Tag Archives: UC Berkeley
Brewing More Sustainable Beer

Craft beer is all the rage these days. But for those concerned about the environmental footprint of their consumer choices, they may be alarmed to learn that a single pint of craft beer can require 50 pints of water merely to grow the hops, which are the dried flowers of a climbing plant.

Fortunately, there may be a more environmentally friendly process in the works. Former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Charles Denby recently launched a startup called Berkeley Brewing Science with Rachel Li, a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate. As Denby explained to Berkeley News:

“I started home brewing out of curiosity with a group of friends while I was starting out in Jay’s [Keasling, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering] lab, in part because I enjoy beer and in part because I was interested in fermentation processes,” he said. “I found out that the molecules that give hops their hoppy flavor are terpene molecules, and it wouldn’t be too big of a stretch to think we could develop strains that make terpenes at the same concentrations that you get when you make beer and add hops to them.”

The final hook was that a hoppy strain of yeast would make the brewing process more sustainable than using agriculturally produced hops, which is a very natural resource-intensive product, he said.

If the product is successful, it could greatly reduce water and other agricultural resource consumption, all through sophisticated gene editing technologies.

It’s another example of the potential innovation in food (and beverage) that could help reduce our environmental and carbon footprint while still meeting the appetites of a growing population.

UC Berkeley Course Show How Gratitude Contributes To Happiness

Conscious feelings of gratitude can contribute to overall happiness. It may seem obvious, but we now have some interesting data and examples from UC Berkeley. Sara Orem described her experience teaching a “module” course on gratitude to adults through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley, from the Greater Good Science Center’s online course The Science of Happiness.

Participants in the course read articles, watched videos, and worked on gratitude practices at home each week, and then came to five weekly classes to discuss. The group kept a gratitude journal, wrote a gratitude letter, and expressed gratitude as a way to recover from a negative experience. They also tried a new gratitude practice between class sessions, such as watching inspiring videos or appreciating nature. A final project involved participants planning to write a “gratitude letter.”

And the results? As Orem reports, after students filled out before-and-after surveys on their gratitude and life satisfaction, the average gratitude score went up from 5 to 6.6 (out of 7), and the number of people who were highly satisfied with their life doubled. But she was most struck by some of the individual stories:

During our first session, our oldest participant expressed concern that the course would be too challenging for her. “Say more about that,” I asked. Abigail said, “I thought you were going to teach me two or three more ways to say thank you. This isn’t that. This is going to require that I think more deeply about my approach to life and I’m not sure I’m up to it.”

At the end of the first class, I said that I hoped Abigail would consider coming back the following week. She responded, “Oh, I’ve already decided I’m going to try to meet the challenge.”

And some students took some inspiring concrete steps to follow:

Brian said he would write a letter of appreciation to his secretary, who had made his professional life so much easier and smoother. As a lifelong military officer, he told us that these letters were very important in military files to facilitate promotions and awards. At the end of class, he expressed his own gratitude for the course and for the change it had made in his approach to life. Like Abigail, he had decided to meet the gratitude challenge.

Not that everyone has the time and inclination to take such a course, but it’s a reminder that making an effort to mark reasons for gratitude and then following up with concrete steps can make you happier overall — and probably the people around you, too.

Mapping Your City For Gentrification

UC Berkeley has a new “urban displacement map” that helps you chart cities that are at risk of displacing low-income residents.  The map examines local policies that affect low-income housing, from inclusionary zoning to developer impact fees.  It will eventually cover more issues and more jurisdictions, making it a potentially valuable tool for assessing where local land use restrictions are greatest in general.


Why Do Geysers Erupt?

Some UC Berkeley researchers stuck cameras and sensors down some Yellowstone and Chilean geysers to find out.  Here’s what they learned:

The key to geysers, said Michael Manga, a UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary science, is an underground bend or loop that traps steam and then bubbles it out slowly to heat the water column above until it is just short of boiling. Eventually, the steam bubbles trigger sudden boiling from the top of the column, releasing pressure on the water below and allowing it to boil as well. The column essentially boils from the top downward, spewing water and steam hundreds of feet into the air.

Cool video describing their findings here:

Speaking on “Railtown” Tonight at UC Berkeley

For Los Angeles Metro Rail fans (or critics) in the Bay Area, or for those curious about the L.A. story, I’ll be speaking tonight on my book “Railtown” at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club. The talk will begin at 6pm, followed by a response by Dr. Martin Wachs. Wachs was himself involved in the history of rail, mostly as a critic of the effort to get Metro Rail built. I will be interested in hearing his response to the history. More information on the event can be found here.