Innovation

Whooshing into the Future: Aiming to Make Speed-of-Sound Commutes a Reality

Remember pneumatic tubes, those compressed-air pipelines that whisked plastic canisters from basement mailrooms to penthouse boardrooms? Imagine being in one, traveling at more than 700 mph. You could make the round-trip from San Francisco to LA in a little over an hour. That may sound like science fiction, but it could one day be a reality thanks to the efforts of engineering students at UC Berkeley and elsewhere.

From the Summer 2016 Welcome to There issue of California.

Strength in Numbers: Inside the Berkeley Institute Where Math Geeks Rule

Ever see the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal? Contestants are given a choice of three doors and told that behind one of them is a shiny new sports car. If they pick door No. 1, the host may open door No. 2 to reveal that there’s nothing behind it. Then he asks if they want to stick with door No. 1 or switch to door No. 3. What’s the best move?

The Blind Leading the Blind: Designing an Inclusive World

Joshua Miele has been blind ever since a violent acid attack took away his vision before his 5th birthday. But he says he no longer spends time wishing he could see. Instead, from his office at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, he dreams up new technologies for the blind, and helps turn those visions into reality: maps that can talk, YouTube videos that can speak, electronic gloves that can text.

Not Supremely Tech-Savvy—Can High Court Keep Up With the Cyber Revolution?

A popular opinion on the Internet lately is that the members of the Supreme Court are a bit superannuated. You know: supremely old, dated, over the Capitol Hill, if you will. The presumption seems to be that with our geriatric justices aged to imperfection, they’re not only physically impaired, but technologically impaired as well.

“World’s Smartest Billionaire:” James Simons is Cal Alumnus of the Year for 2016

As a teenager in Newton, Massachusetts, James Simons had a short-lived job in the basement stockroom of a garden supply store. “I was terrible at it; couldn’t remember where anything went,” he told an audience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2013. He was quickly demoted to floor sweeper, “Which I loved: It was easy, took no brain work.”

From the Spring 2016 War Stories issue of California.

Preparing to Launch: Inside SkyDeck, UC Berkeley’s Start-Up Accelerator

SkyDeck, UC Berkeley’s start-up accelerator program, is housed on the top floor of the tallest building in downtown Berkeley. All four walls of the 10,000 square-foot penthouse have floor-to-ceiling windows, offering up a 360-degree view. This is where Cal’s fledgling entrepreneurs come for free office space and guidance while preparing to launch their product or service. They have six months to a year up here with SkyDeck, and then it’s time to jump out of the nest.

California’s Water System Leaks Like a Sieve—How To Save Millions of Gallons

The drought may not have caused California’s water crisis, but it’s certainly brought it to the attention of a public largely uninterested in it until government fiat made shorter showers and dead lawns de rigueur. State water demand has outstripped supply for decades. Water rights claims for the massive State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project outpace average annual supplies by at least five fold.

Kill the Suckers: Would a Mosquito Apocalypse Be a Catastrophe or a Godsend?

When I was growing up in Queens, NY, mosquitoes tortured us all through the muggy summers. I ran around with pink splotches of calamine lotion covering my arms and legs. The cold of the lotion soothed the itch for about seven seconds. Never stopped me from scratching. We hated mosquitoes. We wanted them to disappear—not just from Queens, but from the face of the earth.

For the Young and the Restless: Why Cal Linguist Declares “Gig” Word of the Year

Each year, UC Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Nunberg chooses a Word of the Year: A word, in other words, that was in particularly wide usage and seems to sum up the zeitgeist. Nunberg had a few good contenders for 2015, including “refugee” (due to the crises in the Middle East and Europe and along the Rio Grande) and “microaggression,” the practice of employing subtle snubs to denigrate or intimidate.

Invisibility Cloaks, Vibrator Apps and More: Gifts Inspired by UC Berkeley Innovation

It’s that time of year: many of you are frantically searching for gifts more creative than the candy canes-and-socks combo you usually fall back on. Take some tidings of comfort and joy in remembering that at UC Berkeley, researchers are constantly thinking up new, futuristic inventions with great potential to add to humanity’s store of knowledge and benefit society—not to mention offering the potential of becoming killer Christmas gifts. For your consideration:

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