The UC system awarded $19 million in grants to support research focused on improving the lives of Californians, funding four projects hosted by UC Berkeley.
As part of the 2021 UC Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives competition, the UC Office of the President funded 15 research projects this year. The competition supports innovative research collaborations between UC campuses, according to Jesse Rothstein, UC Berkeley professor of economics and public policy and lead principal investigator of California Policy Lab’s Data-Driven Solutions to California’s Most Complex Issues project.
“At the core stands the understanding that leveraging the expertise that exists in different research groups in various locations can make more substantial impacts than what a single research group can achieve,” said Michael Zuerch, lead principal investigator of the California Interfacial Science Initiative, or CISI, and UC Berkeley assistant professor of chemistry, in an email.
Zuerch’s team received grant money to fund the CISI, which seeks to address challenges arising from climate change and mitigate human impacts on the environment through the advancement of interfacial chemistry and interfacial molecular structure.
Additionally, Zuerch emphasized the importance of collaboration within these projects, noting that the project’s funding will primarily go toward fostering exchange and joint research between universities. This includes covering travel expenses to allow team members to visit other campuses, Zuerch said.
The UC Network For Human Rights and Digital Fact-Finding is another project hosted by UC Berkeley that received grant money. This project teaches students and professionals how to find information from social media and other places online for fact-finding and reporting, according to Alexa Koenig, the project’s lead principal investigator, executive director of UC Berkeley School of Law’s Human Rights Center and a campus lecturer in residence.
“People communicate in very different ways today than they did just five to ten years ago,” Koenig said in an email. “The rise of social media and ubiquitousness of smart phones means that a tremendous amount of information is posted to digital spaces every day.”
Koenig added that the pandemic has greatly increased the need for the project, citing the extensive reliance on videos and photographs from social media during investigations into the individuals who were involved in the U.S. Capitol attacks Jan. 6.
The research done at the California Policy Lab has also become more important during the pandemic, according to Rothstein. The policy lab partners with state and local government agencies to conduct research that influences policies relating to homelessness, poverty, criminal justice reform and education inequality, Rothstein added.
“Our work has become ever more urgent during this period,” Rothstein said in an email. “We’ve been working with several of our agency partners to ensure that all Californians get the aid that they need, to identify groups that are not being well served by the existing aid programs, and to understand how the various programs are and are not working.”