Brian von Herzen

Hertz Fellow: Brian von Herzen

California Institute of Technology

Area of Study

Computer Science

Fellowship Years

1981 - 1986

Brian von Herzen, PhD, is the executive director of the Climate Foundation, addressing gigaton-scale carbon balance on land and in the sea. He also has served as CEO and founder of Rapid Prototypes, Inc., providing electronic, system and environmental solutions on a global scale.

Brian received his physics degree from Princeton, and his PhD in computer science from the California Institute of Technology. In 1994, Brian founded Rapid Prototypes, Inc. and has since consulted in the fields of digital signal processing, including video processing technology, video compression, programmable logic (FPGA) system design, integrated circuit design, signal integrity, networking, fiber optic communications, high-speed memory controllers, image processing and computer graphics for companies such as Microsoft, Disney, Rockwell, Intel, General Dynamics, Dolby, HP and Pixar. Brian’s adventurous spirit led him to fly a twin Cessna 337 across the Atlantic several times (including several trips with his partner, Becky Truman).

During those expeditions, Brian was able to observe Greenland ice-cap melting first-hand. Before the first crossing of the Atlantic, glaciologists asked Brian to search for melt ponds across the Greenland ice cap. In 2001, they were small and difficult to find. In 2003 there were hundreds of them, in 2005 thousands. In 2006 there were massive lakes of melt water on the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet. In 2012, 97% of the surface of the ice sheet melted (1.7 million square km). These observations led to the founding of the Climate Foundation in an effort to find sustainable solutions to carbon balance through a deep understanding of natural processes and how to restore them. Brian has been working on restoring global primary productivity, (since 1950, global plankton productivity has decreased by 40% over large ocean regions), cooling coral reefs (they are bleaching world-wide), working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to turn waste biomass into biochar, (fields using biochar use less fertilizer and water, experiences less run off and sequester carbon for millennia), and creating grid-scale energy storage systems (serving as director of Bright Energy Storage, LLP). His interest and love of the oceans resulted in his leading the Discovery Channel Project Earth documentary titled “Hungry Oceans.” His work led to honors and achievements including the Ross Freeman Award for outstanding technical achievement 2006, a Hughes Doctoral Fellowship, the Gates Foundation RTTC Phase 1 and 2 Grants, a NAFTA NAPECA CEC Grant, Stanford University guest lecturer in cleantech entrepreneurship, as well as being a Hertz Fellow. In 2016, his work with Hertz Fellow Floris van Breugel on a startup, TinyHerds, a company developing non-traditional protein sources for sustainable global food security in the form of cricket ranching technology that automates the livestock-raising process and locally produces feed with renewable energy sources, was awarded the Newman Entrepreneurial Initiative.

His present interests include SCUBA diving, snorkel-boarding, dance, sailboarding and technology projects that contribute to sustainable civilization.


1986 - Applications of Surface Networks to Sampling Problems in Computer Graphics


2016 - The Newman Entrepreneurial Initiative
TinyHerds co-founded with Hertz Fellow Floris van Breugel