Bakar fellows

Fostering disruptive technologies

Customized models of brain and heart vasculature; making visible the phase change of cells on low resolution optics; a wearable device to improve pediatric imaging; and finding alternatives to dyeing denim — all are engineering projects spawned by the 2015 Bakar Fellows program. Started in 2012 by Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research, the campuswide program aims to translate novel applied research into commercially viable properties.

Selected from a pool of early career faculty in engineering sciences, Bakar Fellows receive $75,000 a year for five years to support research that could potentially impact California’s economy. The faculty members featured below are among the 16 Bakar Fellows who currently receive support from the program.

  • “Medical imaging provides us with a patient’s unique vascular anatomy, and from this we can solve for blood flow and pressure in each area. We can then use this modeling to predict how conditions might change if an intervention is performed,” says mechanical engineering assistant professor Shawn Shadden, who develops computational tools to model how blood flows through the vascular system — research that could one day lead to modeling treatment options following a stroke or heart attack. “Science is one thing, but when you talk about making clinical advances, there are so many steps you need to take. Besides working with regulatory agencies, you need to know how to identify and protect the core intellectual property, and connect with the investors and other scientists who have created start-ups,” he says.
  • Laura Waller, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences (EECS), builds software to serve as the equivalent of Photoshop for the microscopic world. Waller’s algorithms convert large amounts of visual data into high-resolution images critical for medical diagnostics. “We use ‘cheap and dirty’ optics to achieve the results of expensive, highly corrected microscopes,” she says. “Imaging labs probably already have the needed hardware, so they would only need the software.”
  • Associate EECS professor Ana Claudia Arias is addressing the shortcomings of imaging techniques for children too small or wiggly to obtain good results. With EECS colleague Miki Lustig, Arias embeds radio frequency coils needed to get an MRI signal into flexible materials to be worn by the smallest patients. The technology is able to produce results as good as conventional methods. Arias eventually wants to develop image sensors to be sewn into blankets. “When you see kids in the hospital, it’s scary for them — when they’re in a blanket, it’s a much more comforting experience,” she says. “We want to swaddle them.”
  • Assistant professor of bioengineering John Dueber aims to reform a dirty $66 billion industry by scaling a better way to produce the indigo dye commonly used in the manufacture of denim. Dueber and his team of students have used lab-based methods to convert indigo from plants to a blue dye to replace petroleum-based synthetic dyeing techniques. “Students want to make a difference with their research,” Dueber says. “We’re still going to focus our research on academically interesting questions, but when there are industrial applications, we want to be aware of that. We’d all like to see our indigo research lead to greener blue jeans.”

Reach the editors at berkeleyengineer@berkeley.edu