Innovation

A Smoking Gun: The Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs May Have Had Help

Any third grader can tell you what killed the dinosaurs: an asteroid that smashed into Earth 66 million years ago, obliterating T. Rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor, and paving the way for mammals to thrive.

But that theory was wildly controversial when first introduced in 1980 by Berkeley Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter, a UC Berkeley paleogeologist. Their idea plunged the paleontology community into decades of acrimonious debate before it became the accepted explanation. Now the theory is being challenged once again.

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

Brewing Trouble: A New Process Could Make it Too Easy to Manufacture Opiates

UC Berkeley bioengineer John Dueber knows too well that sometimes the most important scientific discoveries have harmful consequences. Just recently, Dueber and a team of scientists discovered the final step in modifying common yeast cells to manufacture opiates. Their finding was published in the July issue of Nature Chemical Biology, alongside a warning urging scientists and policymakers to work together to address the development’s possible consequences.

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

To Hear History: High-Tech Project Will Restore Recorded Native Americans Voices

Decades of wear and tear haven’t been kind to the 2,713 wax cylinders in UC Berkeley’s Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, which linguists and anthropologists have used for over a century to study the languages and cultural practices of Native California. But a new project promises to revitalize these old, fragile recordings — the first of which was recorded by famed anthropologist Alfred Kroeber in 1901 — with cutting-edge optical scanning technology.

Go Small and Go Home: UC Berkeley Team Working to Create an Affordable Housing Fix

A team of Cal students is setting out to demonstrate one possible solution to the Bay Area’s gentrification and escalating housing costs: Go tiny.

By next fall, the group plans to finish building a net-zero energy, approximately 250-square-foot home-on-wheels at UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station, a 152-acre plot that the university plans to eventually transform into the Berkeley Global Campus.

Turbo-Charging the Hunt for ETs: This Will Give our Decade a Shot at Cosmic Stardom

In the 3.5 billion-year history of life on planet Earth, a century seems barely mentionable and a decade seems insignificant—but the new revelation of a project involving a Russian billionaire, three UC Berkeley researchers and $100 million just may have laid the groundwork for this decade’s shot at eternal distinction.

Catching the Brain in a Lie: Is “Mind Reading” Deception Detection Sci-Fi—or Science?

Ever since the inception of our species, humans have wanted to peer inside each other’s minds. A major reason we want to do this is because we lie. We lie a lot, and on the whole, we are quite good at it. The capacity for deception is possibly one of the most significant cognitive gifts we received through evolution.

But it turns out that we lack an equal genius for spotting deception. Instead we keep trying to capitalize on technology—hoping it can do the detecting for us.

Fun with Fungi: Food Business is Still Mushrooming for Two Berkeley Grads

It was already their final semester at UC Berkeley, but Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez had never met. Both were sitting in a business ethics class when something the professor said caught their interest: It might be possible to grow gourmet mushrooms from used coffee grounds. Just a few weeks later, the two were practically best friends, brought together by an idea.

Rock On: A Student-Designed Rocking Chair Generates Energy to Charge a Cell Phone

If you’ve ever sat in a rocking chair, you understand why every grandparent seems to own one. The gentle rocking mimics the soothing motion of a crib. It’s an ingenious, old-fashioned piece of seating bliss.

Now imagine a rocking chair that even a Millennial might settle into: Not only does it relax you, but it charges your iPhone at the same time.

Startup Wants University Endowments to Lend Money so Homeowners Can Go Solar

A new startup founded by two UC Berkeley Haas Business School students aims to give homeowners going solar the leverage to affect more than just the environment.

Window Street Financial—which emerged last fall from an idea generated by Johnny Gannon and Ben Purvis—wants to give them the option of taking a solar loan made up of capital from the endowments of universities, nonprofits and foundations.

From Spider-Infested Digs, U.S. Company Devises Way to Spin Silk—Sans the Spiders

In the beginning, David Breslauer’s office was infested with spiders—lurking in the corners, hunkered down on their webs, crawling up his arms. “I had one right above my desk, and it pooed on my computer like a pigeon,” he says. And these were large, long-legged beasties, too: Nephila clavipes, an orb-weaving species commonly used in scientific studies.

Speech Saver: Anticipating Upheavals, Project Aims to Preserve the World’s Languages

You’ve probably experienced that unique combination of loss and rage when your computer’s hard drive suddenly crashes, erasing years of work files, financial records, and precious photos in an instant. What if that happened, asks linguist Laura Welcher, of the nonprofit Long Now Foundation, on a civilizational scale?

“Over the span of millennia, you have to expect there to be upheavals in society, times when knowledge is lost,” she says. (Think the Library of Alexandria.) How do we safeguard human knowledge from these future upheavals?

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Parts Department: The You that Survives into the Next Century May be Mostly 3D Printed

The future will be an exciting time to be alive, if for no other reason than it will be so much easier to survive.

We’ll have a bewildering variety of replacement parts for our organs and limbs. Stubborn diseases will be tamed by exotic treatments. New technologies will enable not just better living, but new ways of living. And the human body will reveal all of its secrets in response to our probings in… (dramatic pause) … the year 2000.

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

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