Homecoming Panel 2022 - A Global Challenge: Berkeley Engineers Combat Climate Change
- All right, good morning everyone. Why don't we get started? Good morning. I'm Tsu-Jae King Liu, and I'm Dean of the College of Engineering here at UC Berkeley. It's really my pleasure to welcome you to what I'm sure will be a very lively conversation in the next few minutes, I want to especially welcome back any alumni who are joining us. Anybody here, alumni? Go Bears. All right, welcome back.
(crowd applauds) And also current students and their families. I think a lot of, I've got to meet a lot of your parents, parents today. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
I know it's a little bit early for some of our students, but it's wonderful to see the parents. I'm so glad you could join us. As you know, at Berkeley Engineering, we are working to address grand challenges for our global society, such as climate change and actually also human health. That's a major problem around the world.
So here with us today are some of our outstanding faculty who can give you examples of the work. So I'm delighted to introduce them one by one at this point. So first of all, we have Dr. Thomas Azwell.
He leads a program called the Disaster Lab. Now they are working to support the development and deployment of innovative technologies to solve climate related disasters. Next, we have assistant professors, Cesunica Ivey. She leads research on advanced air quality modeling and data fusion approaches to characterize air pollution.
These advanced approaches are used to answer questions related to community scale exposure and source characterization. Professor Ivey has a couple of her students here, a PhD student, Ige, and also an undergraduate student, Charlotte Mourad, who will be joining her in her presentation today. Next, we have another civil and environmental engineering professor, Amy Pickering.
And she uses tools from multiple disciplines that's not only engineering, but also economics, microbiology, and epidemiology to identify low cost and scalable interventions to interrupt disease transmission in low income countries. She has one of her graduate students here, Mark Kiffe, who is here with her today. And then finally, last but not least, is we have a bioengineering associate professor, Aaron Streets.
He applies math, physics, and engineering to invent tools that help us to understand how cells process information in our genome during healthy human development and also in disease. So each of my colleagues is now going to give you a brief overview of their research, and they'll explain what they are most excited about in their field. And following that, then we will have a group discussion. So I'm gonna invite Tom Azwell now to come up and get us started.
Thank you. (crowd applauds) - Hello, good morning. - [Crowd] Good morning. - All right. Let's see if I know how to use a computer. There we go.
All right, I'm gonna just briefly introduce the Disaster Lab and what I mean by disaster and how I got to the name, it wasn't named after my life. (crowd laughs) So what my lab does is supports innovation and the dissemination of innovation that is helping to mitigate environmental disasters. And so this is a picture that I took. I learned how to hold my breath underwater for over three minutes so I could take a picture like this. This was off the coast of Hawaii and it kind of started in 2010.
I was a graduate student here at Berkeley getting my PhD. And the Gulf oil spill happened. - [Narrator] April 20th. - I had worked on spills or I mean on oil rigs when I was younger. And so when this happened, I was an environmental science major.
I felt obligated to jump in a car or jump in a plane and fly to Louisiana and just show up and try to help. So that led me to, that's me when I was working on oil platforms, paying my way through college. And then this is when I showed up in 2010. So I met Kevin Costner, an actor who had a technology, and I worked with the government and the oil industry to help evaluate technologies to be used on the spill. So afterwards, in the lessons learned from the oil spill, I realized that there wasn't really a vehicle for facilitating evaluations and adoption of innovations. So that's where I got started with this idea of the Disaster Lab.
Here's some of the technologies, the one I had shown you earlier where I held my breath a long time, and this is called a wave glider. It's an autonomous surface vehicle that I've been using in the Philippines. And so I can actually pilot this from my laptop here on campus and drive it around the Philippines and monitor marine protected areas, coral reefs, and it moves through wave energy and also solar powers the sensors that are used to communicate with me.
And here's our team in Hawaii. And the pandemic happened. So when the beginning of the pandemic, we couldn't travel. And I was sitting in my office here on campus trying to figure out what I'm gonna do. All my work was international.
And I started looking around and I found that we had a problem with wildfires in California. And I was surrounded, which is one of the amazing things about being here at Berkeley with industry experts in every field. I believe that all environmental problems requiring an engineered solution. So I started collaborating with engineers here on campus and developing technologies like a remote bulldozer that could be used to get ahead of fires, to create fire breaks and to get people out of harm's way.
So this is one of our autonomous vehicles that we developed. The dozer drivers, which is what they call them, don't like 'em cause they're gonna replace them. But I'm teaching the dozer drivers to actually be the pilots to drive them. I think the dozer drivers like the risk of driving a dozer in front of a fire. And this takes away that risk. All right.
So in order for me to start collaborating with the fire service and to get them to kind of accept this opportunity to work with academics, they put me in a burn chamber and they set a fire over my head and left me in there for 30 minutes to simulate what it's like being inside of a burning building and getting used to the idea that there's this extreme fire raging over your head. So I survived that. I used my breathing techniques that I'd learned in Hawaii and was able to stay calm. And I'll just quickly show this video. It's not, the video doesn't really do it justice.
I'm doing this on my cell phone, but if I had lifted my hand up too high, it would've burned my hand. If I had stood up, that would've been, I wouldn't have been here right now. And so there was somebody actually sitting behind me watching me to make sure that I didn't try to stand up or I got nervous.
They would slam me on my stomach, and they would drag me out of the chamber if that had happened. So luckily it didn't happen. All right, so here we are bringing technology out to the military to test it. The military has bases all over California and we're able to use their facilities to demonstrate, evaluate, and most importantly, to work with industry experts and end users of technology. So what my lab is doing now is working with students to innovate, working with faculty and researchers here at Berkeley and collaborating with the end users of these technologies.
And I really feel that is the bridge to getting adoption of innovation. Thank you very much. (crowd applauds) All right. And I'm followed by my colleague Cesunica Ivey. (crowd applauds) - Good morning everyone.
- [Crowd] Good morning. - I'm Dr. Cesunica Ivey of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and I'm joined by my PhD student, Ige and undergraduate student Charlotte Mourad.
(crowd applauds) Today we're gonna talk to you, I'm gonna talk to you about what we're doing in my lab, the Air Quality Modeling and Exposure Lab. All right, we're gonna talk about air pollution in our health and why it matters. So once again, we're a lab of about 15 post docs, plus graduate students, plus undergraduate students. And our mission is to develop engineering solutions for emerging air quality challenges, grand challenges, right? And the grand challenges are stemming from climate change and environmental injustices.
So traditionally, we use tools like the one you see on the right where we are running high performance computer models to simulate the atmosphere and the pollution that comes from activities that you and I do every day. If you're interested in learning more about our lab, you can scan the QR code. I'll try to keep it up. So what I'm gonna do is go ahead and have my students start passing around our equipment as I go through the slides. And so the equipment will snake around, and I'm gonna explain to you exactly what we're doing. So what are we working on in my lab? We want to actually measure personalized PM 2.5 exposure in real time
to help us develop mitigation strategies. So we want your air to be clean and we want your exposures to be low. So what's PM 2.5? It's a pretty technical term for fine particles. And if you look at this graphic, the the tail is actually a human hair.
I've never got that response before. (crowd laughs) Okay, and then the different images are various objects that are smaller than the diameter of a human hair. And so right there at the end, that respiratory droplet and then a dust particle and bacterium are actually in the size range that we wanna measure because they can get into your deep lung. Why is this important? Air pollution exposure makes you sick. Okay, so there are short term effects, there are long term effects, and one of the big issues of today is the pandemic, and it is respirable, right? And that's what makes you sick.
So how are we doing these measurements? What's being passed around is this small wearable sensor. And if you press the red button, you'll see what the particle concentration is in this room. I hope it's good.
It should be less than five. So we work with a company called Applied Particle Technology that is a startup company out of Washington University in St. Louis, and they are PhD students just like your future students, right? And a laser is shot through an air beam to count the particles in the air, and we can translate light attenuation to particle and mass concentration.
So what I want you to learn today is that everyone's exposures are different because we move around as human beings and we're in different environments throughout the day, whether you're at home, whether you're at work, whether you're commuting, or whether you're on vacation in Hawaii. All right? So I want to draw your attention to some data we collected for a resident in West San Bernardino in the Inland Empire. So this neighborhood has actually been designated as an AB 617 neighborhood, or a neighborhood that is overburdened with air pollution, right? So what we have here is the dashboard that's associated with that little unit that you're passing around.
So although it's not the data that you see when you press the button, this is real time concentration data of PM 2.5. And you can see that some of the highest peaks go well beyond 500 micrograms per meter cube. For reference, the World Health Organization standard is 10 micrograms per meter cube, for the health standard. So some people in the US are adversely exposed to air pollution more than others, and we want to actually promote data sovereignty by allowing community members to measure their own pollutions.
And then we help them to advocate for themselves and develop mitigation strategies. So the APT will snake around and we will collect them once everyone has a chance to see it. So I don't necessarily like to focus on the bad, I try to focus on solutions. And so what we're seeking to do in ACNO is to work with regulators, you know, the big bad EBA to strengthen some standards to help protect people, whether that's through advocating for electric vehicles, electric vehicle infrastructure, reducing fossil fuel use, right? And we also do quite a bit of community engagement where we inform the public about activities that are associated with adverse exposures. So yes, your mask can actually protect you from respirable particulates as well as other viruses that are in those aerosols. And that's what we do.
And I look forward to any questions once we're done. Thank you. (crowd applauds) And now my amazing colleague, Amy Pickering, will talk about her work.
(crowd applauds) - Hi everyone. So I'm very excited to have one of my students here today presenting with me. He's a master student in civil and environmental engineering. Do you wanna introduce yourself really quickly? - Yes. (crowd applauds) Good morning everyone. My name is Mark Kiffe.
I'm a master student here in the CE department, and it's a pleasure to present to you today. (crowd applauds) - Yeah, so we're gonna be talking to you about some of the work our lab does to leverage big data under to understand the links between climate change and water access and health in sub-Saharan Africa. So 2 billion people in this world lack access to safely managed drinking water. As you can see from this map of the world, there's a large number of people in sub-Saharan Africa that lack access to safely managed drinking water, which is one of the reasons why our lab works in this geographic area.
So what do we mean by safely managed drinking water? It means that you have water at your house on premises. It means that it's available 24/7 when needed. And it also means that it's of good quality. So free from microbial and chemical contamination.
The sustainable development goals have a target to get to universal access for safe drinking water in the world by 2030. Unfortunately, we're not on track right now to meet that target. With current rates of progress, it's gonna require 10 times current rates of progress to get to that target in low income countries.
So, this is not going to be all bad news. I'm gonna tell you about the problems, and then Mark is gonna tell you about the solutions. So we have one third of the world having to leave their homes to fetch water. So one thing that we've been studying in my lab is what's the burden of water fetching for these households and what sort of impacts does it have on their lives? It's estimated that 16 million person hours per day are spent fetching water in sub-Saharan Africa. And this burden is mainly on women and girls.
This is a photo that I took in Tanzania, just kind of showing you what it actually looks like to have to fetch water. And this is very heavy. So this is 20 liters of water that she's carrying on her head. So it's a huge burden.
And so when people have to leave their homes to fetch water, they're often going to be collecting less water for their domestic needs. And so that might mean that you have less water for hygiene purposes, for hand washing. It might mean that you're storing water for longer periods of time, and that water might be more likely to get contaminated. So one thing that we were interested in is studying the links between water fetching and child health in Sub-Saharan Africa. So we're able to leverage this actually publicly available household survey data set from Sub-Saharan Africa that includes about a million households in it.
And we were able to look at the relationship between water fetching time, how long people are walking to fetch water, and child health outcomes like diarrhea, mortality. And what we saw was there was a pretty strong relationship there between how long people have to walk to fetch water and child health. So now that we know that that relationship exists, we also know that in sub-Saharan Africa, climate change is going to have disproportionately worse impacts than in other areas of the world. Warming is happening faster in sub-Saharan Africa than it is on the global average. And we're also going to see more frequent extreme events like droughts and flooding. And so what the next thing that we were interested in looking at is how is this hotter drier weather going to increase the water fetching burden for households in sub-Saharan Africa? And so we were able to take this household data set that we were using and link it up temporarily and spatially to temperature and precipitation data and look at this relationship between how is recent temperature and precipitation affecting water fetching times.
And we saw that both hotter and drier conditions are going to increase water fetching times for sub Saharian Africa. So I just wanna tell you about one more study that we've done looking at water quality instead of water fetching in. And this was a study that we did in Kenya where we were interested in understanding how are recent weather outcomes going to affect water quality, drinking water supplies in Kenya. And so we had this data set where we had measured water quality levels of E-coli, which indicates fecal contamination in drinking water supplies. And we were able to look at how do these extreme events affect drinking water quality for households in Kenya. And we did see a relationship between high max temperature events and heavy total precipitation events and worse water quality in Kenya.
And so this really indicates that drinking water treatment is going to be a key mitigation strategy for managing future climate change in Africa. So now I'm gonna turn it over to Mark, who's gonna tell you about a technology that we've been working on in our lab. - Thank you so much.
So the challenge of getting safe water to everyone is not new to engineers, right? And oftentimes the solutions that have been proposed have taken the form of centralized systems. Some thinking of treatment plants, pressurized pipes, right? As well as household treatment technologies. So those could be filters or disinfection tablets.
But these unfortunately have some shortcomings. Not only are they cost prohibitive in that there's so much money that is needed to implement these strategies at large scale, but also we cannot discount the fact that some households cannot afford these technologies on a day to day basis, right? So we are trying to find out what solutions that we as engineers can propose to make sure that we can meet this need and ensure that safe water reaches all as per the sustainable goal development goal six, as you can see in the slide. Yes, when it comes to climate change, it's clear to see that these systems are also not resilient enough to combat the intermittent water supply as well as the contamination challenges that arise from these extreme weather events.
So we are trying to find a solution that lives in within that white space where costs and behavior change is not an inhibitor to ensuring that this technology that we provide is actually going to meet its target. And that brings us to the solution that we at the Pickering lab are fortunate enough to come up with. And basically we're thinking about not just the technology, but as well as the impacts that we believe this technology will have. So we're thinking about the effectiveness of this technology in real world applications, resilient enough to accommodate all these varying changes that we have been able to show. When it comes to scale, we're also thinking about the technological viability, the financial viability, and making sure that these are not inhibitors as well to our design.
So the device that we came up with, as you can see from the picture, is actually called a Venturis that's what we call it. It's an in-line chlorine doser. So basically it takes advantage or harnesses the principle of flowing water through a constriction, creating a negative pressure. So when that happens, it creates a suction. So that enables us to carry out automatic or almost no energy intensive disinfection.
So think of water flowing through a pipe and getting disinfected in real time. So without the need of electricity or expensive resources that may not be widely available to everyone. So the advantages of our technology, as you can see from the picture there, it's in the gray box, are that we are getting a precise dosing as well as it's compatible with the existing infrastructure.
So we believe it's going to be able to be scaled very easily at a low cost. So when we're thinking about the success, trying to guarantee the success of our device, we have to think about collaborations. We have to think about the implementation and the financial and economic setting in which we are going to have this impact. So as you can see a picture here with one of my colleagues called Charles in Kenya. So the Venturi is actually compatible with a public standpipe, as you can see in the picture. And this kind of picture, we can see that we are trying to not only carry out field tests in which we guarantee that the technology is going to work under different conditions, and it's resilient enough to actually continue to deliver the results that we have in the lab, but also in real scale, being able to implement it and install it in our target locations.
So thinking of schools, hospitals, where it's needed the most. So we're not discounting the fact that our financial viability is one of the things that we need to put into place. And we're trying to think about that in terms of what financial models can we use to guarantee the success of our device, as well as thinking about our partners, like in Kenya, we're looking at the care team as well as Davis and Shortle as facilitators on ground to make sure that we can get this product to as many people as possible. So we're thinking of mass manufacture as well as financial viability, as well as these implementation settings in which we hope to impact. So thinking about the potential of our innovation, right? Earlier on, we were able to see that over 2 billion people actually have systems that are vulnerable to contamination, that is actually being exacerbated by climate change, right? And we can see it disproportionally impacting Southeast Asia and Africa.
As you can see, more than 50% of the numbers are coming from there. And we can only imagine where this will go with climate change. And we're hoping that our device will be able to provide quote on quote to flatten the curve, to have more people decentralized strategies that are impactful to guarantee the success of our mission of clean water for all. Maybe we can do a few acknowledgements. Thank you. (audience applauds) - [Amy] Thanks so much.
So now I'd like to welcome our colleague Aaron Streets up for his presentation. (crowd applauds) - Okay, thanks. Good to see everybody in the audience today. I'm in the Department of Bioengineering, and I'm also a core faculty in the biophysics program and the computational biology program. And students in my lab, undergrads and graduate students come from all three of these departments, all four of these departments actually, because I'm also part of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences or QB3.
And my colleagues just before me gave some really beautiful presentations about how as engineers, we can collect data to quantify our environment and also quantify how the environment impacts our own health. And so the key point is here, all of these studies involve quantitative measurements to get an a qualitative understanding of what's happening. And so in my presentation, I'd like to sort of focus inwards, and I'd like to present two grand challenges related to how we use data to understand the complexity of our own body in the context of healthy development and also in the context of disease. So please silence yourself. I'm just joking. 20 years ago, we completed and I'm gonna put that in quotations, the Human Genome Project Bill Clinton made an announcement that we'd sequenced all of the 3 billion As, Ts, Cs, and Gs in the human genome and constructed a sequence, essentially a book describing our genetic code.
I put the human completed into parentheses because some of you may have seen the news within the past year that we just completed the full Human Genome Project. And the truth is in 2000, we had sequenced about 90% of our As, Cs, Ts, Gs. And in the past years, a consortium of scientists used new DNA sequencing techniques to sequence that last 10%. So what did we learn in the Human Genome Project? We learned a lot of things and we're still learning more. But the key point is first, what is the human genome? It's 3 billion As, Ts, Cs, and Gs.
A, T, C, and G refers to adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine. And the order of these letters in sequence make up our genetic code. It's consumed in about in 23 chromosomes, you've heard of 23 and me. And that genome codes about 20,000 genes. And so when we talk about the genome coding of gene, we're referring to a sequence of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs that can spell out using the code of life how a cell can construct a protein.
And so in the Human Genome Project, we learned, for example, that everybody in this room has a remarkably similar genome because we're all humans. And only small variations in certain points of that coding region that encode proteins, little variations lead to human variation, human genetic variations. So for example, changes in the sequence of letters for a handful of genes might determine our eye color or changes in the letters of a particular gene called the Huntington's gene might determine whether or not we're going to contract Huntington's disease, which is elongation of the Huntington's protein, which creates these amyloid plaques in our brain and leads to neuro degeneration. And by sequencing one's genome, even at birth, we can determine whether or not that person will get Huntington's disease. And in some cases, we can even determine when the symptoms will start to onset. So what's interesting about the human genome is it contains a lot of secrets, both of a healthy human and in a disease state.
But it turns out that if we look at variation across many different humans and ask questions like, how does variation in the genome correlate with variations in health or other traits and phenotypes, including likelihood to contract the disease? We'll see that the variation in the letters lays outside of those 20,000 genes that we know encode proteins. This human variation, a lot of it which leads to variation in health, is encoded in parts of the genome that we don't fully understand. So I wanna talk about two grand challenges that my lab is attempting to address through the development of new technology. One is, what does the rest of the genome mean? What does that almost 90% of the 3 billion As, Ts, Cs, and Gs that encode our genome, how do they lead to healthy human development? And how do they lead to disease? So again, most of the coding genes that we know how they work, they code proteins. And those proteins are the machines that cells use to perform the function they need for healthy maintenance of our life. But what happens when a cell in our body, we have not just, you know, a lot of the diseases that we'll encounter are diseases of cells.
They're, they're dysfunction of a cell that's critical for important healthy function. For example, Huntington's disease, is caused by a disruption of the function of neurons. Sickle cell is a disruption of our blood cells. And so in addition to understanding how the genome codes that information, another interesting question to ask is how is it that every cell in our body, of which there's trillions of cells, and in many different type, every cell in our body has that same genetic information, the same two copies of our 3 billion As, Ts, Cs and Gs, but every cell has the ability to read different parts of that genome and perform its different functions. And so my lab is interested in two questions. How is it that cells process information in our genome? How do cells go through and read those 3 billion letters, find the genes that are necessary for them to perform their function, and then, you know, encode those, translate those genes into proteins.
And also how many different kinds of cells are there, right? What is the cellular makeup of a healthy human or a human that's undergoing a particular disease? These are two huge data problems because before we can even begin to answer those questions, we need to know the ground truth. We need to be able to decode our genome, and we need to be able to identify the different types of cells in our body, of which there is so many. And so to address both of these problems, my lab uses a technique called microfluidic. Microfluidic devices are essentially the fluidic analog of the electric circuit of the microchip. You know, here we are in Silicon Valley, and for the past 50 years, we've had this booming industry of micro electronics where we've taken vacuum tube size transistors and shrunk them down to the nanometer scale so that we can make, put millions of transistors onto a chip and therefore make a microprocessor. The microfluidic industry has sort of rode on the back of that silicon industry.
We use the same techniques to make these microscale devices that can perform biochemical reactions in high throughput on a device that you can hold in your hand. And so we design and fabricate these devices in our lab so that we can sort through millions of cells in a single experiment and read out the DNA that those cells are using, and try to figure out how a cell is reading our DNA and expressing RNA from that code. And by making these kinds of multi parameter measurements on single cells, we hope to begin to understand how cells process genomic information and how to identify changes in cellular composition that arise from, you know, environmental impact or genetic variation. And so this is a really, I think, beautiful image from the MIT technology review that describes this endeavor of the human cell atlas. This sort of taxonomy goal to try to annotate and characterize the trillions of cells in our body and to really understand how genetic variation leads to variation in cellular composition, so that we can provide a blueprint for doctors when they're looking for solutions for genetic solutions or genetic genomic engineering solutions to either genetic diseases or diseases that are caused by exposure to environment and toxins.
So with that, I'd like to thank you, and I think we're gonna open up a panel so that we can start to ask some questions and continue the conversation. (crowd applauds) - All right, thank you all. I want you to make yourselves comfortable and I'll start out with just a, like one question for each of the panelists and then we'll open it up to questions from the audience just to get you all warmed up. Maybe I'll go and reverse order since Aaron spoke last. I'll start with you first, if you don't mind.
- Sure. - You mentioned, you know, we are, Berkeley certainly has contributed to the growth of Silicon Valley and so on. So with exponential pace of improvement in computing performance nowadays, you know, AI is becoming sort of and we can use machine learning to accelerate discovery. So I was wondering, maybe you could share with us how machine learning is impacting this effort to understand the genome. And just in general, how is machine learning impacting progress in biotechnology and biomedical sciences in general? - That's a great question.
Is, are we, can you hear me? Okay. Sure. Okay, great. This is a really good question, Tsu-Jae, hang on. I think historically when we tried to address the big data problem of human complexity, what we would do is we would take a single gene, maybe change one letter and look at the effect that that change had on one type of cell. But what I was showing you just now is that there are 20,000 genes and 3 billion letters and trillions of cells.
And so that one to one experimental process is just not sufficient to cover the complexity that exists in our genome. And so now we're able to do high throughput perturbations of genes, we can use CRISPR technologies to randomly change As, Ts, Cs, Gs, in systematic fashion. Then we can use microfluidics to read out the effect that those perturbations have on many different cell types. But that ends up giving us too much data to look at.
No graduate student can sit down and look at that spreadsheet with cells by genes and understand the relevant patterns. And so we rely on machine learning and AI to sort of devolve that complexity and find patterns in those kinds of experiments so that we can learn how different genetic variations lead to changes in cell function and how those genetic variations across human variation can give us sort of different likelihoods of contracting disease. That's a really good question. - Great, thanks so much.
Next I'll ask Amy. Well you've shown how climate change is really making it difficult for people exasperating the problem of access to clean water. What strategies should we be investing in today to mitigate the negative health effects of future climate change? - Great question. So I'll take this kind of in the context of the work that we've been doing to understand the burden of the problem in Africa. And so I would say that I think we really need to think about building resilient infrastructure.
And in particular what we've seen is that community access to electricity can actually mitigate this relationship between extreme temperature and precipitation events and the water fetching burden. And so, you know, communities that have access to electricity can then pump that water around and store water. And so that's one way I think that we can build resilience. And also there's tons of other benefits to having access to electricity as well. - Great.
And I know there's definitely research here at Berkeley addressing the challenge of providing energy in a sustainable manner in in sub-Saharan Africa. Thank you Amy. Okay, maybe Cesunica, I'll ask you the next question.
How will changing climate worsen air pollution exposure rates? - Thank you, Tsu-Jae. So we all know hopefully that climate change is real. We have one of the hottest heat waves in September. Did anyone experience that? (crowd laughs) Okay, well I'll tell you how that's gonna affect air pollution.
Well, temperature is directly proportional to the rate of reactions of chemicals in the atmosphere. So that's gonna produce more of those particles that I showed you, which increases our risk of exposure to that. And also changing climate is changing energy balances across the world. So less precipitation here, more precipitation there, which mediates how those particles are formed in the atmosphere.
So it's also gonna impact fuel moisture, soil moisture, which impacts the severity of wildfires. And wildfire smoke here in the Bay Area is an exposure to that smoke is a hot, is a risk factor for different air pollution related illnesses like asthma attacks and lung cancer. So we have to be vigilant over the next five to 20 years to make sure that we are properly cared for in this changing climate in regard to water quality, air quality, and disasters.
Thank you. - Thanks Cesunica. And that's a good segue into my question for Thomas. Yeah, how do we mitigate these disasters like wildfires? How are you, how can we facilitate adoption of new technologies innovations for disaster mitigation? - So another good question. Being here at Berkeley for so long, one of the things I've noticed looking around besides the students are getting younger every year, (crowd laughs) is that they're looking, the students are looking for more opportunities to apply what they're learning in the classroom to the real world.
So I think that that is kind of key to young people gaining experience and getting confidence early in their careers and to be able to facilitate and negotiate the transfer of technology from academia into the real world to help mitigate disasters such as wildfires. - All right, thanks so much Tom. I'm sure we have lots of questions from the audience. Why don't we give opportunity to our guests here to start asking questions. Please raise your hand and we'll pass the microphone to you. I know there's at least one in the back.
Thank you. - Hi, this a question for the particle. For the particle, the 2.5 particles which we all experience with wildfire smoke. Is there value in distinguishing what particle is there, you know, what particle is in that size range? Or is it just like anything in that size range is bad? - That's a great question. We do wanna know what's in it.
And so there is a whole group of researchers in my field that look at particle composition, the size, the viscosity. We get really down in the details. And so when we know chemical composition, we can identify where it comes from.
We can actually run cell assays to see how toxic it is to ourselves. So it's actually really important for us to know what's in that bulk aerosol. Great question. - [Crowd Member] Question over here.
- [Crowd Member 2] Hey, there. Is your science and are your labs being impacted by the increasing political fracturization in the US? - [Crowd Member] Dean Liu? (crowd laughs) - When, next question. - [Crowd Member] That might be a question for the dean. (crowd laughs) - It's a really...
It's a really good question. I mean, one interesting, you know, one of the things we rely on is government federal funding for research. And the budget of the NIH and NSF is dependent on what people, you know, what people vote on. But there's been this interesting trend over the past five years that's really, I think supplemented a lot of the, any potential deficiencies or lack of homogeneity across fields. And that's the private sector.
It turns out that a lot of people in the Silicon Valley that make a lot of extra money have started to give that money back to fundamental science. And so a big part of my lab is funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. They've, you know, facilitated Mark Zuckerberg have pledged to give half of their money back. And so we have benefited from that.
And there's a bunch of organizations off campus that have been donating and I'm sure some of my colleagues have received a lot of funding from the private sector as well. - [Crowd Member] We have a question down here. - [Crowd Member 3] Hi, thank you so much for your presentations today. It was really cool. I have a question for Dr. Streets specifically. I was wondering how much work does your lab do with precision medicine? Does your work with the human genome start intersecting into that or are you more on the side of just mapping it and do you work with other people who might use it for a cause like precision medicine? - That's a really good question.
Our lab is kind of focused on problems that are slightly upstream of the clinic. But over the past couple of years, I've benefited from interactions with UCSF. Our bioengineering graduate group is actually combined with UCSF. So students in our program can work at labs here or at UCSF. And because of the ability to take genetic or genomic information and turn that into therapies, for example, the ability to sequence the SARS COVID-2 genome and turn that into an mRNA vaccine quickly can also be mapped onto the potential of using CRISPR to engineer patient T cells. But the question is, what do we engineer those T cells to do? And so what my lab is doing is trying to understand how certain variations in genetics or epigenetics can lead to function of killer T cells.
And once we have those maps as you put it, then therapeutic genomic engineers can use that information to rapidly convert that information into therapies. And so I think we're closer than ever to the translation. - Hi, I have two questions for Dr. Azwell. Is your lab focused primarily on testing up and coming technology, or are you also involved in building new technologies for disaster mitigation? And for Dr. Ivey, are you guys doing anything with infrastructure related to electric vehicles? - Good. So I would say both.
There are a lot of technologies already out there that just are waiting for opportunities to get adopted. And I think what's limiting that is their ability to provide a proof of concept in a live fire event, for example. So we do a three to 400 acre controlled burn above the town of Novato every year. We do it twice to create a fire break between the wildland above the town and the town below and the people below. And this has been kind of our stage for field testing technologies.
Also stuff in the lab that is somewhat conceptual including graduate students that are in a fire lab that have never been to a live fire event. I've met PhD students that have never seen a live fire, but they are in a fire lab making fires every day. And so I think that is, yeah, so both existing and and future technologies. Thanks for the question. - Right, and thank you for the question about EV infrastructure.
That's a great question. I actually have a postdoc that works with me and her work is related to looking at how ambient exposures and ambient concentrations will change as a function of fleet turnover, right? Putting more EVs into personal passenger vehicles. But we also are working alongside community organizers who are interested in seeing how introducing EVs in the heavy duty fleet is going to impact pollution overall.
And honestly, the public is asking for heavy duty EVs. Because heavy duty vehicles are contributing to the most pollution that causes ozone and all kinds of particle formations. So that's a great question. - [Crowd Member] Question over here. - [Tsu-Jae] I just wanted to add, we do have other faculty and that's Cesunica and Amy's colleagues who are working to develop EV infrastructure. Yeah, thanks.
Okay. - This question is for Mr. Aaron Streets, although it can be extended to the rest of the panel as well.
The question has to do with the application, right, of the outcome of your research, right? Insights learning application, right? And the commercial world, right? So what kind of collaboration do you have with, say in your case, biotech companies or genetic startups, right? So how does that work? How actively you are engaged? - Yeah, I mean right now in bioengineering it's incredible opportunity for students to go from academia into the biotech sector. I think more than ever, not only our undergrads but our PhD students are coming in to Berkeley so that they can get a job in Silicon Valley in the biotech industry. And as a result we have a very fluid interaction with the biotech industry as well.
We're not only do we pay them a lot of money for their DNA sequencing machines, but we actively work with them to develop some of the newer technologies. And so we have well defined collaborations with some companies both in San Diego and up here in the Bay area to kind of develop some of the stuff before it gets to market to understand how it can be used. And then of course we also work with the Berkeley IP office to license, to disclose and patent our technology and then license it to industries that think that our inventions can be helpful. - [Tsu-Jae] Oh, would any of the other panelists like to add to that in terms of tech transfer commercialization of the technologies that you're innovating? - I can just add that we have a lot of partnerships with the private sector to commercialize technologies that we've worked on, but also with nonprofits to really think about how to, sometimes there's hybrid business models where a technology will work in the private sector but also needs to be subsidized to increase access to the safe water. - Over here. I wondered if you can comment on some of the tough questions you get from this generation about, cause y'all are dealing with things that maybe previous generations have done to mess up the planet.
So what do you get from your students? Any big discouragements or any frustration on the emotional part about trying to change the planet? (crowd laughs) - I'll take it. There is a mixture of disappointment but also hope. I find that the Berkeley students are super hopeful that their efforts are gonna make a difference.
But they also understand that things are kind of spiraling outta control and that, you know, and so in particular in one of my classes, we talk about these unintended consequences of our decisions both politically, economically, and socially. And I can point to the fact that the students seem hopeful even though they are doing a great job at interrogating what we're doing in the decisions we're making. - Hi, can you elaborate, each one of you, or one of you on the Berkeley climate makers, you know, programs that are being implemented within your programs or within your labs and probably the interdisciplinary programs or students you're bringing in from different disciplines to help move these technologies faster into commercialization.
- Sure. Well, I mean, yeah, I was just gonna pass this off because this is more about a climate question, but I think that you hit it on the head when you said interdisciplinary. I would be surprised if any of us didn't work with a range of students, not only in college of engineering but across the campus. I'm curious.
- Yeah, so I mean, one of my first symposiums I attended when I went to Berkeley as a student was about interdisciplinarity and the importance of it. What I found out it's hard. And so one of the things that we're doing is we're teaching challenge labs or X labs where we recruit students from across campus, have 'em work together in teams and learn how to ideate, innovate, and to pitch innovation. And so that, I think that those entrepreneurship programs, challenge labs, X labs are one of those vehicles for helping to facilitate that.
- And I'll just mention, I teach a project based course that brings together engineers with MBAs and also students from a bunch of other disciplines like public health to work on problems with community partners with the communities kind of like bring the problems to the students and then they work throughout the semester on an interdisciplinary solution. And it's really nice to see the MBAs collaborating with the engineers. And we've had a number of projects actually be spun off into startups through with that class. - [Tsu-Jae] I think we have time for one more question because I know that there's a busy homecoming schedule out there and we don't wanna make you late for the next one.
- Well, I hope this won't take forever. Talking about that collaboration, taking it a step further to a philosophical, polysci environmental type of thing. Where do you see the public's, and I don't even know how to word this, the public's knowledge. How do you raise awareness and coordination to help solve this overall project of climate change? You're doing little individual things that are gonna make a difference, but if we the public don't know about them or see some coordination of, then you get this doomsday type of thing. Oh well we're gonna have fires, we're gonna have hurricanes, we're gonna have this and this and this, and what are we gonna do about it? You're doing small things to help.
Where do you see the public or academia's responsibility collaborate with others to get people aware and move forward? - I would actually push back a little bit and argue that my colleagues are doing some very big things. (crowd laughs and claps) But no, no. But this is a really good question because impact only happens at the interface of the science that we do in the lab that can be very academic and technical and the public understanding support and adoption of that.
And one of the things I think is really important and Tsu-Jae's been a champion of this, is that in order for communication to be efficient between the academic sector and the public, scientists need to represent the public, need to make up the same diversity of experience and background that we have in our state of California and across the country. And I think that that's one of the challenges sometimes historically when we listen to pundits or scientists or politicians, there's not a connection between what they're saying and what our daily lives is. And I think across all fields, we're working to kind of shorten that gap by really bringing students in from all over the, not only the country, but the world, to bridge that communication gap. - Can I jump in on that one? There is a lot we can do and I'm gonna agree with my colleague. We can bring the science to the public by working with community organizers.
So there are groups all across the US that are fighting back both politically and socially. I'm a part of those groups. I go and I do the work they ask me to do.
I also testify at public hearings for zoning decisions, for industrial decisions. And I also make public comment to US representatives and senators who are pushing forth legislations like the Environmental Justice for All Act that will hopefully be voted on in Congress soon to protect folks like you. So mobilizing the public is how we should do it. (audience applauds) - All right. With that, I'd like to thank each of my colleagues for sharing their work with us today and I'd like to thank all of the alums parents, you know, students for joining us today. I hope you enjoy the rest of the homecoming weekend.
Go Bears. (crowd applauds)