Meet Nick Harvey (CCS Chemistry & Biochemistry '14)

May 20, 2019

Nick Harvey, CCS Chemistry & Biochemistry alumnus, founded a business that creates high quality timber products

Nick Harvey (left) presented a souvenir wood box made by his company Bay Area Redwood to Canadian Consul General to Northern California and Silicon Valley Rana Sarkar
Nick Harvey (left) presented a souvenir wood box made by his company Bay Area Redwood to Canadian Consul General to Northern California and Silicon Valley Rana Sarkar

College of Creative Studies: How has CCS impacted your life?

Nick Harvey: CCS enabled me to graduate with my degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry in 3 years, saving tuition as an out-of-state student while taking graduate courses, and jump-starting my first career as an R&D materials chemist.

CCS: Why did you choose to come to CCS? How did you find out about the College?

NH: Originally, my choice was between Penn State for Aerospace Engineering or UCSB. That was an pretty easy decision. I decided I'd rather be on the beach than freeze. First, I was admitted to UCSB undeclared to the College of Letters and Science as I had applied to mechanical engineering, and was advised to switch into the chemistry major in order to take sufficient classes to then transfer to the College of Engineering. I discovered I liked chemistry more than engineering, and then learned about CCS. By the beginning of my second year, I started the process to switch into CCS. About halfway through my second year I had completed the transfer into CCS which forever changed my life, enabling me to take courses I otherwise would have not been able to do so. 

CCS...forever changed my life...

CCS: What was your favorite aspect or professor or experience while at CCS?

NH: It is not fair to name any one specific professor as CCS gave me the ability to carefully select a variety of professors I took courses with which, in turn, allowed me to learn more effectively based off their research interests. Some of my favorite professors: 

In Physics - Sathya Guruswamy and Tengiz Biblashvili: I took electrostatics and electrodynamics with each of them respectively. I've never been great at the computational aspects of science; however, I learned the important first principals and qualitative fundamentals.

In Chemistry - Steve Buratto, Trevor Hayton, Kevin Plaxco, and Peter Ford: these professors research abridged several fields of chemistry including physical, inorganic, and bio-inorganic, often combined with materials science applications.

In the Social Sciences - John Baldwin and Mark Juergensmeyer: these professors made me recognize how my scientific knowledge could be applied to the real world,  which I do now in my business.

The strongest influence would likely be my adviser: Leroy Laverman. Dr. Laverman has applied his chemistry knowledge to multiple facets of life and career choices; seeing this helping me realize how I could apply chemistry to various aspects of life.

CCS: If you attended graduate school, where and what did you study as a graduate student?  How did your CCS education help you excel as a graduate student? 

NH: While I was a member of the technical staff at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), I started a Ph.D. program at UC Davis under the guidance of Professor Kirill Kovnir (now at the Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa). At LLNL, I often was the only person in the room without a Ph.D. yet was encouraged to pursue a Ph.D.. At UC Davis, I first started in the Department of Chemistry before moving to the Department of Materials Science of Engineering. However, I dropped out 2 quarters before the Master’s degree to take a job in tech, apparently what everyone does in the Bay Area.

At CCS, I was able to research in Professor Buratto's group as part of honors organic chemistry lab and over a summer I researched in Professor Galen Stucky's group. These research opportunities served as experience to get my first two jobs as a researcher which then put me on the graduate school track.

Fun Fact: During the 8-hour interview at LLNL I was asked by my former Group Leader what the name of a diagram was and I responded "Tanabe-Sugano!" I knew the answer because of my courses with Professors Ford and Laverman. The Group Leader then responded 'we're hiring this guy!' And they did.

Put yourself in a position for luck to happen and take advantage of any opportunity you are given.

CCS: Describe your career, profession, job.  Does it relate to what you studied at CCS? If so, how? 

NH: After leaving the world of science I become an entrepreneur. My joke is that math in the real world is much easier than in a laboratory. I am the founder and owner of Our company takes urban trees from arborist operations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and from these we create high quality timber products. The other joke is that I'm in the junk business and the luxury product business as I turn commodities that people don't know what to do with into wood that cannot easily be found anymore. 

Wood is a natural material so I leverage my background in chemistry and materials science to properly handle wood. In addition, most of the wood sealants on the market are extremely toxic. Using my background in chemistry, I've created several formulations utilizing food-grade cooking oils that have superior performance and look amazing.

My chemistry knowledge has enabled this business as it is like breaking a large reaction into several smaller processes and steps. I orchestrate the process of having trees moved from arborist operations to mills, have it milled, stored properly, to business development and selling the products. This is similar to how we solved problems in R&D environments where everyone has a different specialty or skill, and you need someone that can connect all the pieces together. Chemistry is often called the linking science and that is what I do.

CCS: Does a memorable moment stand out from your time at CCS? If so, please describe the moment. 

NH: I would say being part of the CCS community in general. For the past couple of years I've been doing my best to attend events, including the College's 50th anniversary events in 2018 in San Jose and Los Angeles. The thing about CCS is everyone associated with it has a fascinating and unique story. For example, last year I met a CCS math major turned real estate developer.

CCS: What advice would you give to current and future CCS students?

NH: Put yourself in a position for luck to happen and take advantage of any opportunity you are given. No one can take your education and knowledge from you.