Innovation

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:

Straw Into Gold: New Way to Retrieve CO2 From Air and Recycle It Into Useful Products

Turning an undesirable substance into something valuable seems like the plot of an old fable, but UC Berkeley researchers Chris Chang and Omar Yaghi may have done just that. Their invention, covalent organic frameworks, or COFs, can transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into a useful building block for biodegradable plastics, fuel, and more.

Chang likens COFs to TinkerToys, though at a nano scale. They consist of strings of carbon crystals that are special in their unique porosity, as they can be custom tailored to capture the chemical of choice.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Confessions of an Online Journalist: How I Killed My Profession

In the fall of 1994, when I was a young reporter struggling to pay the rent, I wrote a cover story for the San Francisco Bay Guardian: “Plugging In: An Idiot’s Guide to the Internet.” I explained why a 14.4 baud modem was a great deal, and reported that the Internet was a fantastic resource because “all kinds of information are available.”

I am so, so, sorry.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Say What? Scientists Devise an Algorithm That Detects Sarcasm Better Than Humans Can

Think people know when you’re being sarcastic? Yeah, right.

Studies show that most of us believe we are much better at communicating than we actually are, especially when interacting online. For instance, a 2005 study found that recipients correctly identified the sarcasm behind email statements only 56 percent of the time. Furthermore, the participants remained confident they were being understood even when their actual ability to convey sarcasm varied significantly between email and verbal communication.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

Strip It and Stash It: Climate Scientists Focus on Extracting the Carbon Already in Our Air

For decades, most of the strategizing about how to slow down climate change has focused on cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, mainly by shifting away from fossil fuels. Other proposals range from reducing meat consumption (cattle belch massive quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas) to curtailment of chlorofluorocarbons (compounds that both retain heat and destroy atmospheric ozone) in refrigerants and aerosols. 

Color My World: Innovative Glasses Allow Colorblind to See What They’ve Been Missing

I had to see for myself why some users have called them “happy glasses”—through them, everything looks more vibrant, distinct and intense. As soon as I donned the glasses, the run-down street I was walking on in West Berkeley looked as if it suddenly had been given a fresh coat of paint, the grays dusted away. I felt as if I was inside an oversaturated Instagram photo, or Pleasantville after the town was colored in.

The color shift I experienced while wearing EnChroma Cx lenses was overdramatic—but that’s because I’m not colorblind.

Nesting Instincts: In Japan, Cal Architectural Students Reinvent the Community Center

Imagine a community center that’s not your typical chunk of cinderblock—instead it’s an architecturally avant garde space where neighbors gather to grow, cook and eat food. That’s the concept behind the breezy structure “Nest We Grow,” an experiment designed to connect a community’s social spaces and growing spaces.

So Long, Passwords: What Will it Take for Us To Entrust Our Security to Biometrics?

Passwords and humans are frenemies: We tolerate each other because we have to, but we seem to know that one will screw the other over sooner or later (as evidenced by the many security breaches of 2015). Managing our password portfolio is more maddening than ever, given that more than half of us have five or more unique passwords, and nearly a third of us have more than 10.

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