It’s a fitting name for the biology professor and director of the
California Center for Algae Biotechnology (Cal-CAB) at UC San
Diego. Mayfield has studied algae for over three decades, manipulating the single-celled plant’s genes to make forms of gasoline,
innovations in food science (what D.C. was calling about), and
vaccines for endemic diseases—not bad for your average pond scum.
But his most widely publicized achievement came in April, when he
formed a team with two chemistry faculty members, a surfboard
manufacturer and a private biotechnology company. The product?
The world’s first algae-based surfboard.
Like many environmentally conscious surfers, Mayfield was
bothered by the contradiction in surf equipment. “In surfing more
than any other sport,” he says, “you are totally connected and
immersed in the ocean environment. And yet your connection to
that environment is through a piece of plastic made from fossil fuels.”
Leave it to Mr. Algae to find a solution. If algae oil could replace
the fuel in our gas tanks, he wondered, couldn’t it also replace the
petroleum-based core of our surfboards?
With this in mind, he engaged his biology students and those from
the labs of Michael Burkart, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Robert “Skip” Pomeroy, a chemistry professor who helps
students recycle waste cooking oil into biodiesel that powers the
green UC San Diego buses. Together, the team determined how to
chemically modify the oil obtained from laboratory algae to make
different kinds of “polyol” suitable to become a surfboard’s core.
Collaborations with the biotech and surfing industries led to the
The algae surfboard not only represents the hallmark collaborative
spirit of UC San Diego, but the fusion of biotechnology, surfing and
environmentally conscious thinking that makes our campus a
desirable place to work, live and study for scholars and innovators
who cherish the coastal environment.
How algae can revolutionize the world in food, water,
energy, healthcare, and, oh yeah—surfing.
MEET MR. ALGAE
BY KIM MCDONALD
When the White House called Stephen
Mayfield and said, “We hear you’re
Mr. Algae,” he went with it.