Grants awarded to UC Berkeley innovative technology projects

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Several faculty and students received the inaugural Berkeley Changemaker Technology Innovation Grants on June 25 for projects centered around technological innovations intended to benefit the campus.

The awardees will share $400,000 in funding to develop their projects. The grant competition is part of a larger initiative established by the office of campus Chief Technology Officer Bill Allison to increase campus’s use of innovative technology.

“Innovation is not a ‘nice to have,’ ” Allison said in an email. “It’s essential to maintaining our excellence as an institution, and also critical to help us scale around access to Berkeley’s education.”

Many of the winning projects use technology to address the complications brought on by remote learning. For instance, members of the department of chemistry developed [email protected] to create online curricula for their largest laboratory courses.

Similarly, a project led by members of the campus integrative biology department aims to provide students with virtual field and laboratory experiences and get students more directly involved in science.

“We wanted students to still be able to make observations, use scientific tools, engage in rich discussion on how to make measurements and then make them,” said Tamara Mau, lab instruction manager and one of the project leaders, in an email. “The changemaker technology innovation grant really let me, my staff and instructors think boldly and in new ways to accomplish just that.”

Hoping to take advantage of the remote instruction period, Elnaz Tafrihi, who is studying for a doctorate in the building science program at UC Berkeley, and campus architecture professor Luisa Caldas are attempting to improve online modes of communication for design students and faculty through InsightXR, a platform where people can collaborate on 3D content.

Eric Paulos, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, is working on tools to better facilitate qualitative work — for example, collaboratively designing projects — where solutions are often less straightforward and more nuanced, and to document the processes it takes to reach an end product.

“There weren’t as many tools to support this creative process of working, especially in teams and groups, through different designs, and not just capturing the final answer but also the process,” Paulos said.

Other projects use technology to address issues of racial inequity. Ethnic studies lecturer Pablo Gonzalez applied to the grant hoping to “bridge the divide” between his department and technology.

Through his project, “Scaffolding Stories/Building Communities,” Gonzalez plans to create a hub where UC Berkeley students can better interact with ethnic studies curriculum using podcasting and augmented reality.

The Data Justice-Community Justice Initiative, a partnership between the campus American Cultures Program, D-Lab and the University Library, seeks to develop “data toolkits” to support the work of community partners, then bring that data back to campus to improve upon the undergraduate American Cultures curriculum.

“This is all about racial equity,” said Victoria Robinson, director of the American Cultures Center and lecturer in the ethnic studies and women’s studies department. “How does the university acknowledge itself, reflect on itself? How do we really understand the job that we have to do for racial justice?”

All projects are expected to use the grant funds by June 2021.

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.