Innovation as an engine for peace

Be it the economy, climate change or health care reform, what are we not worried about these days? There are so many weighty priorities on our minds and, in fact, the College of Engineering is working to address many of these. But I hope this issue of Innovations helps you step back to see an even bigger picture.

Here, you’ll meet three Berkeley engineers working in parts of the world where their engineering solutions will make a big difference. For example, you’ll read about an unlikely location for an Israeli–Palestinian summit of sorts: the Jerusalem lab of mechanical engineering professor Boris Rubinsky. The diplomats in this case are Jewish and Arab students collaborating to invent medical devices and procedures that can extend health care to underserved populations.

When it comes to the important business of creating economic opportunity and improving living standards, societies in conflict can set aside their differences and seek solutions in common. I call this phenomenon “technological innovation as an engine for peace.” I’ve seen it in Boris Rubinsky’s lab and in several other partnerships under way here in the college.

In March 2008, the mechanical engineering department signed an agreement with the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia to help recruit faculty, design curriculum and conduct joint research on topics of concern to both the West and the Middle East. KAUST was founded as an international graduate-level research institution, open to men and women from all cultures—a hub of diversity in the midst of a long-homogeneous region.

Two years later, KAUST boasts a student body that is unusually high in female representation as well as a full slate of research projects conducted with global partners that address energy efficiency, water desalination and biofuel synthesis. As Ahmad O. Al-Khowaiter, KAUST’s vice president for economic development, says, “Our goal is to kick-start an innovation-based economy.”

President Bill Clinton, who spoke on campus last month as a guest of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, used another word to describe what should be our collective goal: communitarianism. “We are in an interdependent world,” he said, “and we will either make a community of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities, or we will pay the price. What we do affects others. What others do affects us.”

I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Albert P. “Al” Pisano
Acting Dean, College of Engineering
FANUC Professor of Mechanical Systems
Email Acting Dean Pisano