Giving back to the students: Ann & Joe Pease

Ann and Joe in 1989 on the chemistry plaza at a graduation celebration.

Ann and Joe Pease feel they had an outstanding educational experience at the College of Chemistry, both as graduate students and in the wonderful friendships they developed while they were here.

They began their Ph.D. research in the mid 1980s under a “new” faculty member, David E. Wemmer. Wemmer had joined the College in 1985, coming from an appointment as assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Washington. Today he is chair of the Department of Chemistry and the Joel Hildebrand Distinguished Professor.

Joe Pease (Ph.D. Chem, 1989) joined Wemmer’s lab as one of the first three graduate students in the lab’s inaugural year, 1985. Joe’s work focused on studies of peptides using NMR, particularly on the study of neurotoxins from honeybees and sea anemones. The ensuing structural insights led to the idea of using disulfide cross-linked frameworks as molecular scaffolds to display structures such as exposed alpha helices.

Joe currently leads the Analytical Chemistry and Purification unit in Small Molecule Discovery Chemistry at Genentech. After graduating from Berkeley, he joined Syntex Corp. as a research scientist. Roche Pharmaceuticals acquired Syntex in 1994. Joe stayed with Roche until their Bay Area facilities closed in 2010. He joined Genentech in 2011. He is a recognized expert in analytical chemistry, nuclear magnetic resonance, and research information systems, especially in developing systems to improve and streamline drug discovery workflows.

Ann Pease (née Caviani) (Ph.D. Chem, 1990) started in 1986 as part of Wemmer’s second graduate student cohort. Her research focused on the three-dimensional fold of a self-cleaved RNA hammerhead domain, one of the earliest examples of a catalytic RNA. She also applied NMR spectroscopy, focusing particularly on the low-field region of the spectrum, to identify base pairs in both helical segments and among conserved residues at the three-way junction that was predicted to exist. The work provided the first glimpses of how the RNA sequence stabilized a fold that induced the self-cleavage reaction.

After Ann graduated, she spent several years in research at Affymetrix. The company developed and manufactured DNA microarrays. At the time, only 3% of the company’s researchers were women. Her experience made her decide to go on and earn a J.D. from Stanford University Law School in 1995. She is now retired from the law firm of Dechert, LLP where she became a partner in 2005. Ann specialized in intellectual property law and chaired the firm’s patent practice. A registered patent attorney, she counseled clients in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device industries on intellectual property strategy.

Ann and Joe met in the lab — Ann says that it took Joe over a year to get up the nerve to ask her out. Their first date was a movie. They went “undercover,” as it was frowned on at that time to date your lab partner. They were sitting in a relatively empty, dark theater when someone sat down right behind them and leaned in between their seats.

Shouldn’t the two of you be in the lab right now?” Wemmer asked.

He so startled Ann that she reflexively turned around and hit him in his side. Ann and Joe were married in 1989.

Wemmer’s lab at the time was located in the “Roundhouse” (aka the Calvin Lab), named for Nobel Laureate Melvin Calvin. Calvin was an emeritus chemistry professor by then but was still active in the lab, sitting in on weekly research meetings. When the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the Bay Area in 1989, Ann was doing lab research. The building started to shake violently, but she was working with radioactive phosphorus-32, and had to cap her gels before she could run and stand under a doorway.

Joe and Ann in 2018 in the office of David Wemmer.

Ann and Joe have been long-time dedicated donors to the College, but in 2011 they started giving back in a big way. Joe was working at Roche Pharmaceuticals when it acquired Genentech. Joe explains, “When Roche turned over the buildings to Genentech, this included about $20 to $30 million in top-end lab equipment. One of the first things Genentech did was to remodel the labs. I started making calls and am happy to say that some much-needed equipment wound up going to the College and some of the faculty.” According to Alex Shtromberg, assistant dean of engineering and facilities, the College received a number of fume hoods and lab cabinets. The hoods were installed in several teaching labs on the second floor of Latimer Hall while the cabinets were distributed to various faculty labs.

That same year, Joe and Ann also established the Graduate Student Life Enrichment Fund. They had learned that significant decreases in state funding over the previous decade had left continued financial support of graduate-student networking and professional development activities at the College in doubt. They decided to start the fund to ensure that these activities would always be given the priority they deserved. The Graduate Student Life Enrichment Fund is a matching endowment created to support activities that encourage “the social interaction and information collaborations of graduate students in the Department of Chemistry.” One of the ongoing funded items is the graduate chemistry students’ Friday afternoon ChemKeg on the plaza.

Ann explains, “Thirty years ago, we had the privilege of being graduate students in the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley. One experience we valued was sharing food and drink with fellow students and faculty on Friday afternoons on the chemistry plaza. We connected with old friends, made new ones, and discussed mutual research endeavors.”

The Friday afternoon event remains very popular. Current chemistry grad students echo Joe and Ann’s experience. “This fund makes it possible for students in different labs and fields to interact. I’ve made so many friends through these events!” remarked Chrissy Stachl (Ph.D. Chem, 2020). Tyler Hurburt (Ph.D. Chem, 2018) agrees, “Events hosted by this fund encourage students to get out of their labs and interact with others across the department. Without it the department would not be as connected.”

Ann and Joe’s donations to the College have had a significant impact on the educational experience of our students. As state funding continues to be reduced every year, the College must look to other avenues to support building improvements and quality-of-life events for our students. Joe’s facilitation of Roche Pharmaceuticals’ donation of lab equipment to the College was a real boon for both the College and faculty. And all you need to do is walk out on the plaza any Friday evening to see their Graduate Student Life Enrichment Fund hard at work.

Ann and Joe were recently back on campus to visit with David Wemmer. Ann enthused,

I really enjoy being back on campus. It brings back so many wonderful memories of our time here. I hope that the College’s current graduate students will come back someday and feel they had the same kind of experience that we did.”