Centers for Excellence:

Providing New Direction in the College

A new development is underway in the College with the potential to impact the way science will be taught and research performed at Berkeley. Several new groups have been created in the College, each with a specific research and education focus, with the intent of improving intellectual collaborations at Berkeley and strengthening bonds with industry. "Research is changing," says Clayton Heathcock, the new Dean of the College of Chemistry. "Science has become a team activity. If you look back in time, it was more individualized, one P.I., one research group. Today, you need strong overlap with scientists with other expertise."

Centers in the College of Chemistry

The centers being formed emphasize collaboration among research groups with overlapping or complementary interests, and enhancement of graduate training through collaboration and industrial liaison. They include the Center for New Directions in Organic Synthesis (CNDOS), the Kenneth S. Pitzer Center for Theoretical Chemistry, honoring the Berkeley alumnus and longtime professor of chemistry who died in 1997, and the Center for Catalysis.

CNDOS brings together organic chemistry faculty working on bio-organic research and on organic materials research, with a strong emphasis on building industrial relationships. The Pitzer Center will bring together the College's theoretical faculty and their students in a more formalized structure that also relocates them to shared research space in Gilman Hall. The Center for Catalysis, still in its initial stages of development, will combine the strengths of chemists and chemical engineers at Berkeley who work on catalysis and surface and materials chemistry (see Blanch's column, p. 6.) These three centers were initiated by the faculty in concert with outgoing Dean Alex Bell.

A fourth center with a slightly different focus is the Marine Bioproducts Engineering Center (MarBEC), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center, with researchers from the University of Hawaii and faculty members from chemical engineering and plant and microbial biology at Berkeley.

"These centers are a new way to augment the educational experience at Berkeley," says Paul Bartlett, chairman of chemistry and associate director of CNDOS. "They provide new mechanisms for training students and facilitating collaborations that cross disciplinary boundaries," in addition to providing new mechanisms for raising funds for the facilities in which research is performed.

With an almost constant need for laboratory modernization, even Berkeley's College of Chemistry--undeniably one of the top chemistry and chemical engineering schools in the world--has found it a challenge to upgrade facilities in step with the research being performed today, as a consequence of reductions in state funding over the years. Laboratory facilities are key to retaining the College's distinguished faculty and to providing the best possible educational and research environment.

"When faculty members are recruited by another institution, it requires unhappiness at Berkeley to draw them away, more than just something new at the other institution," says Heathcock. "This initiative goes a long way toward keeping our world-class faculty happy." The centers provide more visibility, which will attract more support for the needed renovations. "As individual faculty members, we have experience in bringing in operating funds for our own research programs," says Bartlett. "But attracting donors (for infrastructure improvements) is harder. It just makes sense to organize larger affinity groups, to acquire and use equipment on a shared basis, and to capture the possibilities for synergies among the subdisciplines."

Enhancement of the infrastructure is crucial, especially with the seismic renovation underway (courtesy of the $26.5 million FEMA grant to improve seismic safety in Latimer and Hildebrand Halls). The seismic upgrade work, forcing staggered moves of research groups over the next two years, inspired faculty members to take an active role in looking for funding opportunities to improve laboratory and office space. "The centers make it more desirable for a donor to give to enhance the facilities for a specific program," says Alex Bell, who as Dean helped facilitate the creation of CNDOS, the Pitzer Center, and the Catalysis Center. "For example, the Pitzer Center would not have been able to go forward with the Gilman Hall renovation without a formal structure to attract a major donation from the Pitzer family."

The centers have the potential to give current and future students--both advanced students and undergraduates--a different experience at Berkeley, improving communication among research groups, industry, and our alumni. "Participating faculty and students will advance the College through more intimate contact, research will develop new opportunities for support, and this closer collaboration may move research into new areas otherwise unpursued," says Bell. ?p ?? ?> ?? ?? ? ??