A green bar with a black circle that says "50 Years and Counting"

50 years and counting

Highlighting fun facts and big impacts from our first five decades

2024 marks 50 years since the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley was formed through the merger of the College of Agricultural Sciences and the School of Forestry and Conservation in 1974. Ranging from fun facts to big impacts, this collection of stories celebrates the excellence of the College over the past half century and highlights some of our newest efforts to create a better future for all.

George Poinar in his lab
Image courtesy of Oregon State University.

1. A “Jurassic” discovery

Fiction writers like Michael Crichton have drawn from scientific discoveries to advance plot lines and explain the unexplainable. His 1990 novel Jurassic Park tells the tale of scientists resurrecting dinosaurs using ancient DNA extracted from the blood of insects that were fossilized and preserved in amber. 

Though an oversimplified and unrealistic representation of DNA sequencing and genetic engineering, Crichton drew his scientific inspiration from the real-life research of paleobiologist George Poinar Jr., then a professor of invertebrate pathology in the Department of Entomology. 

In 1982, Poinar and his wife Roberta Hess, an electron microscopy specialist, published a Science study describing a 40-million-year-old fungus gnat preserved in baltic amber. The mummified insect was so well preserved that cell nuclei and other intracellular structures could be identified. Given the quality of the preservation, Poinar believed that scientists might eventually be able to recover ancient DNA from blood preserved in biting insects trapped in amber.

Crichton visited Poinar’s lab after reading their article about the gnat to learn more about the possibility of DNA being preserved in amber. When the book was released, Crichton acknowledged the pair for first articulating ideas “about paleo-DNA, the genetic material of extinct animals….” The book was later adapted into a successful full-length film by director Steven Spielberg, which spawned a multi-billion dollar multimedia franchise. 

Watch a video of Poinar discussing his amber research with Oregon State University.

A man in a helmet high up in a tree

Robert Moore of Cornell University climbs a giant sequoia at Whitaker Forest Research Station to collect cones as part of an ongoing, collaborative research project.

Photo by Ken Somer.

2. Stewarding sequoias

For thousands of years, giant sequoias have towered over the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. While it may be a blip in their long lifespans, UC Berkeley is proud to have spent over a century stewarding some 250 of these majestic trees at Whitaker’s Forest near Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

In 1915, forestry professor Woodbridge Metcalf tagged all the trees greater than eight feet in diameter, and Berkeley foresters have been tracking them ever since. “Data has been passed down through a lineage of Berkeley researchers that I’m honored to be a part of,” said Robert York, an assistant professor of Cooperative Extension in forestry. 

Sequoias can survive low or even moderate-intensity fire and actually depend on it to reproduce, but in recent years, climate change-driven drought and fire suppression policies have made the trees more vulnerable to the increasing and extreme wildfires of the past decade. 

In 2020 and 2021, the Castle, KNP Complex, and Windy fires tore through Sierra Nevada forests—the KNP fire burned through the entirety of Whitaker’s—and destroyed an estimated 19 percent of all large giant sequoias in the world. 

UC Berkeley is part of the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, a collaboration of organizations committed to conserving giant sequoia ecosystems. Whitaker’s Forest's role involves continuing the forest’s tradition of advancing research on the trees. Recent projects have focused on how they respond to prescribed fire, seedling interaction with fungi, and the light requirements for successful seedling establishment.

One of the original covers of The Death of Nature book.

3. A new vision of nature

An ecofeminist philosopher and science historian who taught in the College for four decades, Professor Emerit Carolyn Merchant is widely known for her foundational book, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. More than forty years after its initial publication in 1980, the text is considered part of the essential canon of ecofeminist literature. Merchant’s genre-shaping body of work—which includes nine books, four edited volumes, and numerous articles—has had outsize influence across the fields of women’s studies, the history of science, ethics, and environmental history.

Learn more about Merchant in “Carolyn Merchant: My Life Exploring Science, Environment, and Ethics,” an oral history released by UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center in 2023.

A group of four men

From left to right: Tom Bruns, Tom White, Steve Lee, and John Taylor in 2010.

4. Your daily citation(s)

A 1990 research paper describing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers and methods developed by professors John Taylor and Tom Bruns and PhD alums Tom White (’76 Biochemistry) and Steven Lee (’90 Molecular and Physiological Plant Biology) has been cited four times a day and totals nearly 50,000 citations as of April 2024. In 1988, White took a sabbatical from biotech company Cetus Corporation to collaborate with Taylor, and he introduced scientists in Taylor's lab to the newly invented PCR. Working with then-postdoc Bruns and Lee, who was a graduate student in Taylor’s lab, the scientists used PCR to enable molecular identification and taxonomy of fungi. In the 1990s and 2000s, the PCR primers and the approach that they developed helped revolutionize fungal phylogenetics and taxonomy. When next-generation or high-throughput DNA sequencing became routine, ecologists began to use the same primers and approach to bring molecular precision to studies of mycobiomes of the environment (air, water, soil, plants) and of humans.

A black and white archival photo of basketball players jumping for the ball during a game.
Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics.

5. A “golden” center

Men’s Basketball Player Darrall Imhoff cemented his place in Cal history on March 21, 1959, when the third-year forestry major made the game-winning play over West Virginia with 17 seconds left in the NCAA championship game. That shot from the 6-foot-10 star center helped the Golden Bears earn their first—and only—Men’s Basketball title.

Imhoff earned Olympic gold the next year as a member of the 1960 United States men's basketball team, coached by UC Berkeley’s Pete Newell, and helped the Golden Bears return to the NCAA championship. He left UC Berkeley three-and-a-half credits short of earning his degree after the New York Knicks selected the two-time All-American as the third-overall pick in the 1960 NBA draft. Imhoff played in the league for 12 seasons and was named to the 1966-67 NBA All-Star team as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

In 1994, Imhoff contacted Environmental Science, Policy, and Management professor James Bartolome to learn how to complete the missing units and earn his degree. He completed his final four units at Portland State University with guidance from Forestry faculty, transferred the credits to UC Berkeley, and participated in the College of Natural Resources’ 1995 spring commencement.

In addition to being among the College’s more than 27,000 alums, Imhoff is a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, Cal Athletics Hall of Fame, and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His jersey number now hangs in the rafters of Haas Pavillion alongside basketball stars Kevin Johnson, Alfred Grigsby, and Jason Kidd.

An illustration of DNA and CRISPR editing
Image courtesy of the Innovative Genomics Institute.

6. On the cutting edge

Rausser College scientists affiliated with UC Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) use cutting-edge synthetic biology and CRISPR gene editing techniques to help plants resist pathogens, improve crop yields, and even remove carbon from the air. Their work offers promising advances to help slow global warming, supercharge photosynthesis, and alleviate world hunger. Professor Jill Banfield leads IGI microbiology research and Professor Emerit Brian Staskawicz heads the sustainable agriculture division. Other affiliated faculty include Krishna Niyogi, Peggy Lemaux, Ben Williams, Patrick Shih, Ksenia Krasileva, and others.

Learn more: 

A headshot of Janet King.
Photo courtesy of Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

7. Nutrition for the nation

Professor Emerit Janet King guided the launch of UC Berkeley’s first accredited dietetics program over fifty years ago. Later, she helped shape nutrition across the country as chair of a committee appointed by the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that developed the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Learn more about the history of nutrition research at UC Berkeley and about the new Master of Nutritional Sciences and Dietetics (MNSD), a graduate program that builds on the legacies of King and other researchers by training students to translate scientific research into practical solutions for addressing nutritional challenges and promoting health and wellness.

Green specimens in petri dishes and vials with labels
Photo by Julie Gipple.

8. Tiny garden, big learning

You’ve probably heard of the Botanical Garden and the Student Organic Garden, but have you heard of the Microgarden? Established in the 1950s by botany professor Ralph Emerson and curator Robert Berman, the Microgarden houses around 500 different strains of algae and fungi and is a valuable resource for researchers and classes on campus and around the world. 

Unlike most other culture collections, which store frozen or dried samples, the Microgarden houses living cultures that require diligent care to survive. Depending on their needs, specimens are stored at specific temperatures, with constant agitation, or under certain light conditions. 

“They may not know it, but thousands of students use organisms that come from the Microgarden every semester,” said Dr. Juliana Cho, BS 'Genetics & Plant Biology, PhD '13 Plant Biology, who curated the Microgarden for the past decade before passing the reins to Steven Thomas in December. “Our specimens are utilized in large introductory biology courses like Bio1A and Bio1B as well as upper division courses such as Biology of Algae, Biology of Fungi, and Techniques in Light Microscopy.” 

The facility houses organisms that were isolated as far back as the 1930s, including some rare strains that are difficult to find anywhere else.

A group of people, many wearing colorful traditional ethnic clothing

Beahrs ELP participants at the 2023 program reception.

Photo by Mathew Burciaga.

9. Global impact

For over twenty years, the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program has educated professionals dedicated to advancing equitable and inclusive environmental climate solutions. Established with funding from alums Carolyn Beahrs, BA ’67 Social Sciences, and Richard Beahrs, BA ’68 History, the interdisciplinary certificate program features workshops on climate change, environmental policy and economics, energy transitions, business and sustainability, natural resources management, biodiversity, and leadership development. The program has flourished, most recently under the academic leadership of professors J. Keith Gilless, David Zilberman, and Maximilian Auffhammer. Today, 757 alums from over 114 countries continue to create positive impact around the world, including founding wildlife conservation programs in Vietnam, starting elementary school nutrition programs in Belarus, and advancing clean drinking water efforts in Kenya.

Headshots of Doris Calloway and Katherine Koshland.

Doris Calloway (left) and Catherine Koshland. 

17. Firsts for campus leadership

While nutritional science professor Doris Calloway is best known for pioneering research on diet and human health, her legacy on campus extends beyond the lab. In 1981, Calloway became the first woman to break into the ranks of UC Berkeley’s senior administration when Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman appointed her Provost of Professional Schools and Colleges. She oversaw the Colleges of Engineering, Chemistry, Environmental Design, and Natural Resources; the campus’ nine professional schools; the Energy and Resources Group (ERG); and the Lawrence Hall of Science. As Provost, Calloway helped establish a campus-wide Peace and Conflict Studies program and worked diligently to increase the hiring of women and minority faculty. In 1994, the role was consolidated into Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost (EVCP). 

Nearly 30 years after Calloway’s 1987 retirement, ERG professor Catherine Koshland made another UC Berkeley first when she was appointed the inaugural Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education in 2015. Like Calloway, Koshland worked across colleges and departments to support undergraduate education and the student experience. Koshland served in the role for six years, and then served for a year as Interim EVCP before retiring in 2022.

Cover of old CNR newsletter; a hand with fingers pointing at art pieces; and a man pointing to a CNR t-shirt

18. Keeping in touch

Before Breakthroughs magazine debuted in the fall of 1995, many relied on the CNR Update to stay connected to the College. Developed under Dean Wilford Gardner, the newsletter featured stories about awards and research, recaps of events and occurrences, and staff highlights.

The publication also allowed former staff member David K. Smith to flex his artistic muscles. Working with writer Sue Clark, Smith was the newsletter’s designer and contributed numerous drawings, cartoons, and photographs during its run. Smith also designed one of the first shirts offered by the College of Natural Resources and created pointillist art of College landmarks featured on holiday cards (shown above).

Now for nearly 30 years, Breakthroughs has highlighted activities and achievements of the College for our alum and donor community. The magazine is published twice a year and available in both hardcopy and online. Check out past issues in our archive.

A man in front of a small house.

Vernard Lewis at Villa Termiti. 

Image courtesy of UCANR.

19. Chew on this

What has removable siding; has been zapped, roasted, and frozen; and has been featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics? Villa Termiti of course!

In 1993, Cooperative Extension professor Vernard Lewis and partners from the United States Forest Service and California Structural Pest Control Board came up with a unique idea to build a 400-square-foot structure designed to be eaten by termites. Their mission: determine which conventional or alternative methods of termite control are most effective at eradicating the six-legged pests. 

The results of this first study were published in 1996, showing that treatment by conventional fumigant gases resulted in a near-total elimination of drywood termites. Non-fumigation methods—like freezing termites with liquid nitrogen, applications of electricity, or heat treatment by microwave generators—showed limited to no effectiveness.

Lewis led research and demonstrations at Villa Termiti until his retirement in 2017. With recent renovations by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers, the structure will continue to be used to demonstrate pest inspection and management practices.

Rachel Morello-Frosch

20. Addressing injustice

In 2021, President Joe Biden appointed Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, a group that confronts long-standing environmental justice issues and works to ensure that historically marginalized communities and groups burdened by disproportionately high pollution levels are more involved in federal policies and decisions. An environmental health scientist and epidemiologist, Morello-Frosch is an expert on environmental justice in the context of air pollution, water quality, and climate change, as well as prenatal exposures to environmental chemicals and their effects.

A hand holding a small arabidopsis plant

An arabidopsis plant cultivated in the lab of Krisha Niyogi. 

Photo by Mathew Burciaga.

21. Pioneering plant science

Though technically a weed, thale cress—known in the scientific community as Arabidopsis thaliana—has a special distinction: it is one of plant biology's most closely studied species. Chris and Shauna Somerville, now professors emerit in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (PMB), were early advocates for using Arabidopsis as a model organism. 

By the 1990s, an international team of researchers including Athanasios Theologis, an adjunct professor in PMB, began efforts to sequence the plant’s chromosomes—the first for any plant. Theologis served as lead author for the Nature article announcing the completed sequence of Chromosome 1 in December 2000, representing a quarter of Arabidopsis’ entire genome.

“For the past 20 years, I would find projects stalled because we didn't have the time or the money to clone this or that gene necessary for our work,” Theologis told the College in 2000. “Now, with all the genes known, our work will not only help me pursue my particular areas of interest but will help all plant researchers. That will revolutionize how we do plant science.”

“This work pioneered new methods and still influences how plant science is done today,” says PMB professor and chair Sheng Luan. “It resulted in the birth of both functional and comparative genomics and laid the foundation for scientists to manipulate genes and improve crops, which has been very beneficial for agriculture.”

Today, at least a dozen faculty labs in PMB—and many others in the scientific community—continue to study Arabidopsis.

Two people in yellow full body suits in a field

In 1987, UC Berkeley plant pathologist Steven Lindow received permission to field-test genetically altered Pseudomonas syringae (known as “ice minus” bacteria) as a frost-preventive on potatoes in the Tulelake area.

Photo courtesy of Steve Lindow.

22. Fighting frost

For many farmers, variable weather patterns subject crops to frost damage, leading to significant losses. While growing up on a farm and raising strawberries and boysenberries to finance his undergraduate education, frost management was a problem that Plant and Microbial Biology professor Steve Lindow experienced firsthand. According to an oral history he recorded with North Carolina State University’s Archive of Agricultural Genetic Engineering and Society, Lindow spent nights in the fields when temperatures were forecast to dip, building makeshift smudge pots to keep crops warm. 

Lindow later discovered that certain bacteria catalyze a process known as ice nucleation, which can result in damaging ice formation in plants. Without such bacteria, plants are able to avoid ice formation. Lindow and colleagues used early genetic engineering technologies to identify the gene required for ice catalyzation and developed a modified strain of the Pseudomonas bacteria capable of controlling frost on fruits and vegetables. This bacteria helps prevent frost from forming on crops by competing with the bacteria that would otherwise cause ice formation, allowing farmers to protect their crops and increase their yields. 

The modified strain of Lindow’s bacteria was tested in 1987, marking the first time a genetically modified organism was released into the field. The natural ice nucleation active strain of Pseudomonas is also used in making artificial snow.

A black and white sketch of a tree

A drawing by Hans Jenny.

23. A not-so-tiny pygmy cypress

At the edge of West Circle near Mulford Hall grows a tree planted by renowned soil scientist and Professor Emerit Hans Jenny on Arbor Day in 1983. It’s a pygmy cypress (Cupressus pygmaea), but there’s nothing dwarf about this tree.

In the species’ native range in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, pygmy cypress are spindly and stunted due to the nutrient-poor, highly acidic soil conditions. But under different conditions on campus, the tree has grown over 50 feet tall. 

In 1992, 240 acres of the pygmy forest in Mendocino County was named after Jenny in honor of his half-century of research on the soils of the rare and fragile forest. The Hans Jenny Pygmy Forest Reserve lies on the oldest and highest of five wave-cut terraces that rise from the waters of the coast nearby. In this complex "ecological staircase," as Jenny called it, each terrace is approximately 100,000 years older than the one below it, with different soils, microbes, plants, and animals.

Scott Stephens speaking in a forest

Scott Stephens. 

Photo by Mathew Burciaga.

24. Decades of forest resilience

For over two decades, Professor Scott Stephens and his colleagues at Berkeley Forests have used prescribed burning and restoration thinning to treat plots of land at UC Berkeley’s Blodgett Forest. Their research assessed whether the treatments could mimic the beneficial impacts of lightning fires and Indigenous burning practices on California’s forests, which have become dense and overgrown after a century of logging and fire suppression. At the end of the 20-year period, they found that experimental plots treated with thinning, burning, or both were significantly more resistant and resilient to wildfire than control plots. The team has received funding from the U.S. Joint Fire Science Program to continue the project and is collaborating with the United Auburn Indian Community to reestablish Indigenous cultural burning at Blodgett.

Barbara Allen-Diaz and Glenda Humiston.

Barbara Allen-Diaz (left) and Glenda Humiston.

Photos courtesy UCANR.

25. Taking the helm

Professor Barbara Allen-Diaz (BA ’75 Anthropology, MS ’78 Range Management, PhD ’80 Wildland Resource Science) was the first woman appointed to lead UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) in 2011. With nine research and extension centers and Cooperative Extension offices in almost every California county, the organization connects UC research in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, and youth development with communities across the state. Allen-Diaz was succeeded in 2015 by current UC Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Glenda Humiston (PhD ’09 ESPM), who previously served in USDA leadership roles. Allen-Diaz and Humiston are just the latest in a long history of UC Berkeley affiliates to oversee the important UC division: others include J. Earl Coke (BS 1922 Agricultural Science), Professor Harry R. Wellman (MS 1924, PhD 1926 Agricultural Science), James B. Kendrick, Jr. (BA ’42 Humanities), and faculty members Daniel G. Aldrich and Kenneth Farrell.

A group of students in a red statue
Photo by Mathew Burciaga.

26. What’s that red thing, anyway?

For any student of the College in the last decade, the tubular red sculpture on the courtyard near Mulford and Morgan Halls and the Genetics and Plant Biology building conjures up memories of grabbing coffee at Pat Brown’s Cafe, chatting with peers between classes, or studying on the lawn. Titled “Within,” the piece was created by Alexander Liberman, an artist known for brightly colored sculptures assembled from industrial objects.

A part of the collection of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the sculpture was placed in this spot in 2012 upon the dedication of the then-new Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, which houses the labs of Rausser College professors like Britt Glaunsinger.

Many groups, including the College’s Peer Advising Leaders, take photos near (or in!) the sculpture each year.

27. A presidential record

Professor John Holdren co-founded the Energy and Resources Group in the early ’70s and co-led the program for 23 years. During the Clinton Administration, he served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, leading studies on energy-technology innovation and arms control. From 2009 to 2017, he was President Obama’s Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, becoming the longest-serving Science Advisor to the President in the history of the position.

Carol Williams black and white photo talking in front of a chalk board.

Caroll B. Williams.

Image from College archives.

28. A forestry first

Carroll B. Williams made history in 1963 when he became the first Black American to earn a PhD in forestry and entomology in the United States, and the first Black forester with a doctorate to work for the U.S. Forest Service. The University of Michigan alum spent 25 years working at various Forest Service facilities—including the Pacific Southwest Research Station in Albany, California—and briefly taught at the Yale School of Forestry. He was appointed a senior lecturer at UC Berkeley after retiring from the Forest Service in 1988 and was among Berkeley’s first Black forestry faculty.

Williams regularly taught courses in forest and wildland resource conservation, forest health, silviculture, and forest entomology. He also served as the College’s associate dean for Professional Degree Programs from 1995 to 1998; was active in recruitment, admissions, and mentorship committees and programs; and led efforts to redevelop Mulford Hall’s forestry library into a Student Resource Center. He retired from the College in 2003. The college mourned his passing earlier this year.

Three people looking at a solar panel with the campanile in the background.

ERG students Jess Katz, Rachman Setiawan, and Ari Ball-Burack inspect solar panels on the rooftop of the student union.

Photo by Mathew Burciaga.

30. Advancing a sustainable, just future

Another unit on campus celebrating half a century of impact is the internationally renowned Energy and Resources Group (ERG), a groundbreaking interdisciplinary program that admitted its first graduate students in 1975. Students and faculty in the program collaborate as activist-scholars in areas such as decarbonization pathways, environmental economics, climate science and ecology, environmental justice, resource conflicts, and water and sanitation. Many College of Natural Resources faculty were affiliated with the graduate group from its inception, and ERG officially joined the College in 2011. Watch for a full story about ERG’s history and impact later this year.

31. Moon trees

A group of seeds taken to space in the personal belongings of astronaut Stuart Roosa on Apollo 14 in 1971 were later planted throughout the country. Professor of forest genetics Bill Libby, MS ’59 Forestry, PhD ’61 Genetics, was given a few of the redwood seeds, which he planted in his backyard. Cuttings from those trees now stand tall at UC Berkeley’s Russell Research Station.

Grapevine leaves with a disease

33. A toast to plant pathology

The next time you enjoy a bottle of California wine, raise a glass to Berkeley faculty. Grapevines are increasingly threatened by Pierce’s disease, a deadly plant disease that Berkeley researchers have studied as far back as the 1940s. In the 1970s, Professor Sandy Purcell, a leading expert on the disease, identified Xylella fastidiosa—a pathogen that grows in the tissues that transport water within a plant—as the cause of the disease. His subsequent studies showed that freezing temperatures could cure infected grapevines, and illuminated how sharpshooter leafhopper vectors spread the pathogen. These findings offered growers and disease managers methods to better control outbreaks. 

New avenues for disease control continue to be studied by Rausser College researchers. Professor Steven Lindow exploited how X. fastidiosa cells communicate with each other to disrupt pathogen colonization of plants, opening new venues for disease control that are currently being tested in the field. Professor Rodrigo Almeida previously explored ways to block the pathogen’s interactions with insect vectors. His lab is currently exploring how climate change could alter the disease’s distribution and using genomic tools to understand how X. fastidiosa diseases emerge. Cooperative Extension Professor Kent Daane develops integrated pest management systems for vineyards and orchards that primarily employ predators and parasitoids as natural biological control agents.

Three researchers in a lab

John Coates (center) with researchers in his lab.

Photo by Mathew Burciaga.

34. Innovative partnerships

The 1998 Berkeley-Novartis Agreement augmented UC Berkeley’s public mission by leveraging the agricultural, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology firm’s resources to strengthen Berkeley’s plant and microbial genomics research. Agricultural and Resource Economics professor and then dean of the College Gordon Rausser provided intellectual leadership for the agreement, which allowed faculty in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology to pursue novel research. Considered the most creative public-private research and development agreement of its time, the deal set the path for many beneficial subsequent partnerships at public universities.

One such partnership is the Energy & Biosciences Institute (EBI). Founded in 2007 with funding from BP and directed by Professor Chris Somerville, EBI focused on developing biofuels during its early years. Now led by Professor John Coates and sponsored by Shell, the Institute’s scope encompasses clean energy advancements and scalable scientific innovation while balancing economic growth, environmental protection, and societal impact. EBI also runs educational programs and an entrepreneurial business incubator to help bring innovations to market.

A group of 5 people standing outside.

CEEJ faculty (left to right) Meg Mills-Novoa, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Maya Carrasquillo, Danielle Zoe Rivera, and Zoé Hamstead. 

Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small.

36. Closing the climate gap

It’s well documented that the climate crisis disproportionately harms people of color and those in low-income neighborhoods. Established in 2021 under Rausser College leadership, Berkeley’s Climate Equity and Environmental Justice Roundtable—a transdisciplinary cohort of campus researchers spanning multiple colleges and schools—advances climate solutions that integrate sustainability and equity goals through community- and policy-engaged work. Projects include creating equitable access to stormwater management in rural South Texas; developing air-quality modeling for polluted U.S. regions; and establishing reliable electrical and Wi-Fi connectivity at health care facilities in Kenya, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A rendering of the Nasa Ames Berkeley Space Center
Image by Field Operations and HOK.

37. Beyond Earth

Announced last fall, the Berkeley Space Center will be an innovation hub for research in aviation and space technology at NASA Ames Moffett Field in Mountain View, CA. Professor Emerit and former Dean Gordon Rausser, who has published on the accelerating space economy, was instrumental in the development of the project. Future Rausser College research at the site could focus on closed agriculture in space, satellite remote sensing, transportation alternatives, and more. Professor Manuela Girotto is already collaborating with NASA, using satellite observations to measure how much snow is in mountain environments and how that is changing.

A black and white sketch of a medfly

A medfly illustration by David K. Smith published in the August 1990 CNR Update.

38. Insect Insights

Generations of land managers and pest control professionals in California and across the globe can trace their roots to the research and teaching of UC Berkeley’s Department of Entomological Sciences.

The top-ranked department housed experts like Ray F. Smith, Robert Van den Bosch, and Carl Huffaker, who developed breakthrough techniques of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) including biologically-based systems for pest control. Medical entomologists like Robert Lane and Vincent Resh studied the transmission of insect-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and “river blindness,” developing new ways to stop their spread by controlling insect populations. World-renowned toxicologist John Casida investigated how DDT and other synthetic pesticides affected insect and human health. Researchers Gordon Frankie and Vernard Lewis explored how insects and other pests adapt to and thrive in urban environments.

Entomological Sciences was integrated into the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) in 1993, which now offers undergraduate Molecular Environmental Biology majors the opportunity to choose Insect Biology as their concentration. Graduate students continue to study under renowned entomologists in ESPM, Integrative Biology, and the Essig Museum of Entomology, which maintains one of the largest university-based research collections of insects in North America.

A black and white photo of people in a crowd talking to one another.

Students, staff and faculty celebrate the new Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management outside Mulford Hall in July 1993.

Photo by Jerry Morse.

39. Reorganization and Restructuring

After four years of discussion, assessment, and planning, the College of Natural Resources began a major reorganization in 1992. As part of the reorganization, the College's eight departments were reorganized into four. A new, large Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM)—formed by the consolidation of the departments of Conservation and Resource Studies, Entomological Sciences, Forestry and Resource Management, Plant Pathology, and Soil Science— was intended to coordinate and strengthenthen  the College’s interdisciplinary approaches to critical environmental problems. "The formation of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management provides an excellent opportunity for faculty, students, and staff to integrate their efforts for teaching, research, and extension in natural resource related problems,” said Harvey Doner, Chair Pro Tem of ESPM. Existing departments of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ARE), Nutritional Sciences, and Plant Biology were maintained and continued. 

College majors were also revised during the reorganization. New majors in Environmental Science, Molecular Environmental Biology, and Resource Management were created in ESPM, and the Conservation and Resource Studies major, which was created in the early 1970s, continued within the new department. The Political Economy of Natural Resources major in ARE was changed to Environmental and Resource Economics. The reorganization did not significantly alter majors in the Departments of Plant Biology and Nutritional Sciences.

The reorganization also involved the establishment of a new, broadly based Institute for Natural Resource Systems, which assumed and expanded the responsibilities of the Agricultural Experiment Station on the Berkeley campus and worked to promote research on national and international environmental issues and facilitate Cooperative Extension outreach for the College.

41. Research in the digital age

As technological advances enable research and offer datasets that were unimaginable even a few decades ago, Rausser College faculty are keeping up.

Faculty members including Iryna Dronova, Manuela Girotto, and Maggi Kelly build on the College’s legacy in the fields of remote sensing and geospatial analysis by merging historical observations with data gathered using drones, lidar, and satellites to inform land management strategies in California and beyond.

Advances in computing power allow professors like Carl Boettiger, Perry de Valpine, and Trevor Keenan to grapple with large volumes of data. These datasets are fed into mathematical and statistical models to better understand changes in global ecosystems.

College faculty are also involved in multidisciplinary research projects at the intersection of data science, biodiversity, and climate resilience. These efforts are led by the Geospatial Innovation Facility and the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center for Data Science & Environment, which brings together experts in life and environmental sciences with data scientists, designers, and software engineers to co-create tangible, replicable, and accessible solutions to pressing ecological issues.

Two men standing in a woodshop

Paul Mayencourt (left) and Daniel Sanchez. Photo by Mathew Burciaga.

42. A new focus for wood products

Comprising several facilities at the Richmond Field Station, UC Berkeley’s Forest Products Lab offered forestry faculty and students a space to explore commercial applications for the state’s native hardwoods for more than five decades.

Although operations at the lab wound down in the mid-2000s, the facility’s legacy lives on through the subsequent research and outreach efforts focused on woody biomass: the byproducts created during forest, woodland, and rangeland management. John Shelly, PhD ’88 Wood Science and Technology, shifted the focus toward processes capable of turning diseased, dying, and small-diameter trees into fuel, wood products, and lumber. Today, Cooperative Extension professors Paul Mayencourt and Daniel Sanchez, PhD ’15 ERG, are reviving the space and exploring methods to engineer low-carbon wood products that can be integrated into California construction and architecture.

Kristy Drutman

43. One to watch

Society and Environment alum Kristy Drutman, BS ’17, also known as Browngirl Green, is passionate about working at the intersections between media, diversity, and environmentalism. Her podcast, videos, social media channels, and workshops have educated thousands of people on environmental issues. In her Love & Climate series, Drutman brings New York singles together to connect and save the planet. She is also the co-founder of the Green Jobs Board, a climate tech start-up working to bring more diverse talent into the environmental field. Last fall the EPA appointed Drutman to its Youth Advisory Council.

44-47. Keeping the taps on

For decades, experts from the College have provided insights and strategies to the California water managers combating the state’s water woes.

A 1985 study by Professor David Zilberman demonstrated that drip irrigation could help farmers conserve water and improve crop yields. The technology, which was only used on 5% of California’s irrigated land when the study was published, is now used on 48% of California’s cropland. Zilberman’s work on the economics of water, pest control, and agricultural policy earned him a prestigious Wolf Prize in 2019.

Many of California’s water districts and lawmakers have sought guidance from Professor of the Graduate School David Sunding about market pricing, resource allocation, and financing. Sunding negotiated 2003 amendments that helped California reduce its overdependence on the Colorado River and has advised three California administrations on the state’s development of the California WaterFix, a $17 billion environmental infrastructure project.

Cooperative Extension professors Ellen Bruno and Kristin Dobbin help California improve water management. Bruno studies farmers’ responses to changes in water prices and how water policy can promote conservation. Dobbin examines how policy and planning can promote equitable access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water for all. Research and outreach like theirs is increasingly important as California regulators face a looming deadline to create sustainable management of groundwater.

Ted Grantham, also a professor of Cooperative Extension, is leading a multimillion-dollar project to develop new data, models, and tools to transform water management in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system while balancing the water needs of cities, agriculture, and the environment.

George Chang and Rosalind Tung

Image from College archives.

48. Building a better test

Up until the early 1990s, testing for E. coli in drinking water was difficult and imprecise. Then Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology professor George Chang and Rosalind Tung, BS ’90 Food and Nutritional Science, developed a method capable of detecting E. coli bacteria for half the cost and nearly three times faster than earlier methods. Unlike previous tests, it could also identify bacteria weakened but not killed by water treatments. The Environmental Protection Agency approved the test in 2004, which is still used for testing everything from drinking water and wastewater systems to public pools and beaches.

49. Building on a legendary legacy

Very few universities have dedicated wildlife programs, and among those that do, UC Berkeley’s history in the field is legendary. Rausser College’s Berkeley Wildlife Group is building on the legacies of wildlife biologists like Joseph Grinnell and Starker Leopold by incorporating new and diverse voices, grounding research in real-world policy discussions, and reimagining what wildlife means in an increasingly urban and digitized world.

An aerial view of an island and blue tropical water.

50. Research in paradise

For nearly four decades, UC Berkeley has hosted researchers and students from campus and around the world at the ​​Gump South Pacific Research Station on the north shore of the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia.

Gifted to the university by businessman Richard Gump in 1985, the 35-acre property provides equipment, housing, and lab space to researchers studying nearby marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems. The facility has supported hundreds of research projects, including the Mo’orea Biocode Project, an effort co-led by Facility Director Neil Davies and Professor George Roderick to catalog all nonmicrobial life on the island that began in 2005 and recently expanded to include coral biodiversity with the involvement of Professor Adrienne Correa.

UC Berkeley faculty have hosted an immersive, semester-long field research course at the station since 1991. In 2022, the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) launched an additional interdisciplinary program that blends physical, biological, and cultural research with the traditional wisdom of the Polynesian people.

It doesn’t stop here.

The stories featured in this collection offer just a glimpse into the College’s rich history. Read more commemorative stories on our website, and share your memories with us by emailing breakthroughs@berkeley.edu.