists said the process would drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, one of the major contributors to global climate change.

Clark has won numerous awards during his career, including the Department of Chemical Engineering Teaching Award and the Marvin J. Johnson Award in Microbial and Biochemical Technology of the American Chemical Society. He is the editor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering (1996-present).

Says Clark, “It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the College of Chemistry, with its rich tradition of path-breaking research and teaching. I look forward to building on the great work of outgoing dean Rich Mathies, who has led the college during a difficult time and who is now handing over the keys to a smoothly running machine. With the support of my colleagues, staff members and students, and our many alumni and friends, I plan to continue to steer the college forward into the future.”

More Information

Clark Lab
Clark Faculty webpage