Dean’s note: Rising to the challenge

April 14, 2020
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Spring 2020

As I write this in early April, our world is in the midst of a public health emergency and economic crisis unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. Like millions of people around the globe, I’m distressed as I see countries, communities and families struggling as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow.

This will not be a short-lived crisis, and it will require everyone to come together as citizens, innovators and problem-solvers.

Although the predictions of how this might unfold are continuously changing, it is clear that, as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, the coronavirus pandemic is the greatest global challenge since World War II. This will not be a short-lived crisis, and it will require everyone to come together as citizens, innovators and problem-solvers.

It gives me hope that we’re seeing heroic efforts in abundance: doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals treating the sickest of patients; truck drivers ferrying needed supplies; grocery clerks keeping stores running; cleaners sanitizing public spaces.

Dean Tsu-Jae King LiuAs engineers, this is our fight, too. Using our knowledge and technical skills, we can help to address the myriad challenges that arise during this pandemic, and we can also have an enormous impact on alleviating the suffering and hardships that this crisis brings.

I’m already witnessing impressive efforts from the Berkeley Engineering community: Bin Yu, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and of statistics, is creating algorithms to track medical supplies as well as public health data; mechanical engineering associate professor Grace O’Connell is exploring how to convert machines used to treat sleep apnea into ventilators; bioengineering professor Amy Herr is evaluating methods to sterilize N95 masks; and electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Michel Maharbiz is developing software tools to enable remote operation of ventilators to reduce healthcare workers’ exposure to the virus.

Those are just a few of the projects underway that illustrate the spirit of public service and societal impact so ingrained in our DNA at Berkeley.

All of us — including our students — are experiencing tremendous disruption to our work and increasing uncertainty in our lives. But amid these challenges, I see enormous opportunities for doing good. Whether we’re collaborating with others to innovate ways to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, or supporting the professors, students, researchers and staff within our college community, each one of us can make a positive difference. Now more than ever, society needs engineers to design and implement solutions for the benefit of our globally interconnected society.

Tsu-Jae King Liu
Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering