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Students win $180,000 to tackle world’s problems


BERKELEY – Projects to help new mothers in Nigeria and orphans in Nepal, and to encourage bike sharing and energy efficiency in Berkeley, are among 50 student proposals receiving a total of $179,000 in the third annual “Bears Breaking Boundaries” competition at the University of California, Berkeley.

The competition, designed to find and fund students’ best ideas for addressing the world’s toughest problems, received 130 submissions from undergraduate and graduate UC Berkeley students. Students were invited to design and implement new initiatives in a broad range of areas, including energy and environment, curricular innovation, neglected diseases, improving student life, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, information technology for society and new collaborations with non-profit organizations.

“Cal students have fantastic ideas for enhancing the curriculum, improving the campus, and addressing major societal challenges such as climate change and global health,” said Thomas Kalil, special assistant to the chancellor for science and technology and director of Big Ideas@Berkeley, a campus initiative which co-sponsors the student competition. “The contest is our version of ’American Idol’ - it helps shine the spotlight on our most creative, energetic and entrepreneurial students.”

Among the winning proposals are projects to:

develop a wearable device to continuously assess the cognitive capability of people with diseases such as Alzheimer’s
reduce maternal deaths in Nigeria by bringing reliable power and communications to delivery wards
launch 10 “Idea Labs” - multidisciplinary teams of students with a shared interest in topics such as safe drinking water and sanitation, green-collar jobs and earthquake-resistant construction
expand UC Berkeley’s education, service and advocacy efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina
create a new minor in food systems and sustainability at UC Berkeley
partner with the city of Berkeley on an innovative model for financing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency
develop a “green bike share” program for the campus
design synthetic “platelets” - the blood cells responsible for clotting - for patients suffering from cancer or major blood loss
create a program to survey and control the prevalence of lice infestations in orphanage children in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
In addition to providing initial support for the projects, Kalil also works with student teams to identify additional partners and sources of funding. For example, the Blum Center for Developing Economies and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), both based at UC Berkeley, have agreed to provide an additional $25,000 to support the project to save mothers’ lives in Nigeria.

Award recipients will also have the opportunity to post their projects on the Big Ideas marketplace site (, a place where alumni and other donors can select projects that they feel particularly passionate about and make financial or in-kind contributions.

In addition to Big Ideas@Berkeley and CITRIS, campus organizations and units involved in Bears Breaking Boundaries as either hosts or financial sponsors of one or more of the contests include the Associated Students of the University of California, the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Division of Biological Sciences in the College of Letters and Science, the new Center for Energy and Environmental Innovation, the Berkeley Institute of the Environment, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the Science, Technology & Engineering Policy Group and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. The competition also receives support from AT&T, the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Deshpande Foundation.

Initial funding for Big Ideas@Berkeley was provided by the Omidyar Network, an investment group created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and dedicated to individual empowerment.


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