New institute brings together chemistry and machine learning to tackle climate change

Imagine a technology that could remove planet-warming emissions from smokestacks, turn moisture in the air into drinking water, and transform carbon dioxide into clean energy.

A new UC Berkeley institute will bring together top machine learning and chemistry researchers to make this vision a reality, and a Bay Area foundation is providing a substantial gift to launch and enable this work at UC Berkeley over the next five years.

The Bakar Institute of Digital Materials for the Planet (BIDMaP) aims to develop cost-efficient, easily deployable versions of two classes of ultra porous materials — known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs) — to help limit and address the impacts of climate change.

“Hydrogen, carbon dioxide and water are some of the smallest molecules in chemistry,” said Omar M. Yaghi, the Berkeley chemistry professor who invented MOFs and COFs and the scientific leader of the new institute. “If we can find a way to capture them efficiently, in large quantities, then we will unlock the answers to the greatest problems facing our planet.”

The institute’s work to help limit the planet’s warming and adapt to climate impacts is urgent. Climate change is making extreme weather more severe, leaving communities around the world in harm’s way. Just this month, California experienced an extended heat wave with record temperatures, the year’s largest wildfire and heavy rain and mudslides, all amidst a years-long drought.

BIDMaP is the latest cutting-edge research initiative developed as part of the College of Computing, Data Science, and Society (CDSS). Like the Computational Precision Health program launched last year, it will capitalize on Berkeley’s first-rate faculty and new faculty hires to create a novel field and interdisciplinary solutions that help solve society’s most intractable problems.