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UC Berkeley College of Chemistry receives $3.5 million gift

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The donation from Dow Chemicals went towards giving some labs a makeover.


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FEBRUARY 29, 2012

A $3.5 million gift from The Dow Chemical Company Foundation will enable UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry to renovate its undergraduate teaching labs and update its curriculum to focus more on green chemistry and sustainability.

Richard Mathies, dean of the college, described the gift as a “landmark decision” because it almost exclusively benefits undergraduate students who may not go on to work in the scientific field.

“The idea is to make sure that the people involved (in various fields) are thinking about how to mitigate health and environmental impacts and minimize waste,” Mathies said. This involves practices that fall into the category of ‘green chemistry,’ such as using more efficient catalysts and minimizing the use of volatile of hazardous solvents, he said.

The gift was made official on Feb. 23 when representatives from both Dow and the campus gathered at the College of Chemistry. Dow is a global company that manufactures chemicals that are used by a variety of companies to make such items as laundry detergent and pharmaceuticals, according to the company’s website.

According to Mathies, the $3.5 million will be given in portions over the next three years. Additionally, Mathies said that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau allotted $2.5 million in matching funds.

$2.5 million of Dow’s gift, as well as the matched funds, will go toward rebuilding the 12 labs in Latimer Hall and the remaining $1 million is for curriculum development and will not be matched by the campus, according to Michael Barnes, principal editor at the college.

The campus began renovations even before receiving the gift to show Dow it was serious about the endeavor, Barnes said. Using money donated by alumni and other contributors, the college renovated two Chem 4 teaching labs and created three discussion rooms in order to create more space for labs in Latimer Hall, he said. The future renovations will address the 12 Chem 1A labs located on the second floor of Latimer Hall, according to Barnes.

According to Mathies, construction will begin in early May and will last three years at most, but renovation plans are not yet final. Mathies said only one lab at a time will be under construction per regular semester, and two during the summers.

Tony Kingsbury, the Dow executive-in-residence who lectures at the Haas School of Business, noted that the new curriculum and renovated labs will benefit graduate students in the long run, as they start out as undergraduates. Lab renovations will include up-to-date equipment and instruments — a much-needed improvement, according to Mathies, who said the teaching labs are nearly 50 years old.

In terms of curriculum, Kingsbury said Dow only contributed “philosophically” regarding an increased focus on green chemistry and sustainability, but that the planning itself is in the hands of the college.

MaryAnn Robak, a lecturer in the college, said the new curriculum will include “lab experiments that address more contemporary topics to make the curriculum more exciting and more rigorous.”

Additionally, there will be more emphasis on web-based instruction for procedures as safety protocol, Mathies said.

According to Kingsbury, the relationship between Dow and the campus has existed for many years through research funding and other donations. He said the gift had been in the works for about nine months.

“We chose Berkeley because it’s a leading institution in chemistry,” Kingsbury said.

Contact Oksana Yurovsky at 


FEBRUARY 29, 2012

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