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2007 January February 25 Brilliant California Ideas

Passing Cyber-Notes

Thirty years ago, passing notes in class could get you suspended. Today, students pass digital notes to one another by way of their laptops, trading class notes and jokes in a virtual chat room online. But rather than distracting students, the digital chatter might actually help learning, according to a research project by two graduate […]

Just The Towhee of Us

Early on a crisp november morning biologist Lauryn Benedict strolls through the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Suddenly she stops, turns her ear uphill, and points vaguely to a tall pine. “There’s one. Hear that? A sort of ‘tink, tink.’ There it is again. That’s a call,” she says. Benedict is on the hunt for a […]

The Eighth Promise

When political rivalries, murder, and racism ensnare a Chinatown family, a mother reaches back to ancient traditions, and a promise she once made, to save her sons. Their marriage arranged in advance, my mother left China to meet my father in San Francisco in 1950. Before departing her ancestral village, she made eight promises to her […]

Image source: Peg Skorpinksi

Uncommon Sense

IMPACT: Imagine if myspace really was a space. Get ready, because it’s coming, and wireless sensing technology will bring it to everyone, everywhere. Scientists, soldiers, and citizens alike will use networks of robotic devices working together and all equipped with an array of embedded sensors that not only detect, but correct. In the forest and […]

Connecting Dots And Dollars

Venture capital took root in Northern California thanks to one thing: connections. That web of connections has turned out to be the most powerful renewable resource that California has ever had, spawning a business phenomenon in the late 1980s that relied on private investment and merchant banks, that at its height in 2002 produced 7,812 […]

Closer to Home

IMPACT: Main Street USA has been revived, only now it’s called the New Urbanism, and it is shaping new neighborhoods around the world as a friendly, walkable alternative to suburban sprawl. Visionary California architect Peter Calthorpe and a core of Berkeley professors decided in 1988 to push urban planning forward by looking backward. Their deceptively […]

Play It Again, Tomorrow

IMPACT: In the late ’90s, Silicon Valley-based TiVo pioneered digital video recorders—TV devices that allow viewers to record programs on an internal hard disk. Because viewers can “pause” live TV, “rewind” just-viewed footage, and entirely skip over annoying commercials, the technology terrified the advertising industry when it was first introduced, creating a “death-of-the-30-second-spot” hysteria that […]

Cellular Shape Shifters

Three decades after UC researchers created the biotechnology industry, stem cell science is generating "the second revolution in biotechnology," according to Randy Schekman, director of Berkeley’s Stem Cell Center. This one, heavier in politics, morality, and heady talk of cures for dozens of diseases, is arguably more monumental than the first. "We all have family […]

Image source: Fox/Photofest

D’oh Dynasty

IMPACT: First appearing on Fox’s The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, the Emmy and Peabody award-winning animated sitcom that stars the hilariously unadmirable Simpsons family not only skewers American life with a marvelously malign glee, it also spawned a billion-dollar business, cemented itself into popular culture, and transformed its own genre. “People talk a lot […]

Peeling The Onion

Like so many concepts, the idea of Internet search was born elsewhere but came of age here. Rightly so: Search’s holy grail of naming, sating, and sharing our every desire speaks to the core of life in California. Pursuing and cataloguing the world’s information have a rich past, from Aristotle’s categories to Denis Diderot’s Encylopédie, […]

Image source: AP Photo/Rene Macura, Ho

High Five

IMPACT: In the 1990s, writer/director/actor Reiner took up early-years children’s health as an issue along with well-placed allies such as Koop, the former surgeon general, and Gore, wife of the then-vice president. Roos, a former state assemblyman, approached Reiner after hearing the actor speak at the National Governors Association in 1997, and they jointly introduced […]

The Power of Less

Early one November evening, 1973: Gasoline supplies have been cut by the month-old Arab Oil Embargo and people wait in long lines to buy gas. Inside Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, particle physicist Art Rosenfeld’s office is lit by 12 dazzling 60-watt fluorescent lights, which allows him to make a startling calculation. The light bulbs in […]