By Date

What dry farmed tomatoes can teach us about water scarcity

College of Natural Resources - Tue, 05/14/2024 - 15:05
Image of dry tomatoes May 14, 2024

A new study led by postdoctoral researcher Yvonne Socolar, PhD '23 ESPM, examines the fungal communities in soil that help dry farm systems flourish.

Student Spotlight: Cheri Pearson

College of Natural Resources - Mon, 05/13/2024 - 12:27
A photo of two women holding up a letter in a car. May 13, 2024

Pearson, a fourth-year Conservation and Resource Studies and English double major, speaks about attending UC Berkeley as a re-entry student and mother of Cal alumni.

Why parrots sometimes adopt — or kill — each other’s babies

College of Natural Resources - Fri, 05/10/2024 - 11:40
Image of a green-rumped parrotlet widow and her nestlings May 10, 2024

Competition over love and real estate drives two extreme behaviors in green-rumped parrotlets, a new study co-authored by Professor Steve Beissinger finds.

The Spring 2024 Transcript newsletter is here!

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Thu, 05/09/2024 - 16:39

Planktonic cells of the methanogenic archaeon, Methanosarcina acetivorans (Sunnyjoy Dupuis, Nayak Lab)Learn about MCB's exciting research, new faculty, the Molecular Therapeutics Institute, alumni reception, and much more...

Read the Spring 2024 MCB Transcript here.

Rubinsky Lab project wins Big Ideas award

Department of Bioengineering - Thu, 05/09/2024 - 12:44
A project supervised by Professor Boris Rubinsky and run by MCB/ME/EECS students Maxwell Johnson and Valentin Astie, has been selected as a Big Ideas Winner and will receive a $5,000 award. The MEGAN Protocol is developing a neuro-haptic AI-based device technology that has the ability to detect the onset of Parkinson disease years before the […]
Categories: Science News

Outstanding faculty awards

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Thu, 05/09/2024 - 11:24

Garcia, Lewis and BotchanCongratulations to our faculty who received the departmental 2024 MCB Outstanding Faculty Awards!

Three seniors named winners of the 2024 Babcock Prize

College of Natural Resources - Wed, 05/08/2024 - 10:29
A photo of three women standing outdoors wearing graduation regalia. May 08, 2024

Endowed as a tribute to longtime soil chemistry professor Kenneth Babcock, the prize recognizes high-achieving ESPM undergraduates.

Continuing Berkeley’s legacy in forest products

College of Natural Resources - Tue, 05/07/2024 - 16:30
Lots of wood samples on a wooden shelf

Cooperative Extension professors Daniel Sanchez and Paul Mayencourt build on the University of California Forest Products Lab’s 50-year history through their research on innovative, low-carbon wood products.

By Mathew Burciaga

When the University of California Forest Products Laboratory opened its doors at the Richmond Field Station a few miles north of the UC Berkeley campus in 1955, leaders within the California state government hoped the new facility would provide a centralized hub for research on wood products and processing.

A black and white photo of two men smiling at the camera. [image caption]

Forest Products Lab Director Fred Dickinson (Right) and Donald Arganbright, his successor, in 1980. Photo from 1980 Forest Products Lab Annual Report.

Before then, research in wood technology and forest products occurred at various UC Berkeley locations. From 1903 to 1909, the College of Engineering operated a timber testing laboratory in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (then the Bureau of Forestry). The Forest Service operated a research kiln in the Berkeley Hills for a few years beginning in 1911. Most notably, the University introduced its undergraduate forestry degree in 1914—a program that has evolved and expanded over the past 110 years. 

In the 1940s, lawmakers in California and across the U.S. began investing in laboratories and facilities dedicated to developing next-generation wood products and technologies to further capitalize on wartime developments. By 1953, the California legislature approved the creation of the Forest Products Lab and allocated $1 million in startup funds. 

Fred Dickinson, who previously led the Department of Wood Technology at the University of Michigan, was recruited to the UC Berkeley faculty in 1955 as a professor of forestry and inaugural director of the Forest Products Lab. He led the Lab for its first 25 years, building up a research and teaching program that would continue for roughly 50 years. Today, the Lab’s legacy lives on through the efforts of Rausser College researchers who are exploring new and innovative applications of wood products to help California meet its climate and carbon sequestration goals.

Early years

In a history recounting the Forest Products Lab’s first 25 years, Dickinson wrote that he sought to create an “institute concerned with mission-oriented research,…basic and applied investigations,…and educational activities at the graduate and undergraduate levels.” University of California President Robert Gordon Sproul appointed a technical advisory board of industry representatives to help inform the Lab’s activities and operations.

[image caption]

Left: Two people prepare a compression test of full-diameter wood piling. Center: A researcher operates a differential scanning calorimeter. Right: A view of the wood pulping laboratory. Photos from the Forest Products Laboratory: The First 25 Years (Left and Right) and 1975 Annual Report (Center).

At its onset, the Lab provided space for students and faculty to explore novel and commercial research relating to the biology, chemistry, and physics of wood. Dickinson purchased a circular sawmill, three dry kilns, low- and high-pressure boilers, and conventional wood shop equipment like a joiner and table saw with the funding approved by the state. Arthur Anderson, a biochemist and lecturer in the School of Forestry and Conservation, was appointed head of the Division of Wood Products Chemistry as Dickinson continued to recruit faculty and support staff. The Lab established a dedicated library and introduced a master’s degree in Wood Technology in 1956, hired William A. Dost as its first Cooperative Extension specialist in 1962, and welcomed its first PhD students in 1964.

According to Dickson, the Lab had recruited enough faculty and assistants by the late 1970s to allow their teaching and research programs to “...evolve considerably, but with a continued recognition of the importance of the Laboratory to the State’s forest products industries.” Robert A. Cockrell and Arno P. Schniewind led inquiries into the technical and mechanical properties of California’s native hardwoods. Eugene Zavarin and David L. Brink worked alongside Anderson on chemical studies of several tree species and processing techniques. W. Wayne Wilcox focused on increasing the efficiency of California’s timber harvest by investigating the influence of biological factors like decay and bacteria. Dickinson retired in 1980 after 25 years as the Lab’s director. Forestry professor Donald G. Arganbright succeeded him, serving as director until 1986. 

[image caption]

Frank Beall, right, at a May 2000 open house for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Photo from Forest Products Lab 2000 Annual Report.

The university recruited Wood Science professor Frank Beall to lead the Lab two years after Arganbright's departure. As director, Beall initially pursued research programs on building materials and woody biomass, the byproducts created during the management of forest, woodland, or rangeland environments. Three research centers focused on structural pests, nondestructive evaluation (NDE) of wood and wood-based materials, and service to industry were created to support outreach efforts.

Changes and transitions

In July 1995, program administration was transferred from the College of Natural Resources to the statewide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR). Doing so expanded the Lab’s footprint from a UC Berkeley research center to a statewide program linking research across the University of California system. Beall hired John Shelly, MS ’77 PhD ’88 Wood Science and Technology, as a Cooperative Extension advisor and worked with UCANR leaders to shift its focus to four new areas: wood durability, fire performance, nondestructive evaluation (NDE) of wood and wood-based materials, and utilization of woody biomass. “This is a departure from our former and broader two-program emphasis. Each of the four programs interlink strongly with several others,” Beall wrote in a 1999 annual report.

By 2001, the Lab was able to hire two additional Cooperative Extension advisors—home fire-protection expert Stephen Quarles and retired Forest Service deputy director Kenneth S. Blonski—but retirements and separations jeopardized its long-term future. Wilcox left that summer, leaving Beall as the sole faculty member in Wood Science and Technology. The Lab closed in 2004, and UC Berkeley discontinued the Wood Science and Technology graduate program shortly after. Over 100 graduate students completed their master’s and doctorate degrees during the program’s run.

[image caption]

Left: John Shelly measures the drying characteristics of tanoak lumber. Right: Extension staff lead a hardwood lumber drying workshop in Mendocino County. Photos from the 2001 and 1998 Forest Products Lab annual reports.

Quarles and Shelly continued their research and outreach through UCANR’s Woody Biomass Utilization Group, which was created in 2005 as an outgrowth of the Forest Products Lab. With support from state and federal partners, the research group began to study new technologies and processes capable of turning diseased, dying, and small-diameter trees—things that would otherwise burn during fires or decay during forest management treatments—into fuel, structural and non-structural wood products, and lumber.

A new focus [image caption]

Assistant Professors of Cooperative Extension Paul Mayencourt and Daniel Sanchez in the woodshop at the Richmond Field Station, formerly the site of the Forest Products Lab. Photo by Mathew Burciaga

Daniel Sanchez (PhD ’15 Energy and Resources Group), who has studied the intersection of bioenergy, climate policy, and carbon capture and sequestration for the last decade, notes that “there has been a renewed interest in exploring innovative wood products and their interface with forest management and fire risk reduction in the state of California.” He joined the College in 2018 as an assistant professor of Cooperative Extension focused on woody biomass utilization and now directs the Carbon Removal Lab, which continues some of the research conducted at the former Forest Products Lab. 

Much of Sanchez’s research is dedicated to scaling and commercializing various technologies and products that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. He also conducts outreach efforts geared toward policymakers and technologists to help encourage the adoption of these new approaches. In the past few years, Sanchez has begun exploring how low-value and waste biomass from forests and lumber production could be utilized elsewhere. To further that work, Sanchez helped recruit Paul Mayencourt, an expert on engineered and structural wood products, as an assistant professor of Cooperative Extension in the Departments of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and Architecture. 

[image caption]

Left: Mayencourt prepares to run a log through a portable sawmill. Right: Mayencourt and Sanchez examine pieces of black oak and madrone lumber that have been drying in their solar kiln. Photos by Mathew Burciaga

A former postdoctoral researcher in the Carbon Removal Lab, Mayencourt’s research merges the fields of structural design, forestry, and materials to explore low-carbon approaches for building structures by leveraging recent advances in manufacturing technologies and computational optimization. Together, Sanchez and Mayencourt have worked to clear out and revitalize former Forest Product Lab facilities, turning them into “a space where we can take any trees and turn them into wood products used for architecture or build scale demonstrations,” said Mayencourt

The pair have since acquired a portable sawmill, designed and built a kiln that can dry wood using solar power, and repurposed existing equipment to run a wood fabrication shop. They are currently testing engineered mass timber products, created when layers of wood are fixed together using adhesive or non-adhesive joiners (like dowels), for use in residential and commercial construction projects. “There is a lot of interest in mass timber because it’s a good material for sustainable and low-carbon buildings,” Mayencourt said, noting that these components can be easily fabricated from small-diameter softwood trees and native California hardwoods like tanoak—which rarely make it to commercial sawmills and are often left to rot or burn in forests. “We’ve built some proofs of concept for companies and hope to see these ideas make their way into the industry.”

[image caption]

Sanchez and Mayencourt in the Forest Products Lab’s former wood library, which contains thousands of wood samples dating as far back as 1900. Researchers from UC Berkeley and beyond occasionally reach out requesting access to the historic samples. Photo by Mathew Burciaga

Sanchez and Mayencourt also leverage new technical and computational tools to reevaluate existing manufacturing processes to determine whether they can be improved or modified. They are currently working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) on a grant-funded project to explore a new method of producing wood veneers that is cheaper and recovers more material. They plan to hire a full-time staff member to lead fabrication within the wood shop as they grow their research program and hope to host an architect and graduate student researchers as well.

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Celebrating 50 Years Research News

Student Spotlight: Vitto Resnick

College of Natural Resources - Mon, 05/06/2024 - 10:49
Vitto Resnick May 06, 2024

Resnick will achieve an extremely rare feat: graduating with four bachelor’s degrees in psychology, chemical biology, nutritional science–physiology and metabolism, and molecular and cell biology–neurobiology.

Christopher Schell named chapter lead author on National Nature Assessment

College of Natural Resources - Thu, 05/02/2024 - 14:36
A photo of ESPM professor Christopher Schell demonstrating a trailcam on a tree. May 02, 2024

The ESPM professor and urban ecologist will lead the Nature and Equity chapter of the first-ever national assessment of lands, waters, wildlife, and ecosystems in the U.S.

Enter our 50th Anniversary Photo Contest

College of Natural Resources - Thu, 05/02/2024 - 11:45
Thumbnail of 50thPhoto-Contest graphic May 02, 2024

Help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rausser College of Natural Resources by entering our 2024 photo contest! Submit your original photos for a chance to win prizes and to have your work featured in Rausser College publications and social media.

Dernburg elected to National Academy of Sciences

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Wed, 05/01/2024 - 12:54

Abby Dernburg NAS electionProfessor of Cell Biology, Development and Physiology, Abby Dernburg, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). NAS members are selected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Read more...

Amanda Okamoto receives the Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award

College of Natural Resources - Wed, 05/01/2024 - 10:25
thumnail of Amanda Okamoto May 01, 2024

Okamoto, department manager for the Energy and Resources Group, was recognized for her significant contributions to DEIBJ within the UC Berkeley community.

Professor Teresa Head-Gordon awarded the Humboldt Research Award

Department of Bioengineering - Tue, 04/30/2024 - 17:48

Photo of Teresa Head-Gordon, waist up, standing in the lobby of Stanley Hall, UC Berkeley

Congratulations to Professor Teresa Head-Gordon, who has been honored with a prestigious research award from the Humboldt Foundation, known for fostering collaboration with German scientists.
Categories: Science News

MCB Postdocs Research Showcase 2024

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Fri, 04/26/2024 - 16:58
Peukes and Yerkesh Peukes and Yerkesh, Co-Chairs (Image credit: Nico Novoa-Marchant, SDP Audiovisual 2024)

The 3rd annual MCB Postdocs Research Showcase took place on March 28th, 2024. The event featured research talks from MCB postdocs across every division, a poster session, a keynote address by Christopher Barnes (Assistant Professor at Stanford), and a career panel featuring guests from diverse career paths including academia, startup, science policy, and a science incubator. The showcase was a huge success in highlighting the stellar research being done by MCB postdocs, supporting postdocs' professional development, and building community. 

Hurley elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Thu, 04/25/2024 - 16:09

Hurley American Academy of Arts and Sciences electionJames Hurley, Professor of Cell Biology, Development and Physiology, was among 7 UC Berkeley faculty recently elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The Academy selects members for their excellence with the aim to connect across disciplines to advance the common good. Read more...

A win-win for people and the environment

College of Natural Resources - Wed, 04/24/2024 - 13:00
A photo of a farm with multiple rows of green crops and vegetables. April 24, 2024

A Science study co-authored by Kathryn De Master and Adrian Lu, PhD '20, found evidence that diversified farming practices maintain soil health and on-farm biodiversity while also increasing crop yields, food security, and human wellbeing.

Professor Doris Bachtrog Elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Department of Integrative Biology - Wed, 04/24/2024 - 11:03


Integrative Biology Professor Doris Bachtrog was elected to the American Academic of Arts & Sciences in 2024. She was elected in the Evolution and Ecology section of the Biological Sciences elected members.

Categories: Science News

King and Welch elected as AAAS fellows

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology - Fri, 04/19/2024 - 13:13

King and Welch elected fellow of AAASProfessor of Genetics, Genomics, Evolution, and Development Nicole King and Professor of Cell Biology, Development and Physiology Matthew Welch are among six UCB faculty elected as lifetime fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This honor recognizes their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements. Read more...

Congratulations new NSF Fellows!

Department of Bioengineering - Wed, 04/17/2024 - 15:09
Congratulations to our new NSF Graduate Research Fellows! Among the winners are current PhD students Kira Buttrey, Emilie Kono, Nathan Lanclos, Brendan Mitchell, Gabriela Pena Carmona, Sarah Wasinger, and Dana Wilkins; incoming PhD students Joseph Asfouri and Corinne Martin; and graduating undergraduates Sushil Bohara, Justin Garlepp, Cyrus Tau and Dhruv Vaish. Well done!
Categories: Science News