May 2016: Replacing the World’s Most Destructive Industry

Replacing the World’s Most Destructive Industry
Dr. Pat Brown
Impossible Foods
Wednesday, May 25
Michael’s at Shoreline, Mountain View
Flyer for posting


Animal Farming, the most destructive industry on Earth, transforms cheap plant biomass into meat and dairy foods using an archaic and unscalable technology – livestock. This $trillion global industry is responsible for 1/7 of the world’s net greenhouse gas emissions and more than a quarter of its fresh water usage, and it currently uses more than a third of Earth’s land area to raise livestock for human consumption. Through habitat destruction, resource competition and extermination of competing species, the livestock industry is by far the principal driver of species extinctions and biodiversity losses – today the total biomass of domesticated cattle alone exceeds that of all the wild terrestrial mammals remaining on Earth by more than 15-fold. People at Impossible Foods have been working for the past four years to invent an entirely new way to make the best meat and dairy foods the world has ever experienced – directly from plants. Their approach to the problem has been, first, to develop a deep molecular understanding of the chemical and physical principles underlying the sensory properties of these foods and second, to find specific corresponding proteins and other molecules from plants that enable us to recapitulate all the desired properties. Bypassing the intrinsic limitations imposed by animal physiology, makes it possible not only to greatly improve the resource efficiency of meat and dairy production, but actually to create foods that are more delicious and have better nutritional profiles.

On a quest to eliminate the need for animal farming, Pat Brown founded Impossible Foods, providing a delicious, nutritious, environmentally friendly alternative to meat and dairy – directly from plants. Before starting Impossible Foods, Pat was a world renowned geneticist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford University. He is also a founder of Lyrical Foods, maker of Kite Hill artisanal nut milk-based cheeses, and a founder of the Public Library of Science (PLOS), a nonprofit publisher that pioneered the open-access business model. Pat was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002, and is a member of the Institute of Medicine. His numerous accolades include the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor, and the NAS Award in Molecular Biology. Pat received his MD, PhD from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

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Chair’s message, May 2016

A talk entitled “Telling Science Stories: Dispatch from the Conflict Zone” was featured on the opening day of March’s ACS National meeting in San Diego.


Amy Harmon, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New York Times, spoke on bridging the communication gap of the public’s perception of science. With the perspective of someone not formally trained in the sciences – her degree is in American Culture – her writing focuses on the impact of science on the public.

Among her articles that have garnered attention for presenting objective science in a societal context are “A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops” and “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World”.  She challenged us by claiming the public is more interested in science than we scientists give them credit for.  The disconnect could be due to our drive for accuracy over building public trust in the principles, scientific arrogance, or simply a lack of practice in story-telling.


To turn us into more effective communicators, she shared some of the techniques she uses in communicating science:

  • Find the story in your science —it needs character, plot, and suspense. Immerse yourself in the story, not forgetting to deliver in a plain-spoken manner.
  • Illustrate the science issue by creating an analogy to a situation familiar to the listener.
  • State what is obvious, for it might not be obvious to others.
  • Keep zero-tolerance for jargon.  It alienates.  Use simple English.


To present our work to nonscientists with an engaging story line, she suggested the use of suspense. She pointed out where plenty of conflict already exists in science and encouraged us to take advantage of it in setting up a plot to relate our science to the public.  “Science has all the hallmarks of a suspenseful story— with trials, errors, and funding setbacks.”


This is not the angle of science writing and speaking that we use in our professional lives where the importance of science is inherent to our jobs. For a change, let’s follow Amy Harmon’s example and embark on story-telling to reach the majority of nonscientists around us.


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April 2016: The Future of Water: California and Beyond

Image from Pacific Institute,

April 20, 2016
The Future of Water: California and Beyond

Speaker: Dr. Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute
Location: Michael’s at Shoreline Park, Mountain View

Water is tied to many of the most important global and local challenges we face, from the production of food and energy, to human and environmental health, to basic human and industrial needs. The hydrologic cycle is so closely tied to weather and climate systems that some of the most serious social challenges around human-induced climate changes are water-related: effects on water supply and demand, changes in extreme events, and impacts on the extensive infrastructure society has built to provide needed water services. Dr. Peter Gleick will present an overview of current and future water challenges associated with growing economies, rising populations, and a changing climate. He will address the severe California/western drought, links between extreme events and water conflicts, “peak water,” the “soft path for water,” and innovative solutions to our water problems around the world.

Dr. Peter Gleick is renowned the world over as a leading expert, innovator and communicator on water and climate issues. He co-founded and leads the Pacific Institute, an innovative and independent science-based organization that creates and advances solutions to the world’s water challenges.

Gleick’s work has redefined water from the realm of engineers to the world of social justice, sustainability, human rights and integrated thinking. His influence on the field of water has been long and deep: he developed the first analysis of climate change impacts on water resources, the earliest comprehensive work on water and conflict and defined basic human needs for water and the human right to water.

Gleick received the prestigious MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. He received his BS from Yale University and an MS and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Gleick serves on the boards of numerous journals and organizations and is the author of many scientific papers and nine books, including the influential series “The World’s Water” and “Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water,” as well as the 2012 release “A Twenty-First Century US Water Policy.”

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April 2016: Batteries and Beer: The Chemistry of Beer Aroma and Energy Storage

This month we bring the ACS to the Monterey Bay. Gathering chemistry-minded individuals from colleges, research institutes, and companies from Santa Cruz to Monterey to Salinas to Gilroy, we will enjoy together learning about the chemistry of batteries and beer. Plenty of time will be allotted for conversation and networking, so join us to nourish your mind, taste buds, and friendships. If the event is well-received, more will follow in the Monterey Bay area (see Chair’s April message).

We welcome your suggestions for future topics and venues.

April 14, 2016

Inaugural ACS Dinner Seminar in the Monterey Bay
Batteries and Beer: The Chemistry of Beer Aroma and Energy Storage

Dr. John Goeltz, California State University, Monterey Bay

Sesnon House, Cabrillo College, Aptos
(Parking lots are distinguished by letter on campus. The lot in front of the Sesnon house is “N”. There is also easy parking along Soquel Drive heading south, on the same side of the street as Sesnon, and along the lower perimeter road that runs along the west side of the Sesnon house.)


The colors of chemistry. Vanadium battery electrolyte in different oxidation states (above). Beer (below)

Batteries and Beers: Among the contributors to a high quality of life are reliable electricity and fresh beer. Safe and affordable energy storage at the megawatt hour scale is needed before intermittent sources of power such as wind and solar can be incorporated into baseload electricity. Recent advances in the chemistries of grid-scale energy storage will be discussed within a historical perspective. The photochemistry of beer will also be discussed, and several beers will be on hand to allow the audience a sensory confirmation of the available time-resolved EPR data.

John Goeltz is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at California State University Monterey Bay, where he teaches general and upper division chemistry and mentors undergraduates researching applied electrochemistry and the physical chemistry of water. After studying inter- and intra-molecular electron transfer in his graduate research, he joined Sun Catalytix, where he worked to develop new chemistries for grid scale energy storage, work that continues at Lockheed Martin Advanced Energy Storage. John is an author on thirteen peer-reviewed publications and an inventor on two granted patents and more than ten pending applications. He counts among his chemistry mentors his Ph.D. advisor Cliff Kubiak of UC San Diego, his undergraduate advisor J. Michael McBride of Yale, Ann Valentine of Temple University, and K. Travis Holman of Georgetown.
John brews ales whenever possible, and has just begun to dabble in lagering.

The event is on Thursday, April 14th, 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Seminar Batteries and Beer
Date Thursday, April 14th
Time 5:30PM – 6:30PM Social
6:30PM – 8:00PM Dinner
8:00PM – 9:00PM Seminar
Location Sesnon House
Cabrillo College, Aptos
Cost $30
$15 for students
Price includes wine and beer, hors d’oeuvres, and dessert.
Pay with cash or check at door.
Reservations Registration is now closed.

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Chair’s message, April 2016

Chances are high that you, the reader of this article, are located somewhere between San Francisco and San Jose. According to ACS membership records, ~90% of the Santa Clara Valley section’s 3,000 members live or work in that region. However, that geography is dwarfed by the area south of San Jose that is also included in our local section – Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito Counties. ACS records indicate ~5% of the section’s members live or work in zip codes bounded by Santa Cruz, Salinas, and Monterey. A graphic of these boundaries can be seen on this ACS map.

The focus of my column this month is this region of the “5%”.

Why bring attention to an area that represents such a small fraction of our membership?

The ACS is not just about membership.   It’s about providing a forum for contact between scientists and it’s about outreach to non-scientists. Major sectors of the Monterey Bay area economy are based on the technical areas of marine and agricultural and environmental science. Chemistry is central to these sectors, yet the ACS has had little presence in the area.   This month we hope to change that.

Our local ACS section is planning an inaugural dinner seminar meeting centrally located to Monterey Bay, supported by a grant from ACS National and a donation from a local business, NanoAndMore in Watsonville.  An organizing team of representatives from the Monterey Bay region’s colleges has met to choose a date, venue, topic and speaker:

Date: Thursday evening, April 14, 5:30PM- 9:00PM

Location: Sesnon House, Cabrillo College, Aptos

Topic: “Batteries and Beer : The Chemistry of Energy Storage and the Aroma Chemistry of Beer”

Speaker: Professor John Goeltz, Cal State University Monterey Bay

Who will attend? Judging by the enthusiastic response so far, we can expect students, teachers, and researchers from Monterey Peninsula College, Cabrillo College, Gavilan College, Hartnell College, Cal State Monterey Bay, UC Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML). Several local chemistry-related businesses are also interested in participating.  All are welcome.

If successful, additional career, social, and educational events will follow, possibly leading to a regular series of gatherings of chemists from around the Monterey Bay on college campuses, in business settings, and at MBARI and MLML.

If you are reading this article in the Monterey Bay area, then join us at the inaugural event on April 14th.   A registration page is on the Santa Clara Valley ACS website, or contact me directly at

The event is open to all – members and non-members – and even to those in the 90% who live north of Santa Cruz!

A colorful downloadable flyer of the event to decorate your bulletin boards: MontereyBayACS_Poster2

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March 2016: Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center Tour for Chemists

Update: Miguel Silva’s presentation can be found at (pdf; 5MB)

March Event
Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center (SVAWPC) Tour
March 26, 2016
Even in the midst of El Nino, California is currently facing an exceptional drought and water conservation is still of utmost importance. One large-scale method to work towards conservation involves the purification of treated wastewater and the eventual incorporation of that purified water into the current drinking water supply. Without this sort of recycling, the treated wastewater would reenter the water cycle, allowing nature to achieve the same end yet after significantly more time. The bay area has recently taken a step towards reaching this goal through the construction and operation of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center (SVAWPC).
We are proud to announce that in collaboration with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the Santa Clara Valley ACS section has organized a private tour of the SVAWPC facility with a scientific explanation of the whole process. The tour will include discussions on water conservation, the treatment process, and the treatment’s impact on the environment and humans. We welcome all with technical backgrounds to join us for this exciting event on Saturday, March 26th at 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

  • This tour is not children-appropriate and is geared toward professional chemists. Tours for the public are given regularly and welcome older children. Note that the center does not admit children under the age of 10 due to the technical nature of the center.
  • For safety purposes, sturdy closed-toe shoes/boots are required for all participants as this is a walking tour of a working plant. High heels and sandals are not permitted.
  • Please check the weather and dress appropriately for both outdoor/indoor setting. Light rain will not cancel walking tour.
  • Parking is limited and carpooling is suggested.

This tour will be limited to 50 participants.

Tour Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center
Date Saturday, March 26th
Time 10:00 am – noon
Location Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center open_in_new_window
4190 Zanker Road, San Jose, CA 95134(tour will begin at the Visitor Center Trailer) open_in_new_window
Cost Free
Reservations The Water District requires a list of all attendees beforehand. Hence, registration is required by March 21.

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Chair’s message, March 2016

The SCVACS is entering the aqueous phase of its 2016 event programming.

Our next two months’ events involve water, from the different perspectives of politics and purification.  Where’s the chemistry?  See items 4, 9 17, 21 & 23 on the “What’s Next” list in my February 2016 Chair’s Message.

Our April speaker is Dr. Peter Gleick, author of Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World’s Fresh Water Resources and Bottled & Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.

Dr. Gleick is the co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank that carries out independent research and outreach to improve the understanding of threats to sustainability.  Based in Oakland, the Pacific Institute incorporates into studies of water policy the interrelated issues of environment, security, and economic development on global and statewide scales.   More will be written on Dr. Gleick and his SCVACS presentation in our April newsletter.

Our March event is a chemist’s tour of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center (SVAWPC).  This center is not to be confused with a water treatment plant.  The purification center’s incoming water comes from a waste water treatment facility.  It is secondary treated waste water (recycled water) when it enters the center’s purification process and exits as pure, clean water that meets all state drinking regulations.  The process includes steps of microfiltration (100 nanometer pore size), reverse osmosis, and UV irradiation. The resulting water is nearly devoid of dissolved material, so ‘pure’ that its use as drinking water is brought into question because of its potential to extract nutrients.  Currently the water from the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center is only used for enhancing the quality of recycled water.

Sam Kean – author of The Disappearing Spoon, an outstanding collection of short stories about elements of the periodic table – provides us with an apt introduction to the March SCVACS event with his recent article in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s periodical, Distillations. Waste Not, Want Not – Is recycled wastewater too much to swallow? describes the “toilet-to-tap” recycling of water as once offensive yet likely to become mainstream as droughts and overpopulation persist.  From a public-health perspective, recycled waste water is purer than tap water and far purer than bottled water.  “By the time water in the Mississippi River reaches New Orleans, scientists estimate that five different animals have swallowed each molecule and urinated it out”.

Kean’s colorful description of a water molecule’s history, though lacking in literature citation, reminds of the shared nature of water, the solvent of life on our planet.

Closer to home, he cites the example of San Diego where a $2.9-billion sewage-treatment plant expansion to recycle wastewater is planned to fill one third of its water needs, compared to current importing of 90% of its water from distant sources.

The Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center in San Jose is the largest advanced water purification plant in Northern California.  This state-of-the-art facility opened in 2014.

Join us on Saturday morning, March 26, for a tour of the center and to see Sam Kean’s writing in action.  The registration form required for the tour can be found in this month’s newsletter.  A link to the Powerpoint presentation for the tour is at the bottom of this article.

The Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations quarterly magazine contains outstanding writing on science, culture and history.  Contact me for a free trial subscription:

Miguel Silva’s outstanding presentation at our ACS tour of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Treatment Center: SVAWPC_ACS_Tour_03-26-2016_Silva

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Chair’s message, February 2016

“Reengineering Chemistry” was the eye-catching title of George Whitesides’s talk on the opening day of the ACS National Meeting in Boston last August. With years of experience leading a multidisciplinary research group and multiple spin-offs in areas from diagnostics to robotics, the Harvard chemistry professor succinctly identified a spectrum of societal issues for chemists to confront. Key to advancing is distilling complexity into simplicity in defining problems, and using interdisciplinarity to solve them. He mothballs as self-defeating the distinction between basic and applied research, instead emphasizing that there’s opportunity for basic discovery in addressing social problems with technological advances. Whitesides skillfully compiles a “What’s Next” classification of societal problems for chemistry to address, presented here, with his permission:

1) What is the molecular basis of life, and how did life originate?

2) How does the brain think?

3) How do dissipative systems work? Oceans and atmosphere, metabolism, flames

4) Water, and its unique role in life and society

5) Rational drug design

6) Information: the cell, public health, megacities, global monitoring

7) Healthcare, and cost reduction: “End-of-life” or healthy life?

8) The microbiome, nutrition, and other hidden variables in health

9) Climate instability, CO2, the sun, and human activity

10) Energy generation, use, storage, and conservation

11) Catalysis, especially heterogeneous and biological catalyses

12) Computation and simulation of real, large-scale systems

13) Impossible materials

14) The chemistry of the planets: Are we alone, or is life everywhere?

15) Augmenting humans

16) Analytical techniques that open new areas of science

17) Conflict and national security

18) Distributing the benefits of technology across societies: frugal technology

19) Humans and machines: robotics

20) Death

21) Controlling the global population

22) Combining human thinking and computer “thinking”

23) All the rest: jobs, globalization, international competition, and Big Data

The list ends with # 24 – Combinations with adjacent fields.  This brings to mind biologist Stuart Kauffman’s ‘The Adjacent Possible’ and author Steven Johnson’s How We Got To Now, stimulating writing about nonlinear pathways to solutions.

You can enjoy George Whiteside’s thoughts on reinventing chemistry in his article in the March 9, 2015 edition of Angewandte Chemie

A video of his Kavli lecture at the Boston meeting covered many of the same points.

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Chair’s message, January 2016

Welcome to 2016’s Santa Clara Valley ACS.

As the 2016 chair of this ACS section, I will author this Chair’s Message each month in the Silicon Valley Chemist newsletter. Have an idea for the column? Write me or be a guest author!

A brief background: most of my career as a research chemist has been at the IBM Research labs above Almaden Valley in San Jose.  There I have been involved in the evolution of instrumentation that observes and manipulates materials on the nanometer scale, AKA scanning probes, AFM (atomic force microscopy), STM (scanning tunneling microscopy). My interest is primarily in organic materials and extends to hybrids such as core-shell magnetic nanoparticles and DNA origami. Stepping further back in time – following a Ph.D. in organometallic chemistry from Caltech (Bob Bergman), I entered the then nascent field of organic conducting polymers at the Allied Corporation (now Honeywell).  That field of materials research set my pattern of working in the solid state as the chemist beside physicists and engineers that persists until today. Also over the years I have held teaching positions with the University of Sao Paulo electrical engineering and chemistry departments and the Physics Institute of the University of Basel, and long-term collaborations with the Tokyo Institute of Technology, University of Washington, University of Alabama, SJSU, UC Davis, and the IBM Research Millipede team in Zurich. You can read more here:
I am a relative newcomer to the local ACS section and still asking about the mission of a local section.  In querying colleagues about the role of the ACS in their careers, frequently heard are words like ‘irrelevant’ and ‘disconnected’.  Rather than dismiss these negative descriptors, they motivate to become more relevant, for which we need your input. We have a varied and stimulating series of dinner speakers, from last October’s Nobel Laureate W.E.Moerner to next April’s Peter Gleick, an authority in the politics and science of water resources. The monthly dinner meetings are a good networking milieu you can use to meet up with colleagues and to make unpredicted connections with new acquaintances.

While the ACS mission aims to support chemists in their careers, it also provides a local venue to reach nonchemists.   The real-life phenomena of chemistry are ideal for bridging the gap to the nonscientific community.  How ‘irrelevant’ is a better informed society from which we all benefit, chemists and nonchemists?
To this end, the ACS offers a wide range of resources to be implemented on the local level.  For example, funds and materials to support teacher-chemist partnerships are provided in the Science Coach and Bubble programs, membership fees in the American Association of Chemistry Teachers are subsidized (for anyone, not just chemistry teachers), and summer research internships for high school students are awarded through the RISE and Project SEED programs.  The resources are available, awaiting the good will of implementation. By you, by me, by us.

What would you like to see as a purpose of our local ACS section?  Come to a monthly ExComm meeting or dinner lecture and let’s figure out your answer together.

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