Undergraduate Profile: Micah Ziegler PC ’08: “A Man of Sustainable Ambitions”


Seeing a natural problem solver attack a question is as beautiful as it is intimidating. I witnessed Micah Ziegler tackle a particularly complex question from an economics problem set. He seems to posses the sort of mind that has internalized equations from his math and chemistry training so purely that they become the uncluttered tools with which he analyzes everything else.

As he toys with the numbers on a sheet of paper — his eyes flashing between calculator and textbook — I ask if he enjoys economics. He answers, “I just love solving problems.” As he finishes canceling something in an equation, he continues, “There’s just something so satisfying about finding the solution — it’s the best thing in the world.”

Economics, like many other areas of study, is for Ziegler only a tool to help realize a greater vision. His primary interest is the development of sustainable technologies and the appropriate laws necessary for the healthy stewardship of our planet. He studied chemistry because it “offers solutions.”

His senior thesis – written under the guidance of Gary Brudvig, Eugene Higgins Professor and Chair of Chemistry, and Robert H. Crabtree, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Organic Chemistry – explored bioinorganic and organometallic chemistry to develop better ways to capture solar energy.

The idea was to mimic the catalysts involved in photosynthesis for power generation and storage. “Bioinorganic chemistry learns from approaches that have evolved over millions of years in enzymes, cells, and organisms” Ziegler says, “and when integrated with organometallic chemistry, can help design efficient, clean, renewable solutions to environmental challenges.”

This may sound like the sort of thing you hear from your Environmental Sciences professor, but that’s because Ziegler hopes to study Environmental Chemistry or Green Chemistry in graduate school and someday pass on the torch of knowledge as a professor at a cutting edge research university.

In order to better advance the message that sustainable technologies are essential to our development as a society, Ziegler plans to earn a Master of Public Policy degree, and he is still considering law school.

“I need to be able to clearly and passionately explain scientific strategies for environmental protection. I hope to be able to write, speak, advise, and collaborate with committed organizations, including not-for-profits, corporations, government agencies, and elected representatives” he explains.

His message is that sustainability is not a luxury but a necessity, and the sooner the public and government come to accept this, the sooner the necessary changes to our lifestyles, technology, and infrastructure can occur.

While genuine curiosity and scientific aptitude are rare gifts, it is Ziegler’s long-term intentions to improve both public policy and technology that give him so much promise. Add to this his consistent commitment to undergraduate organizations and you have proof of his capabilities as an organizer for the green cause.

He led the Yale Climate Campaign for two years and the Yale Student Environmental Coalition for one. During his senior year he worked as peer tutor for freshman organic chemistry, and for two years was the Pierson College Coordinator for the Yale Student Technology Collaborative (formerly the Yale Computing Assistants). Everyone needs to blow off steam from time to time, and he chose to do so playing trumpet with the Yale Precision Marching Band.

After four years of study and tremendous dedication, Ziegler has walked away from Yale with several major awards. He graduated summa cum laude with B.S. in Chemistry and Distinction in the Major, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, was a Pierson College Marshal, and received special acknowledgment with the Arthur Fleisher Award for outstanding performance in chemistry.

About half of the Yale population has caught some form of the “China-bug,” and Micah Ziegler is no exception. This fall he will begin work in Hong Kong for the Business Environment Council on sustainability issues for a year as a Luce Scholar.

The Luce Scholars program is designed to give graduating seniors without substantial exposure to Asia the opportunity to study and work there. Ziegler will address issues such as air quality, climate change, and sustainable tourism.

He would like to thank Linda De Laurentis and Yale’s IEFP office for helping him discover the scholarship, and the Pierson Master’s and Dean’s offices for giving him such wonderful support, as well as family and friends for help and encouragement.

Awards and accolades aside, Ziegler is an extraordinarily humble and positive person. His air of purpose and diligence is contagious: just by hanging around him, you will be inspired to make the world a little greener and tell your friends to do the same. It is not enough, he says, to be environmentally conscious; you have to be both aware and active.