Big Ideas @ Berkeley winners announced

May 3, 2011
By: Big Ideas @ Berkeley

Big Ideas @ Berkeley, an annual student competition at the University of California, Berkeley, is pleased to announce its 2011 contest winners.

The five-year-old contest challenges student teams to develop projects aimed at solving the world’s most pressing problems. With their winning projects, students will be deploying a mobile technology to allow users to safely and anonymously report crimes, recovering kinetic energy lost during braking in hybrid and plug-in electric automobiles, empowering scientists in developing countries to construct quality lab equipment, expanding access to dental care for underserved communities in the Bay Area, perfecting a novel microgrid system to deliver ultra affordable electricity access in developing economies -- and much more!

More than 50 teams won awards in the 2011 Big Ideas @ Berkeley contest. Selected from more than 200 entries, they will share a total of $265,000 in prizes. This year’s student winners come from departments all over campus, and from majors such as Business, Public Health, Social Welfare, Engineering and Biology.

This year’s competition inspired ideas in categories including biodiesel, emerging and neglected diseases, energy efficient technology, global poverty alleviation, green chemistry, improving student life, information technology for society, safe water, social entrepreneurship, and social justice & community engagement.

“Big Ideas @ Berkeley is instrumental in engaging students in shaping the next generation of research, education and service on our campus and across the world,” noted Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering. “The program provides concrete support to encourage students to set and meet ambitious goals with real impact.”

By identifying UC Berkeley students with promising ideas and providing them the funding, advice and connections they need to succeed, Big Ideas has produced remarkable results. Past Big Ideas winners are developing water purification systems, perfecting low-cost solar heaters, building mobile digital devices that improve literacy, and diagnosing malaria in remote villages using a cell phone equipped with a compact microscope. Closer to home, Big Ideas winners have been adding important classes to UC Berkeley’s curriculum and leading campus sustainability efforts.

Fermin Reygadas, a student at UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group, credits Big Ideas for contributing the inspiration and resources to turn his idea of providing safe drinking water to villages in Mexico into a reality. "Big Ideas @ Berkeley has been a key player in Cal’s innovative efforts to support student-led projects as they seek to transform the world,” said Reygadas. “Big Ideas @ Berkeley supported our project by connecting us with advisors in academia and industry that directly contributed to the development of our work.”

"Big Ideas was probably the most significant driver for us starting Back to the Roots," noted Nikhil Arora, a co-founder of the unique company focused on bringing sustainable grow-at-home products into households across the country. "It convinced us and gave us the momentum and security to take what was a college project and turn it into a business that is now diverting 1 million pounds of waste per year.”

Big Ideas @ Berkeley is made possible through the generosity of many supporters, in particular the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Family Foundation. A complete list of the 2011 sponsors is included in the table.

A fact sheet with all the winners is at

2011 Big Ideas Competition Sponsors

  • Andrew and Virginia Rudd Family Foundation
  • Associated Students of the University of California
  • Blum Center for Developing Economies
  • Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases
  • Center for Information Technology for Society
  • Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership
  • Rosenfeld Fund for Sustainable Development
  • Science Technology & Engineering Policy Group
  • Sustainable Products & Solutions Program
  • Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs