Five teams of students are getting into tech for social good projects

From living solar panels to education to digital storytelling for formerly incarcerated, UC Santa Cruz students are tackling today’s pressing issues through technological innovation.

The UCSC Center for Information Technology Research for the Benefit of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute and UCSC Institute for Social Transformation have partnered to support student projects aimed at creating technology that promotes healthy, sustainable, prosperous and equitable livelihoods around the world, as part of the Tech for Social Good program.

Teams of at least two undergraduate, graduate, and/or postdoctoral students were tasked with addressing national and global poverty, sustainability, government responsiveness, and civic engagement, or improving the education. Five student projects have been selected for funding this year and will present their work at the Tech for Social Good Showcase event in June.

living solar panels

The Living Solar Panels project explores the potential of cacti as a carbon-neutral renewable energy source due to the unique properties of the photosynthesis process in plants. When a cactus photosynthesizes, an imbalance of hydrogen ions occurs in the plant that can be measured as voltage – the student team hopes to harvest this as energy via a patch they invented. Twenty prickly pears from the UCSC farm will serve as a test bed for this project over the next two years.

Team:
• Charlie Chesney, Graduate, Environmental Studies
• Angelina Powers, undergraduate, human biology
• Joe Zheng, Undergraduate, Cell and Developmental Biology and Biotechnology
• Erin Langness, Undergraduate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
• Josh Sachs, Undergraduate, Computer Science

Visualize the impact of wildfires

A team of students plans to take advantage of recent developments in commercial virtual reality (VR) technology to simulate the impact of wildfires. In partnership with the UCSC Social Emotional Technology Laboratory (SET) within the Computational Media Department of Baskin Engineering and the Soga Research Group at UC Berkeley, the team will use virtual reality tools to provide more accessible information. on the impact of forest fire traffic, risk assessment and smoke spread.

Team:
• Samir Ghosh, Graduate, Computational Media
• Saranya Elangovan, Undergraduate, Information Technology and Science
• Samantha Wang, undergraduate, physics
• Pakhi Sinha, undergraduate, computer science
• Kyle Ko, Undergraduate, Neuroscience
• Chris Avila, Undergraduate, Earth Sciences
• Kit Rao, undergraduate, chemistry and applied physics

Gateways Digital Media Classes

The Gateways Project, which began in 2019, envisions a new model of education to address the high barriers to community reintegration of incarcerated people. Two Everett Program students and fellows will continue the project’s work on developing methods of digital storytelling, including filmmaking, story mapping, social media campaigns, and graphic design. They will then be able to connect and learn with incarcerated community members while sharing these new skills.

Team:
• Katheline Vanegas, License, Sociology with GISES
• Nadia Vazquez, Undergraduate, Business Management Economics

Low cost sensor hardware for fuel cell microbial monitoring and data collection

Microbial fuel cells are an emerging technology that harvest energy from bacteria that live in the soil and can therefore serve as a renewable energy source for agricultural sensing networks. A team of students plans to test the effectiveness of microbial fuel cells in environments with varying conditions such as soil texture and nutrients, temperature, soil moisture, and electrical conductivity to advance the technology for a low-cost, low-power agricultural detection system.

Team:
• Sonia Naderi, Postdoctorate, Electrical and Computer Engineering
• John Madden, Undergraduate, Robotics Engineering
• Brian Govers, Graduate, Electrical and Computer Engineering
• Stephen Taylor, Undergraduate, Robotics Engineering

Serious web-based trauma-aware yoga game for remote treatment of PTSD

Trauma-sensitive yoga has been shown to be an effective strategy for treating PTSD in some patients, but barriers to accessing in-person classes limit treatment potential. Four students plan to create a remote version of trauma-aware yoga accessible with a simple web browser and webcam that will provide interactive and individualized care to its users.

Team:
• Samuel Shields, Graduate, Computer Media
• Ramon Rubio, Undergraduate, Network and Digital Technology
• Maxim Kuznetzov, Graduate, Computer Media
• Likha Pulido, Undergraduate, Computer Engineering

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