Chemistry Professor’s Team Wins Share of $20M in UC’s National Lab Funding

Allocation Includes Lab Fellowships for 3 Ph.D. Students

Quick Summary

  • Project led by Louise Berben will study reuse of captured CO2
  • In collaboration with 6 other campuses, 2 national laboratories
  • Program also supports Ph.D. students doing their own research

Chemistry professor Louise Berben is the lead principal investigator for one of five UC-wide research projects recently awarded nearly $19 million in grants by the UC National Laboratory Fees Research Program.

Louise Berben headshot2
Louise Berben

As announced Jan. 18 by the UC Office of the President, the research program distributed $20 million in all, including two-year in-residence fellowships to seven Ph.D. students, three of them from UC Davis, for research at the Livermore and Los Alamos national labs.

The program is funded by a portion of the fees that UC receives for managing the Livermore and Los Alamos labs on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. Each systemwide project involves multiple campuses and at least one UC-affiliated national lab.

The Berben team received its grant for “Direct Production of Renewable Fuels and Chemicals From Captured CO2,” an effort to develop new ways to divert CO2 from waste streams and convert it into clean, renewable fuels and other useful products. Collaborating with UC Davis are the Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside and Santa Barbara campuses, and the Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore labs.

“The project spans chemistry, chemical engineering and prototype-scale manufacturing with significant opportunities for interdisciplinary training of graduate and undergraduate students,” Berben said.

Here are the other funded projects, including two with Davis campus collaboration:

  • “California’s Deep Decarbonization Pathways: A Holistic Multi-Layer Assessment” — Lead principal investigator: Rajit Gadh, UCLA. Collaborating sites: Berkeley, Merced, Riverside, Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore.
  • “Coastal Wetland Restoration: A Nature-Based Decarbonization Multi-Benefit Climate Mitigation Solution” — Lead principal investigator: Adina Paytan, UC Santa Cruz. Collaborating sites: Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Santa Barbara, Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore.
  • “Improving Pandemic Preparedness and Health Equity Through Wastewater-Based Epidemiology” — Lead principal investigator: Kara Nelson, UC Berkeley. Collaborating sites: Davis, San Francisco and Lawrence Livermore.
  • “Multiscale Interaction and Inverse Design of Metallic Meso-Architected Materials for Dynamics” — Lead principal investigator: H Alicia Kim, UC San Diego. Collaborating sites: Irvine, Santa Barbara, Lawrence Livermore and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Read a summary of each project here.

Funding source

With this allocation, the UC National Laboratory Fees Research Program has now distributed more than $190 million in competitive peer-reviewed grants since it began in 2008. The program fosters collaboration among the campuses and labs while addressing different strategic areas of research.

For the 2022 funding cycle, the program identified its strategic priorities as clean, renewable energy and decarbonization; frontiers of mesoscale materials and high energy density science; and pandemic preparedness and biosecurity. More than half the funds went to projects like Berben’s that can help California meet its climate goals.

Graduate fellowships

The UC National Laboratory Fees Research Program awarded fellowships to the following UC Davis Ph.D. students, each listed with their field of study, project title and the lab where they will be in residence:

  • Alex Hitomi, biological and agricultural engineering — Investigation of Productive Binding Sites on Cellulose Towards Improving Biofuel Production (Los Alamos)
  • Meghann Ma — Flow-Directed Electrochemical Rejuvenation of Lithium Ion Batteries (Lawrence Livermore)
  • Pallavi Sambre, biomedical engineering — Motile Matter: Reconstituting Cell Motility Using Osmotic Robots (Lawrence Livermore)

The fellowships provide unique opportunities for UC students to work with leading scientists and gain exposure to facilities and equipment that are only available at the national labs, said Craig Leasure, UC’s vice president for the national labs.

In fact, some of the top scientists at the national labs began their careers as students at UC and developed skills and expertise through research collaborations between the two institutions, he said.

“The UC National Lab Fees Research Program does so much for both UC and the national labs,” Leasure said. “The fellowships are a great example of how UC is cultivating the next generation of scientists and national security experts.”

The UC Office of the President contributed to this report.

Media Resources

Dateline Staff: Dave Jones, editor, 530-752-6556,; Cody Kitaura, News and Media Relations specialist, 530-752-1932,

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