Editor’s farewell: Catalyst magazine’s editor, writer and photographer retires

Portrait of Michael Barnes.

We are very sorry to announce that, after eleven years roving the corridors of the College of Chemistry—and 20 years serving in the UC system—Michael Barnes, the principal editor, science writer and photographer for Catalyst magazine, is retiring. Michael has fulfilled his various roles with a singular blend of protean intellect, keen aesthetic sensibility, wide-ranging curiosity and delight in the unusual. We will miss him very much.

Michael is an alum of Cal. A Ph.D. student in economics at the time of his wife’s untimely death in 1993, he left graduate school in order to raise his baby son. After a stint at UCOP as a research analyst, he arrived at the College of Chemistry in 2006, just in time to give our alumni magazine a 21st-Century overhaul.

One of his most important initial tasks was to find a designer with whom he could partner to create outstanding layouts for our magazine. His search identified Alissar Rayes—an equally talented, independent designer with not only a B.F.A. from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco but also a B.S. in chemistry from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Michael’s decision to bring Alissar onto the team has borne fruit many times over. Theirs has been a brilliant collaboration, producing 20 memorable covers since Spring 2006, distributed each year to more than 15,000 alumni and friends world-wide.

As an editor and writer, Michael has purposefully chosen to create his in-depth science features with an emphasis on the human side of things, always remaining scientifically accurate and intellectually cogent. His ability to understand and translate into lay language the widely varying research endeavors of our faculty, feature after feature, year after year, while simultaneously bringing their personalities to life and illustrating them with firstrate photographs, has been remarkable.

Many people here have benefitted from his careful, creative and sensitive approach.

In and out of the office, Michael is all eyes and ears. He watches, he listens, he is constantly alert to the possibility of a diverting anecdote, a great photo, a significant story. He gathers material wherever he goes. The result is a vast reservoir of knowledge. For those of us who remember the multi-volume sets of our youth, Michael is a walking World Book Encyclopedia.

And away from work, Michael also covers ground. He is an energy conservationist, a public servant and an athlete. He is—no surprise here—a firm believer in fighting global climate change. With solar panels installed on his roof and clothes drying on a line, he sells energy back to PG&E. His familiarity with economic and scientific issues makes him a valuable public servant. He is now in his second term as a council member for the City of Albany, CA, where he focuses on evidence-based decision- making and writes a public service blog on issues before the council.

Barnes at a cycling event.
Moreover, Michael is an ardent bicyclist: he bikes to work; he bikes for pleasure; he participates in cycling events throughout California on weekends and vacations. He has twice won jerseys for finishing the Mt. Diablo Challenge (an 11-mile event that climbs in elevation from 600′ to 3,850′ at the summit) in fewer minutes than his age in years.

Recalls chemistry professor and fellow bicyclist John Hartwig, “One day, at the bottom of the back side of the Berkeley Hills, I encountered Michael. Meeting him while bicycling is one of my nightmares. It meant I had to ride up the backside of the hills with him, after having ridden 30 miles (actually more like 25, but 30 sounds a bit better) of hills already. On this trip up, to keep his pace I was breathing so hard I could barely talk, but Michael calmly pedaled and told me about his future plans and, sadly, his decision to retire. As always, that day, it was a pleasure and memorable to spend time talking with Michael, even if it involved an uphill battle and sad news.”

We regret Michael’s departure from the College and wish him the very best as he continues to cycle through life.