UC Berkeley students win $10,000 awards for sustainability projects

The Dow Chemical Company honored three groups of UC Berkeley students for projects that provided sustainable solutions to the world’s environmental issues at a ceremony on campus Wednesday.

The three campus groups, along with winners from seven other universities — University of Cambridge, Northwestern University, University of Michigan and institutions from England, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and China — were honored and each awarded $10,000 for their projects in the third annual Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge.

The competition asked student groups from the eight universities to produce innovative research that could address the world’s social, economic and environmental issues through sustainable solutions, said Jarod Davis, the sustainability external engagement leader for Dow Chemical Company.

The UC Berkeley groups’ projects included a device that efficiently removes oil from the surface of water, software that controls energy efficiency by allowing communication between home and office appliances and a website with a mobile application that encourages healthier daily habits through interactive competition.

Yu Zeng, one of the winners from UC Berkeley and a graduate student in the department of integrative biology, invented a device that could potentially assist oil spill clean-ups by removing the top layer of floating oil residue — a task that has previously been labor- and time-intensive.

“To finish this project, present my science to the public and do my best to translate whatever I learned … is the best feedback from the public to a scientist,” he said.

Zeng said his award money will be used to finance the patent on his device, and he hopes to publish a scientific paper on the research soon. Zeng said a major part of his research was being a careful observer because “you learn from nature how to heal nature.”

The projects were judged based on how well they aligned with the Dow Chemical Company’s 2015 Sustainability Goals, which include energy efficiency and conservation, addressing climate change and contributing to community success, Davis said.

The assessments were based on a peer review process that included multidisciplinary faculty members from all eight participating universities, which span five continents.

Tony Kingsbury, director of the Sustainable Products and Solutions Program at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and the Dow executive-in-residence, said he was pleased to see the projects span a plethora of disciplines, including chemistry, business and mechanical engineering.

“As Dow looks in the future, we need sustainable innovation, and a lot of these innovations at top universities,” Kingsbury said. “So we look at these sustainable ideas coming from other universities to continue to think this way and drive forward to make better innovations for a better world in the future.”

At the awards ceremony, Richard Mathies, dean of the College of Chemistry, said the projects undertaken by the various students were “a testament to the power and importance of sustainability … What’s important is that all the students got really excited to conduct this ground-breaking research.”

Paras Shah of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.