The Berkeley Education Alliance for Research in Singapore (BEARS) is part of an innovative research model launched in partnership with Singapore’s National Research Foundation. The foundation is supporting 10 of the world’s best research institutions with ample funding, space and opportunities to scale their investigations beyond the lab.
The goal of the ambitious project is to hasten the global pace of discovery, increase collaboration between engineers and scientists and translate their findings and technology into real world applications as quickly as possible. Berkeley is one of two partners from the United States. (The other is MIT.)
Founded in late 2011, BEARS is a nonprofit research-oriented corporation in Singapore—the only international entity like it in the UC system—that is owned by the UC Regents and sponsored by the College of Engineering. At the Berkeley campus, BEARS is programmatically linked to the Center for Research in Energy Systems Transformation (CREST).
Costas Spanos, an EECS professor and the new director of CITRIS, is the CEO of BEARS. He is also the principal investigator of one of BEARS’ two projects.
“This is a unique opportunity to execute, entirely under our own control, programs that will make a difference, at a scale that will make a difference. Thanks to this, we have one of the largest academic research programs in the world pursuing smart buildings,” Spanos says. “The program will allow us to address global problems.”
To foster the collaborative environment, Singapore’s National Research Foundation recently finished construction on CREATE, the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise, which is spread over four large buildings. CREATE houses 1,200 researchers from all over the world. Projects range from health care applications and low-carbon technologies to smart infrastructure and new advanced materials.
In 2013, the new lab was named “Laboratory of the Year” by R&D Magazine.
To hasten the pace of ideas from the lab bench to deployable devices, the National Research Foundation has the support of other branches of government. “Singapore is well-regulated,” Spanos says, “but they are very nimble with changing regulations, so they become a test bed for trying new ideas at scale.”
The BEARS project that Spanos is leading is called Singapore-Berkeley Building Efficiency and Sustainability in the Tropics (SinBerBEST).
Started in January 2012, SinBerBEST comprises 10 Berkeley faculty and about 20 graduate students and postdocs. The team collaborates with roughly 70 researchers based at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.
At CREATE, the SinBerBEST team is constructing a 1,000-square-foot proving ground—essentially a building within a building—to test new building technologies. “People often talk about the ‘agile’ building system,” Spanos says. “Well, this lab will be a true prototype of these concepts.”
Since the building is inside a lab and the rooms are widely configurable, researchers can simulate externalities like weather and daylight during their experiments. “This allows testing to happen much faster,” Spanos says.
Of particular interest to the researchers are building technologies applicable to tropical environments, where 40 percent of the world’s population lives. In the new lab, the team will build and prototype energy-efficient façades, translucent concrete to maximize light and minimize heat, smart grid and power-flow management technology, and systems to improve indoor air quality and comfort.
The second BEARS project, the Singapore-Berkeley Research Initiative for Sustainable Energy (SinBeRISE), was launched in fall 2012 and is led by Executive Associate Dean Fiona Doyle. Doyle serves as both the primary principal investigator for SinBeRISE and as chief academic officer for BEARS. She is investigating new materials for use in converting the sun’s photons into liquid fuels and for building next-generation photovoltaic systems.
BEARS is fully funded for its first five years, with a possibility of extending beyond that. “Singapore has a very coherent long-term research plan,” Spanos says. In the meantime, faculty and graduate students from both countries are availing themselves of the new research opportunities. “There is quite a bit of traffic between the two countries,” he says.
Additional reporting by Thomas Walden Levy