West coast universities, international chemistry leaders unite for bioscience research

Jennifer Tanji/Staff

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A newly formed multidisciplinary alliance between UC Berkeley and the world’s largest chemical company launched Wednesday and could one day lead to groundbreaking innovations such as printed electronics.

In an all-day symposium, researchers, representatives from the BASF Corporation — a New Jersey-headquartered chemical company — and university officials including UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block gathered to celebrate an alliance that grew out of a common interest in scientific advancement shared by campus chemistry professor Omar Yaghi and former California governor Gray Davis.

Directed by Yaghi and UC Berkeley chemistry professor Peidong Yang, the alliance, called the California Research Alliance, will connect academic researchers to industry leaders from BASF in pursuit of a multidisciplinary research alliance that will connect the fields of science and engineering across campus. CARA will unite UC Berkeley, UCLA and Stanford with BASF to conduct bioscience research on nanotechnology, clean energy and similar fields.

“It’s going to bring both money and researchers to Berkeley,” said Michael Barnes, principal editor for the College of Chemistry, calling the West Coast “a real hotbed of scientific innovation.”

With UC Berkeley stationed as the “hub” of the partnership, CARA will focus on promoting research projects that have valuable real-world applications by pairing academic researchers with BASF researchers. Potential projects include minimizing electronic devices, finding cheaper ways to improve them and printing them out.

“Anyone can approach the center and propose a project,” Yaghi said. “Our students and postdocs and researchers benefit from the environment and interaction from doing research that has relevance to addressing social problems.”

The creation of CARA came from Yaghi’s partnership with Davis, whose support for science led him to create the Governor Gray Davis Institutes for Science and Innovation, which created several major scientific institutes on campus.

Matthew Francis, a UC Berkeley associate professor of chemistry who will be conducting bioscience research through CARA, said he plans to conduct research involving the development of a targeted delivery system for drugs.

“The alliance allows us to bring academic ideas to the marketplace,” Francis said. “It’s important to have contacts in the industry and to learn how to bring our ideas to the market.”

The symposium concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a tour of the CARA labs, housed on the third floor of Hildebrand Hall. Postdoctoral researchers are currently in the process of moving into the labs, which were refurbished for the alliance. There is a goal for CARA to grow by adding more UC campuses to the alliance and increasing funding for more postdoctoral positions and research opportunities.

“We are constantly trying to think of ways of how to address the global energy crisis and environmental problems problems,” Yaghi said. “You need maximum participation of minds to address these big issues.”

Lydia Tuan covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.