Meet the spring 2019 Innovation Catalysts student grant winners

February 14, 2019 | 2:10 pm

The Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalysts, made possible by the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation, is a grant program that helps Berkeley’s student innovators unlock potential in their projects. Nine projects, representing the broad range of pursuits and disciplines in the Jacobs student community, were selected to join the latest grant cohort. The chosen projects sprung from various sources of inspiration, from a classroom to a camping trip, but all are united by a drive to use technology and design to benefit an individual, a community, or society at large.

This semester, the grantees will develop their projects, with the support of funding, mentorship, and other resources at Jacobs Hall and the CITRIS Invention Lab. Read more below about the the spring 2019 grant winners.

Ignite Grant Recipients

Ignite grants help push projects to the next stage, by providing support for students to refine existing prototypes with demonstrated potential for impact. Six Ignite projects will draw upon funding (up to $2000) and other grant resources to develop their projects further.

Assistive Glove for C6 Patients

Daisuke Kaneishi, Jessica En-Shiuan Leu, Julia O’Donnell, Bike Zhang

This team of students is building an assistive glove for a project partner who has a C6 complete spinal cord injury (C6-SCI), which affects control over his hand. Their project began in fall 2018 in the DES INV/MEC ENG course Upper-Limb Prosthesis Design. By the end of the term, they had built a prototype that their project partner could use to perform tasks that could not be done without the glove. The team will continue refining the glove’s design this semester based on feedback from their partner; some of their goals include having a more streamlined aesthetic and a design for fully independent donning and doffing.

Ava (Autonomous Vehicular Assistant)

Amay Saxena, Aaryaman Sen, Pancham Yadav

The Ava team is rejoining the Innovation Catalysts program to continue their fall project–a personal robotic assistant for self-driving fleets. They begin this semester with a robot prototype that has the ability to show several behavior patterns and responses through a screen showing a pair of eyes, and a software prototype that allows it to track people in its vicinity and perform facial sentiment analysis. This spring, the team will conduct extensive user testing in ride-sharing vehicles, dive more deeply into design for manufacturing, and share what they have learned about rapid prototyping with other students.

Brain Saving Catheter

Tatiana Jansen, Justin Olshavsky, Robert Schultz, Aurko Shaw, Bridget Vaughan

The Brain Saving Catheter is the second fall Ignite project selected to continue in the spring cohort. The catheter reduces the potential for neurological dysfunction and brain death in the event of a cardiac arrest, by providing the flow of cold fluid towards the brain. Last semester, the team successfully created components of a to-scale functional prototype and tested them in a benchtop environment as well as on two porcine models. This spring, they will take what they learned in the fall about 3D printing, fluid dynamics, physiology, and thermodynamics to bring their prototyped components together in a minimum-viable-product (MVP) catheter for further animal studies. In addition to the Ignite grant, they have the support of cardiac surgeons and neurosurgeons who have granted their team lab space, advice, and ethical animal access.


Revekka Kostoeva, Janaki Vivrekar, Zuojun Zheng

Members of the deaf and hard of hearing (D/HoH) community express unique and varied challenges to enjoying music, from songs with lyrics that are hard to understand to ones with a bass balance is that too low. The Vibrato team developed a mobile app in their fall 2018 course COMPSCI 160 User Interface Design to improve music experiences for those in the D/HoH community. Through haptic vibration, adjustable bass and volume levers, and on-screen visualization with lyrics, the app synthesizes the tactile, auditory, and visual components of musical experiences into one interface. This semester, the team will continue refine their app and conduct additional user testing, as well as explore avenues for expanding the experience beyond Android mobile technology.

Museum of Tomorrow

Jessica W. Ho, Isabella Martin, Kashfia Nehrin, Julia O’Donnell, KJ Zhao

The idea for Museum of Tomorrow began forming after its founder studied how tangible innovative designs can effectively communicate intangible issues. The team is using this concept to address climate change, as they found that 36% of surveyed Berkeley students felt paralyzed when thinking about this issue; the amount of information and how it is presented can be overwhelming and hinder changes on a personal level. Through several interactive, Instagrammable, action-oriented exhibits and a behavioral change challenge, the team aims to transform students’ mindset toward climate change from negative and depressing into fun and empowering.

Polar Ceramic Extrusion 3D Printer

Tina Piracci

Intrigued by the role of robotics in contemporary ceramics, Tina started to design, code and fabricate a large-scale ceramic extrusion 3D printer for her undergraduate thesis; the printer came with her when she came to Berkeley to pursue her MArch degree. Unlike traditional printers, hers runs on a polar system, meaning the base rotates and the printer arm moves inward and outward. The rotating base allows for uniform drying and also references traditional ceramic methods. The current prototype can produce a 12 inch tall object, but at its full potential could create objects up to 30 inches cubed. Tina will use grant resources to make hardware and software upgrades to her prototype, so that it can realize its full potential.

Spark Grant Recipients

Spark grants provide up to $500, as well as other resources, for early-stage projects or experimental concepts. Three creative ideas will come to life this spring with the support of the Innovation Catalysts.

AR-FE: An Intuitive Augmented Reality Architecture for Real-Time Finite Element Analysis

Harsh Raj Chauhan

Traditional techniques for engineering structural analysis, like Finite Element Analysis (FEA), have limitations; for instance, their computer-generated graphic environments use approximated loading conditions that do not match real-life conditions, and they can be inaccessible to a layperson. Harsh aims to improve upon these traditional approaches with new technologies. His project uses Augmented Reality (AR) technology to combine IOT (Internet of Things) sensor measurements with real-time FEA simulations. He hopes that the resulting AR-FE system architecture will provide an intuitive, virtual environment for iterative design of engineering structures that can respond to real-time loading scenarios.

Binary Marbles

Jace Bruner, Bianca Champenois, Liam Kreiss

The Binary Marbles team will use their grant to create a mechanical binary calculator that performs mathematical operations using marbles, gates, and gravity–representing how computers function with electrical signals. The team initially developed their idea after Liam and Jace took the course COMPSCI 61C Machine Structures and were inspired to make computer science concepts more accessible. The trio of students, all passionate about math and education, hope their project will provide viewers a better, tangible understanding of how computational machines work.


Braeden Swidenbank

Braeden will use his grant to develop an initial prototype of a lightweight VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) drone that combines the long-haul efficiency of a fixed-winged aircraft and the controllability of a quadcopter, resulting in a drone that can handle longer flight times with heavier payloads than those that currently exist. The inspiration for this idea came to him during an outdoor trip, during which he thought about how useful a long-range supplies delivery drone would be to a hiker in the backcountry. Braeden will use his grant to run tests to steer the design process of such a drone, including tests on stability, EDF (Electric Ducted Fans) viability, and VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing).

Topics: 3D printing, Apps, Assistive technology, Health, Internet of Things, Mobility, Robotics, Sustainability, Virtual reality/augmented reality