The College of Chemistry turns 150

Faculty, students, and staff wait for the cake to be cut at the 150th anniversary party on the College plaza on March 15th. Photo Brittany Hosea-Smith.

The College celebrates 150 years of inspiring scientific exploration and education

by Marge d’Wylde

In a star-studded private event Friday, March 11th, the College of Chemistry ushered in its 150th anniversary. On hand for the celebration were three Nobel laureates in Chemistry: Jennifer Doudna (2020), David MacMillan (2021), and a special guest appearance by Yuan T. Lee (1986). Jennifer and David unveiled their newly installed plaques honoring their Nobel prize in the College’s Latimer lobby.

Douglas Clark, dean of the College said in his remarks opening the festivities, “You must forgive me, I’m a little star struck. This is an amazing occasion. In fact, it’s a once in a lifetime event. Not only do we have three Nobel laureates here, but we are also on the eve of our 150th anniversary.”

Jennifer and David received their prizes in the time of COVID and were unable to attend the regular award ceremonies in Stockholm. Their medals were flown to the U.S. by diplomatic courier for presentation to them. Jennifer is the first woman faculty member to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry at UC Berkeley. David is the first faculty member in the department of chemistry at Princeton to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (he was at Berkeley when he made his Nobel recognized discovery). Yuan was the first chemist born in Taiwan to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

After the plaque unveiling, all attendees headed outside for cake on the plaza and a rousing chorus of happy birthday to the College. It was a beautiful afternoon and the cake quickly disappeared while music echoed across the courtyard. Historic banners placed around the plaza added a festive note. A student at the event commented, “It’s really nice to see the College doing this and us being able to all get together. I have missed these kinds of events.”  

The College will celebrate the anniversary throughout the year with a series of engaging online and in person events. This spring the College hosted online discussions with faculty and alumni in conversation about climate sustainability and fighting climate change from the grocery store aisle. These are available on the College’s website at along with a recording of the ceremony honoring College Nobel laureates Jennifer Doudna and David MacMillan. Keep an eye out for email announcements about future events.

Established on March 12, 1872, by the California State legislature, the College has been host to numerous renowned chemists who have made world changing discoveries. Our current faculty members hail from 21 countries and research and teach in one of the three disciplines of chemistry, chemical biology, and chemical and biomolecular engineering. The College prides itself on a balanced approach to science, with research areas ranging from experimental to theoretical. The faculty collaborate with scientists across campus, the nation, and internationally.

Professors Jennifer Doudna, Jay Keasling, and Omar Yaghi discuss the past, present, and future of UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry in this video celebrating the College’s history and future.