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Golden Scholars: A Berkeley undergrad's start-up for STEM diversity and imaging metal in your head

Monitoring copper and iron in living brain tissue and a Berkeley mechanical engineering undergrad's incredible and altruistic start-up.

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In case you missed it, the 2014 ARWU rankings place UC Berkeley as the best public school and the fourth-best university in the world.

Berkeley Labs helps figure out the stuff of stars. Cuz you're a skyyy, cuz you're sky full of this stuff.

Berkeley Engineering showed 60 young girls why it's cool to be an engineer or study a STEM field. But engineers are the best. Duh.

Something something about metalheads

What do you do as a writer when the original source article already uses up the music-related metalhead puns? (Hi golden oso!) You make a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference! (Hi unclesam22!)!

Today we are all metalheads. And every day, as explained by professor of chemistry Chris Chang:

"Although it accounts for only two-percent of total body mass, it is the body's most oxidatively active organ, consuming more than 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe. This high oxygen intake combined with the brain's high content of copper and iron can lead to oxidative damage and subsequent neuronal death when levels of these redox-active metals rise and become misregulated."

These levels of metal ions are critical to proper function and undesired increases can lead to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases. Chang has developed novel tools for the real-time imaging of copper and iron levels in living tissues.

With these tools, Chang hopes to improve our understanding of the brain's behavior when both healthy and impaired or diseased. This degree of understanding could be critical in the development of treatments or cures for these disorders.

Berkeley undergrad doing more than Berkeley undergrad things

You know those stories where some kid is doing something wayyyy better than anything you could even dream of doing at your current, old, and crusty age and it just makes you feel bad about yourself and you just eat a bunch of ice cream and read comics in your bed to make you feel better? Turn away if you don't want to read one of those stories. And then turn back because this is such a cool story that it deserves your attention.

Lavanya Jawaharlal is a Golden Bear. Her sister, Melissa Jawaharlal, is a Trojan. Despite that, they have come together to cofound a company—STEM Center USA. That's kind of cool, I guess. Oh wait. I forgot to mention—Jawaharlal is a current undergrad majoring in Mechanical Engineering. And already has her own company. And has met Vice President Biden because of their mission and success. Now that's some good company (HIYO!).

The Jawaharlals are looking to increase exposure of engineering and STEM disciplines to kids and adolescents, thus helping the US stay competitive in STEM research and improve the diversity in these fields. Among the 2012 graduating class of engineers, 19% were female; 4% were black; and 9% were Hispanic, so there's definitely a lot of work that needs to be done here.

"The demographics just don't allow them to have the opportunity to be exposed to technology at a young age. It's a privilege thing," [Lavanya] says. "There is of course the girls and boys issue, that's already one stereotype. But a lot of people tend to overlook the fact that the public school system doesn't have enough money to be offering courses like that. And then you have families with low income and they can't buy a robot kit."

Initially working with a price point of $120 per child, they found that was not enough to buy the robotic kits on the market. Jawaharlal the Bear would neither quit nor die and the sisters decided to make their own. Their Pi-Bots will cost just $75 thanks to an intense crowdfunding campaign.

While [Lavanya] shouldered 22 credits as a mechanical engineering major, she and her sister began a crowdfunding campaign last January with the goal of raising $70,000. She reached out to family, friends and Cal alumni, and asked her UC Berkeley professors to mention the project in their newsletters. They made a video of a working prototype on their Kickstarter page. Melissa, who recently earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California, worked the Los Angeles area. They only passed their goal in the last 12 days-actually shooting beyond it to garner $113,000 from 1,100 backers-and exceeding the typical campaign, which tends to generate less than a tenth that amount.

"It was really nerve-wracking," [Lavanya] recalls. "There was a point that we didn't think we were going to make it."

Kudos to these two for their incredible initiative, noble mission, and immense success. While we, as a college sports blog, love to recognize the ridiculous amount of work our student-athletes must endure on top of their normal academic workload, Lavanya is doing the same, but with a company with an altruistic goal instead.