Brain Like Berkeley

If you’ve ever had the privilege to join us on a campus tour or online visit, you may have heard the abbreviated version of some of Berkeley’s best contributions to the world of science. Whether it’s the mention of our 16 elements on the periodic table or winning a Nobel prize for the discovery of CRISPR gene editing, we as campus ambassadors try to highlight our favorite scientific discoveries for our visitors. However, a regular tour doesn’t have enough time to get into all the facts because UC Berkeley has too rich of a history to even brush the surface. Here I try to outline some of the lesser known, but equally exciting, contributions that Berkeley has made to furthering our understanding of the world.

1. The Calvin Cycle
Melvin Calvin and co-researchers discovered the famous pathway that is an essential part of photosynthesis in plants. By adding radioactive carbon dioxide into a suspension of cells, they were able to trace how carbon distributes itself in the light and dark stages of photosynthesis. I was totally nerding out when I learned of this discovery, years after memorizing the very cycle in my high school biology class!

2. The Wetsuit
As a surfer, I’m so hyped about this 1952 invention by physicist Hugh Bradner, who discovered that neoprene was a suitable fabric for insulation from cold water. While later popularized and commercialized by legendary surfer Jack O’Neill, you can thank Bradner and UC Berkeley for the original idea!

3. Scuba Diving Tanks
On the topic of water sports, chemist John Hildebrand created the pressurized mixture of helium and oxygen that today allows SCUBA divers to descend hundreds of feet under the sea. This 1924 invention allowed divers to explore the depths of the ocean like never before, without experiencing “the bends.” Still today, one of our buildings, Hildebrand Hall, commemorates this iconic man.

4. Berkeley UNIX
Alright don’t quote me on this one because I’m not a computer expert, but Berkeley UNIX was developed by alumni Kenneth Thompson in 1969, essentially starting the revolution of open-source software. A product of Bell Labs (later AT&T and Nokia), this invention became one of the early operating systems in the very beginnings of the computer and tech industry.

5. Influenza and Polio Vaccinations
Remember a world where vaccine wasn’t a daily word that crossed our minds? Well, on top of our many contributions to the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, Berkeley biochemist Wendell Stanley was responsible for both a WWII-era polio vaccine and influenza vaccine. With the UC Virology Laboratory, his research was critical in preparing vaccines and combatting the spread of these viruses. Today, Stanley Hall is named after this revolutionary scientist.

These are some of my favorite discoveries, but even still there are so many other findings, especially beyond the sciences, that UC Berkeley is proud to claim. As a chemistry major at UC Berkeley, I can honestly say that a big draw to the university was my absolute awe when I learned of some of our scientific contributions, and I continue to geek out every time I learn about another one!

For more incredible facts, check out the link where most of these came from and enjoy! read more

The Best Beaches by Berkeley

If you are choosing to attend Berkeley because of the awesome location, I totally second that decision. We are so lucky to have both the urban vibe of the city and the peaceful escape to nature in the Berkeley hills. Even better, while we are not quite located  near the beach, we have access to some fantastic spots, many of which I have been visiting my whole life growing up locally.

I think one of the best outings you can have during the pandemic is going to the beach by yourself or with your household. Even in the colder months, the ocean water is so healing, the sunshine peeks out every so often, and perhaps you can even arrange a socially distant hang-out with folks outside your household!

If you have access to a car, here are some of my favorite spots within two hours drive from Berkeley:


The sunset over the colorful condos at Capitola

Just south of Santa Cruz you’ll find Capitola, the tiny village-by-the-sea, which is just a few walkable blocks of stores and restaurants. On one side, you will also find colorful vacation condos which are perfect for a fun photo shoot. My family and I used to stay in a beachside motel here every winter and you can stay entertained here for a full day. I’m also an avid, albeit amateur surfer, and this is my favorite local wave to surf. It’s a great spot if you wanna learn because the water is gentler here.

Pillar Point Harbor, Half Moon Bay

About an hour away, you have to check out the  charming and foggy town that is Half Moon Bay (HMB!) If you venture to the north end, you can spot a huge white “golf ball” on the bluffs over Pillar Point Harbor. My first memories here were for family beach days, but I’ve since rediscovered this natural space because it is the closest strip of land to Mavericks, one of the biggest waves in the world! If you head out between December and March, there is a good chance you can spot some of the world’s most fearless surfers taking on waves up to 60 feet!

Stinson Beach, Marin County

If you’ve ever ventured to Mt. Tamalpais or Muir Woods, you might have also stumbled by this beautiful beach which honestly takes my breath away during sunset, every time. A lot of folks make a whole day trip out of the journey and hike in the local state parks, then take a dip at Stinson after! It is a tiny town so the weekends get incredibly packed, so I recommend going on a weekday or evening to avoid the traffic.

If you are like me and do NOT have access to a car

If you are comfortable taking public transportation, you can work your way to Ocean Beach (or Baker Beach, just north!) in the city. You can either BART, then transfer to the SF MUNI train/local bus, or if you want to get active you can bring a bike to finish the journey.  Baker Beach is a fan favorite because it has the most stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge which really makes you feel lucky to be a local! Make sure to leave time for a stroll through the Sunset or Richmond Districts, the hip neighborhoods that border the beaches.

I’ve left out my very favorite spots because a local can’t give away all her secrets, but I do hope you get out to the sand and sea for a much needed recharge this quarantine season!

Being Average Here is Amazing

“Being average here is amazing” is the best advice I’ve gotten in college.

It’s what my high school best friend, Bianca, told me the first time I got overwhelmed by academics a few weeks into my time at UC Berkeley. I only applied to Berkeley because Bianca came here one year before me, and visiting her in her freshman year intrigued me enough to apply, and then enroll at this special place.

Katia and Bianca walking with the Campanile in the background
Walking through campus for Bianca’s grad pics, 4 years after she introduced me to Berkeley!

As a campus ambassador, it is literally my job to share the best of Berkeley with you all. I am meant to stand tall and smile, to recount my most inspiring memories and  moments at Berkeley.  It is a dream job for me, since even before college I aspired to be a tour guide wherever I ended up. And many days the job is so easy and so dreamy, knowing I can make a small contribution to a student’s life-changing college decision. read more

Falling in Love with Berkeley (again)

I’ve considered Berkeley home for the last three years, and spent every semester and summer in this city since 2017. However, after a semester abroad and a pandemic, I’ve been away for the last 10 months and just came back yesterday.  It’s bittersweet to witness how some of my favorite pieces of home have stayed the same, while others have adapted to the state of the world. I feel fortunate to look at Berkeley with fresh eyes and in many ways, fall in love all over again with this place and people.The Campanile and reflecting pool with the sun peeking out of the trees.

I just moved into an apartment in the Elmwood area, a charming neighborhood slightly farther south, full of historic homes with gardens that I have always admired from afar. As a senior, I appreciate the peace and quiet that Elmwood offers as a contrast to the busy urban environment that I relished in freshman year.

I started to fall back in love with Berkeley even on the drive here, as soon as the  Campanile came into sight. The clock tower majestically stood against the backdrop of the hills and I felt a bubbling energy remembering that building belongs to MY campus, the best public university around. It was the same feeling I felt in August 2017, when I moved here for the first day of my college adventure. How naive and fun it was to feel butterflies for a place that I hold so close to my heart.

I further rediscovered my love for Berkeley when I went on a hike just in time for sunset. I’m born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I firmly believe the best view around is from our very own Berkeley hills, where you can view campus, the skylines of Oakland and San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, and the beloved Golden Gate bridge all at once. The pink sky and the distant fog rolling in makes my heart smile even after seeing the same sunset countless times.

And then, I love the food! In my 24 hours back in town, I’ve already had a burrito, boba tea, donuts, and a matcha latte from some of my favorite spots. It is so fun to have so many yummy options all within walking distance of campus (Note, my wallet is NOT so keen about the abundance of food!)

I remembered why I most love Berkeley once I stepped back onto campus, but this time with a mask, of course. I went on a run before the rest of the city woke up this morning and got to appreciate the eerily beautiful stillness of the green spaces, lecture halls, and libraries that hold some of my most joyous and most challenging moments.

Our motto is Fiat Lux, or let there be light in Latin. I love the way the light hits Berkeley in the early mornings and the evening golden hour, the way that Berkeley academics and research have enlightened practically every field with new knowledge, but I mostly love the way that Berkeley has brought out the light in me and my fellow students. While I’ll be spending most of my study time on my computer, at home, instead of on campus this year, being back in Berkeley has reignited a little light in me. It’s never felt so good to be home.

Summer in the Surf

I was so close to subletting a summer apartment in Berkeley when out of curiosity, I hopped on the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Facebook housing page. When my original internship based out of San Francisco was cancelled, I miraculously landed a similar, remote internship which gave me location independence! With nowhere to call “home” for the summer and the severity of the pandemic looming over the  Bay Area, I decided I would spend my summer in Isla Vista, California.

Katia holding a surfboard at the beach
I’m in love with my baby blue wetsuit and surfboard!

While I am a proud and loyal Berkeley resident, I’ve always longed to live among the palm trees and Pacific Ocean that line Isla Vista or “IV,” the college town adjacent to UCSB off the central coast of California. I’m quite the outdoor-oriented individual, so like many of us, the first two months spent inside in quarantine took a toll on my physical and mental health. Santa Barbara has always been a special getaway for me and my family as we have years of memories visiting our relatives down south. I’ve also been surfing intermittently for four years and realized that much like Disney’s Moana, the sea was calling me. So in mid-June with the temperatures picking up and my internship due to start in a week, I decided to commit to a summer of surfing in IV. Two months into my time here, I can definitely say I understand what the surfers mean by “living to surf.”

Eight weeks ago I started surfing at Campus Point, a beginner surf break about 15 minutes walk away, and I’ve come a long way since then. I got rid of my initial, fun foam board and bought a technical board for more intermediate surfers. While I previously could ride a wave for 5 seconds, I can now go for 25 seconds if the conditions are right. I no longer go to Campus Point because the swell is too small for my liking and I’ve discovered the beauty of the beaches on the opposite side of town, where the waves are consistently 1-2 feet taller. On this side, the sun sets on the horizon and I fell in love with the feeling of catching a good ride under a purple-pink sky, so naturally I became part of the daily sunset crew. Social distancing isn’t hard on the water when all of us have 6 feet (or longer) boards, so I’ve even managed to make a few friends in a town where I moved without knowing anyone. The biggest barrier to entry was finding out how to get my board to the beach without a car, but I quickly learned the local method of tucking a board under one arm and biking the 1.5 miles out to the water, which only took a few attempts to get right.

Surfers coming out from the ocean at sunset

As I’m writing this now, I’m eagerly awaiting for the sun to get a little lower in the sky, the swell to pick up a little, and to slap on my wetsuit and head to the beach. I’ll probably paddle until I can’t lift my arms, lose track of time, and if today goes like the rest of my evenings, I’ll likely be the last one out as the light disappears. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still on the grind of becoming a better, stronger student as I work full time from home with a rewarding summer internship. But while I’ve learned plenty about chemistry and the pharmaceutical industry on the job, perhaps the most learning and growing that I’ve done in summer 2020 has been out in the surf in sunny Isla Vista. read more

Studying “abroad” from home

Katia standing in front of the University of Cape Town on first day of school.
My first day of school featuring Sarah Baartman Hall and the cloud-covered mountains!

This past semester, I got to experience school in the most incredible way possible, studying at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa through the UC Education Abroad Program. It was more than a dream, and although I’ve had my heart set on this trip for six years, it still managed to exceed all my expectations. For context, while South Africa is a less traditional study abroad destination, I was drawn there because it is perfectly nestled at the southwestern tip of the continent, surrounded by both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. It has an identical and opposite latitude to Los Angeles so the climate is just like California, the university is the best in Africa, and it frames the stunning 3500 ft Table Mountain as the ideal place to get outdoors while still having the urban city lifestyle. Needless to say, the seven weeks that I studied and lived in South Africa were the highlight of my life, and fly 10,000 miles home in late March when the US issued a global travel advisory was sad and scary!

Although my first day of UCT classes was over 5 months ago, I only just finished my semester, albeit my classes were online. It was pretty hectic (fun fact: the word hectic is the main slang used throughout the country, and particularly by UCT students!) for my university to transition online due to the strict lockdown in South Africa and unequal student access to technology. Therefore, my classes took a 7 week break as they transitioned online and my semester ended a whole 7 weeks after the original end date.

Me on top of Devil's Peak with the city of Cape Town below
Devil’s Peak is a fabulous hike, and it starts on campus!

While I went through cycles of sadness and anger for getting my semester cut short, I ultimately am beyond thankful that I lived abroad for a little while, and had the privilege to experience a global education from home. Even taking classes online, I was still getting a South African education, which challenged me and made me question how learning looks different outside of the US. It was the little things, like the fact that my Microsoft Word documents were formatted in South African English so the spell check would flag my spelling of the word behavior. Or in my oceanography class, I had to be mindful when I was talking about seasons and climate patterns, because in the southern hemisphere everything is flipped! Or the fact that I had to switch out of a minerology and crystallography class because it was way too challenging for me—and that was so humbling to recognize that UCT has the same caliber and rigor as UC Berkeley. Even the grading was super different, and I learned I could never get above a 70% on an essay, because the professors there are no joke.

Overall, while the majority of my “study abroad” was completed from my home country, I reflect on my time as a UCT student in-person and online and I think both experiences gave me an international perspective. While the future for the UC Education Abroad Program is uncertain and I so look forward to the day that international travel picks up again, I would encourage you to seek courses and educational resources that come from diverse countries and cultures, because you can still really gain that global perspective from your computer screen. And don’t worry, you know that I will be on first flight back to Cape Town and am looking forward to more time at UCT… maybe a Master’s degree?

Secondhand Shopping

Ah, yes second-hand shopping, a favorite past-time of mine. When I realized that neither my wallet nor my sustainable-living habits matched my excessive shopping habits, I found a solution to my problems in thrift shopping. I spend too many days and hours scouring the various Goodwills of the world, and I can definitively rank my favorite local shops for all your thrifting adventures.

#5 Crossroads (Shattuck and College locations)

This would be better put as a consignment store than a thrift store because they only buy nice brands and vintage pieces, but hello it’s all about the sale section! If you’re just getting used to secondhand shopping, this is an easy place to start, but be mindful about how much you’ll dish out for something. A used dress isn’t always worth $30, so I recommend only going for high quality or clearance. read more

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

About once a week I try something different and break from my routine. Maybe I decide to skip a class (don’t worry, I watch the recorded lecture online!), I walk the longer route to school, or I go to a cafe that is a little off the beaten path. Being in college is so fun, so fleeting, but it doesn’t help that as our schedules fill up, we forget to stop and smell the roses. Yet, I think the most precious moments that give personality to Berkeley are all the moments that happened by chance when I took the path less traveled. read more

A Definitive Ranking of My Housing Experiences

International House lit up in blue and yellow lights as viewed from my co-ops sundeck
A view from one home to another: from my co-op’s backyard you can see I House!

Renting my own off-campus apartment? Been there. 

The quintessential freshman dorm experience? Shout out to Unit 1 Deutsch Floor 4! 

The Co-Ops? Spent a lovely summer in Berkeley in a house.

And now, I’m residing in International House, back to dorm-style living. While many Berkeley students try to stick with one residence to reduce the amount of moving, I have not exactly taken this approach. From experiencing these four very different, unique housing situations so far, I wanted to comment on my experience in each! read more

Why I love the College of Chemistry

I study chemistry in the College of Chemistry, a college only home to about 800 undergraduates and several hundred graduate students. Because of it’s ranking (it truly is the strongest department in the world) and because of it’s intimacy as one of the smallest colleges on campus. I chose to become a student here, and my time in the College of Chemistry has been my defining experience so far.

In the heart of the College of Chemistry complex.

For one thing, unlike the majority of students at Cal, we come into our majors declared, meaning there’s a little less apprehension about our course of study. The prerequisite courses- Chem 4, physics, and math- may appear as large lectures to the average student, but I quickly found my community in my classes, because it’s not uncommon to bounce from lecture to lecture with a peer in your major that has the exact same sequence. Our college has fewer breadth requirements, so while many folks are taking classes from all different subjects, we chemistry kids stick together. Now, as a sophomore, if I meet another sophomore for the first time who tells me they’re also in the College of Chemistry, I’m usually surprised that we haven’t yet met because our college really is that small and community-based. These prerequisite courses sure aren’t easy, but having friends to get through four hour labs and dozens of exams together makes the whole experience just a little less daunting.
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