Golden Scholars: Berkeley develops technology for medical applications and cleanweb, which may affect Memorial Glade

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Berkeley finds ways to take advantage of modern technology to improve the world and others, but should we start that improvement right at home by getting rid of Memorial Glade?

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Chancellor Nicholas Dirks discusses trends in majors and career paths at private schools like Columbia and Stanfurd, comparing them to those of UC Berkeley

It's not just Daredevil—learning from the blind to improve tactile techology

Cal vs. Stanfurd in the Big Smartphone-Based Medical Microscope?

In the newest contest of good vs. evil, Berkeley and Stanfurd are developing different technologies for turning your cell phone into a medical tool.

On the side of all that is good and beautiful, we have bioengineering professor Daniel Fletcher, who immediately pondered the ability to convert phone cameras into microscopes as soon as he got his first pixelated phone camera.

That research flourished into a startup, CellScope, which has redesigned the otoscope- the tool doctors have long used to peek into your ear canals. This updated version, nicknamed Oto, attaches onto an iPhone, generating an image of the ear. It's not just for doctors: parents, school nurses, and caretakers can use it for a quick read of a child's ear. And it's not limited to tech-friendly households in the Bay Area. Given that most children suffer from an ear infection before they reach seven years of age, it's targeted for a global audience. One caveat, though. It's been designed with the iPhone, which is unlikely to be in the hands of health workers globally.

Fletcher's lab is also looking into applications in the skin, malaria, and tuberculosis. Despite the promise for medical revolution and a whole new level of awkward selfies, Fletcher is upfront about the shortcomings of these tools.

Fletcher also recognizes the challenges with smartphone parts. "The lens is designed for conventional photography, not microscopy. The optical performance could be improved if the lenses we add to covert the phone into a microscope were designed together with the camera lenses," he says.

In this corner, the feeble Stanfurd Cardinal offering, where their bioengineering professor Manu Prakash is working on OScan for assaying oral cavities. Sounds pretty lame compared to CellScope!

Enter: Cleanweb

Cleantech? That's so yesterday. These days, the Bears are all about cleanweb, which seems counterintuitive to me and what I use the web for.

This emerging "cleanweb" sector leverages information technology tools and analytics to enable more efficient use of resources. One team of Berkeley Lab researchers developed a smart sprinkler system that captures rainfall data from the past week to decide whether to water the lawn. Another team developed a system that tells you when your power company is providing the cleanest energy.

Developed at a hack-a-thon, the beauty of this movement is the way it was born out of some failed cleantech companies, showing that it's not about being perfect and making no mistakes, but it's all about learning from your mistakes.

"Students are seeing this next cleantech trend," [Berkeley Lab senior research associate John] Romankiewicz said. "First, everyone got excited about technologies and hardware, like solar panels, wind turbines, smart grid. There's a thesis that those produced a lot of cost reductions and great technologies, but it also burned a lot of investors because there were lots of losers and only some winners. The next wave of investment is ‘capital light.' It's not ‘let's go build a factory.' It's ‘let's make software that uses all these great solar, building, and wind technologies in the best way possible.' All of this will require less capital investment up front, which is good for expanding more quickly and spurring new ideas."

You can read more about WattTime, the product that evaluates power companies for clean energy, in the link above, but due to the drought in California, I'd like to spend a little time on the smart sprinkler system developed by Berkeley Lab's Anna Liao and Daniel Olsen.

The algorithm also takes into account drought conditions, to scale down watering as users desire, as well as seasonal variations, to water more in the summer and less in winter, for example. "There are smart sprinkler systems on the market that will connect to the Internet and see if it has rained that day. But that's where the intelligence ended," Weber said. "It seemed to me there are more opportunities to save. In California more than 50 percent of total residential water use is outdoors."

So, if you care about water conservation and if you care about Berkeley, where do these intersect? Simple. By questioning if modern universities—especially those in water-starved California—should maintain large grassy quads and fields, like Berkeley law professor Dan Farber.

I realize that there may be practical problems to making the change. Universities would have to find hardy new plants that could thrive locally without expensive maintenance or watering. Landscaping would have to take into account a variety of possible uses for the area, and students might need different kinds of spaces for casual recreation.

And some of us would have to live with our nostalgia for the quads of the past. There would be transition costs, although over time money would be saved from reduced use of water, pesticides, herbicides and fossil fuels for mowing. But going down this road would not only have direct benefits for the environment, it would also provide demonstration projects about how other public spaces could be similarly redesigned.

Supporters of this movement cite that not only do lawns consume large quantities of water, but they also limit biodiversity in the world. Are these enough reasons to rid the Berkeley campus of lawns? Vote in our poll below and share your opinions in the comments.

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