If necessity is the mother of invention, more than a few winners of the campus’s first-ever Berkeley Changemaker Technology Innovation Grants found inspiration in the teaching and learning challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other initiatives address the timely topics of racial justice and equality.
Launched by the office of UC Berkeley Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Bill Allison in the office of Chief Information Officer Larry Conrad, the winning projects, announced today (Thursday, June 25), will share $400,000 in general funds that were earmarked by Conrad in the 2019-2020 school year for information technology (IT) innovation.
Allison said his goal in creating the competition was to tap Berkeley faculty who “push the frontiers of knowledge, designing technologies and practices that will change the world and make our university run better.” He assembled a 10-member review committee of students and staff from various academic fields, jobs and personal backgrounds to review the proposals.
“During this pandemic, there was a real danger that this grant program wouldn’t even happen because of everything going on and the fact that people were not able to physically come together to review the entries,” he added. “But we did it, and many of these projects — there were 18 submitted — are really relevant, and half involve COVID-19.”
The grants are part of Berkeley’s CTO Innovation Program, which is designed to bring together diverse groups across campus to engage in technology innovation that positively impacts the Berkeley of the future. The proposed innovation projects were required to support one or more of Chancellor Carol Christ’s three key campus strategies.
Among the winning projects is RACE_Labs, spearheaded by Amin Jazaeri, Director of Instructional Support and Lecturer for Berkeley Physics.
RACE_Labs. How might physics students do lab experiments without being on campus, and from anywhere in the world, and at any time? The Remotely Accessed and Controlled Experimentation Labs (RACE Labs) initiative aims to design a way for students to physically interact with campus lab equipment, in real time, as if they were present in the lab. Awardee Amin Jazaeri, director of instructional support and a lecturer in the Department of Physics, had been thinking of how to solve this dilemma for about 10 years, but said the COVID-19 crisis and the innovation awards competition gave him incentive to launch a project. He said lab equipment will be linked to the internet so that students can access and control it remotely with their own computers. They’ll need to schedule an online session to use the equipment and, eventually, they may be able to work remotely in groups.
“In some fields, like astronomy,” said Jazaeri, who will hire an engineer and others to construct several lab experiments this fall, “people could reserve time with a telescope and then control it to view part of the sky and move the telescope in any direction. There are certain fields where this method would work well, and our goal is to provide opportunities to do lab experiments from anywhere in the world.” He added that Berkeley could partner, with this remote access lab project, with people in parts of the world where such equipment isn’t affordable or accessible.
Read about the other awardees in this article in the Berkeley News.