The University of California, Berkeley was founded in 1868. A public university, Berkeley’s academic research reflects pressing global challenges in the areas of health, energy, and the environment.

In 1931, the College of Engineering was established but even prior to that, a number of technology milestones were achieved.

  • 1887: Earth sciences professors set up the Western Hemisphere’s first string of seismographic stations to systematically record seismic activity and publish earthquake records.

  • 1907: Chemistry professor Frederick G. Cottrell developed an electrical precipitation device to clean smokestack emissions. It is still in use today.

  • 1924: Chemist Joel H. Hildebrand formulates a mixture of helium and oxygen for deep-sea diving, enabling divers to explore deeper into the sea than ever before without experiencing “the bends.”

  • 1952: Physicist Hugh Bradner invents the first wetsuit that transforms commercial, military, and recreational deep-sea diving and understanding of oceans.

  • 1961: Charles Dalziel, electrical engineering and computer sciences professor, invents a ground-fault interrupter, a device now found in virtually every home and building to protect people from electrical shocks caused by defects in appliances or grounding systems.

  • 1972: A team develops the Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis (SPICE) — a tool that, along with its derivatives, has been used in the design of almost every integrated circuit since its invention.

  • 2011: Neuroscientists led by Jack Gallant are the first to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to reconstruct from brain waves what a person is seeing, opening the door to possibly watching other people’s dreams or visual memories.

A new device combines wearable biosensors with artificial intelligence software to help recognize what hand gesture a person intends to make based on electrical signal patterns in the forearm. The device paves the way for better prosthetic control and seamless interaction with electronic devices. (Image courtesy of the Rabaey Lab)

Engineering Departments

Berkeley Engineering encompasses eight focus areas:

Bioengineering

Bioengineering applies engineering principles of design and analysis to biological systems and biomedical technologies.

Bioinstrumentation – This focus is the measurement and manipulation of parameters within biological systems; for example, instrumentation for imaging, disease diagnosis, and therapeutics.

Biomaterials– This includes living tissue and artificial materials used for the repair, replacement, and stimulation of biological systems.

Cell & Tissue Engineering – Cell and tissue engineering centers on the application of physical and engineering principles to understand and control cell and tissue behavior. Two areas in which the department has established leadership are cellular mechanobiology — which focuses on understanding the interaction and conversion between force-based and biochemical information in living systems — and stem cell engineering, which includes platforms to expand, implant, and mobilize stem cells for tissue repair and replacement.

Computational Biology – This area focuses on the application of computational techniques to problems in molecular biology, genomics, and biophysics. Using tools adapted from computer science, mathematics, statistics, physics, chemistry, and other quantitative disciplines, computational biologists address a wide variety of problems ranging from analysis of protein structure and function, to management of clinical data.

A new way to reinforce concrete with a polymer lattice was developed — an advance that could improve concrete’s ductility while reducing the material’s carbon emissions. A 3D printer created the polymer lattice reinforced beams. This image shows that when tested under bending, the beams are highly flexible and most of the cracks are blunted by the lattice.

Systems & Synthetic Biology – Systems biology approaches living systems as interactive, multifaceted networks rather than as a collection of individual units. Synthetic biology seeks to build parts, devices, and systems from biological components. The goals of these efforts can include using microorganisms to synthesize materials of medical or industrial value and even to repurpose bacteria to fight disease.

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) conducts research in evolving and vital areas that address societal needs for well-designed and well-operated buildings, energy, transportation, and water systems. These critical systems must be reliable and resilient in the face of hazards such as earthquakes and flooding.

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Research areas include artificial intelligence, robotics, cyber-physical systems, energy, human-computer interaction, integrated circuits, MEMS, physical electronics, security, and signal processing.

Engineering Science

Engineering Science consists of closely related fields in the natural sciences, mathematics, physics, and engineering.

Industrial Engineering & Operations Research

Optimization, stochastics, and data science are combined to enable transformative decision analytics and technologies. Researchers investigate mathematical tools, approaches, and methodologies to make new theoretical discoveries and innovations that touch nearly every industry, making them more efficient and profitable in areas such as supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, data science, energy systems, robotics, and management.

A device makes 3D printing of biomaterials, like organs and food, more viable. The device uses identical printers to create multiple layers simultaneously and then stacks them one on top of the other to form the 3D structure. (Photo: Gideon Ukpai, UC Berkeley)

Materials Science & Engineering

Materials Science and Engineering encompasses all natural and synthetic materials — their extraction, synthesis, processing, properties, characterization, and development for technological applications. Optimized materials are utilized in medical device and healthcare industries, the energy industries, electronics and photonics, transportation, advanced batteries and fuel cells, and nanotechnology.

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering includes biomechanical engineering, controls, design, dynamics, energy science, fluids, manufacturing, mechanics, MEMS and nano, and robotics.

Nuclear Engineering

The field of nuclear engineering, including clean fusion energy and nuclear medicine, can alleviate the adverse environmental effects of other energy sources and greatly improve human health and welfare. Focus areas here include nuclear physics, computational methods, fuel cycles and radioactive waste, and laser technologies.

UC Berkeley Engineering Technologies

While many cities and eight states have banned single-use plastics, bags and other polyethylene packaging still clog landfills and pollute rivers and oceans. A new chemical process developed at UC Berkeley converts polyethylene plastic into a strong and more valuable adhesive. The chemical process keeps many of the original properties of polyethylene but adds a chemical group to the polymer that makes it stick to metal — something polyethylene normally does poorly. The modified polyethylene can even be painted with water-based latex. Other catalysts could work with other types of plastics, such as the polypropylene found in recycled plastic bottles, to produce higher-value products that are economically attractive.

An instrument captures carbon dioxide from the air and converts it to useful organic products. At left is the chamber containing the nanowire/bacteria hybrid that reduces CO2 to form acetate; at right is the chamber where oxygen is produced. (UC Berkeley photo by Peidong Yang)

More than 75 million people worldwide suffer from glaucoma — the leading cause of irreversible blindness. The majority of these patients lack a proper and consistent medication routine. The UC Berkeley team developed a smart device to track patients’ eye drop medication adherence. The smart eye drop bottle holder incorporates multiple onboard sensors paired with an algorithm to actively monitor the timing of medication administration. The data is collected via an integrated patient-physician smartphone application.

Scientists developed a CRISPR-based COVID-19 diagnostic test that, with a smartphone camera, provides a positive or negative result in 15 to 30 minutes. Unlike many other available tests, this test also gives an estimate of viral load, or the number of virus particles in a sample, which can help doctors monitor the progression of a COVID-19 infection and estimate how contagious a patient might be.

Concrete is cheap, abundant, and strong under compression but notoriously weak under tension. To address concrete’s brittleness, a team developed a way to reinforce concrete with a polymer lattice, which could both improve concrete’s ductility and reduce the material’s carbon emissions. The team used a 3D printer to construct octet lattices from polymer, then filled them with ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC). The result is a material that is four times stronger than conventional concrete.

An ultrathin metalens uses an array of tiny, connected titanium waveguides that resembles a fishnet to focus light at wavelengths spanning from the visible to the infrared with record-breaking efficiencies. On the right is a schematic of a single waveguide. (UC Berkeley graphic courtesy Boubacar Kanté)

A research team created a new flexible armband that combines wearable biosensors with artificial intelligence software to help recognize what hand gesture a person intends to make based on electrical signal patterns in the forearm. The device can read the electrical signals at 64 different points on the forearm. These signals are then fed into an electrical chip programmed with an AI algorithm capable of associating these signal patterns in the forearm with 21 specific hand gestures including a thumbs-up, a fist, a flat hand, holding up individual fingers, and counting numbers. The device paves the way for better prosthetic control and seamless interaction with electronic devices.

An ultrathin, compact, flat optical lens spans wavelengths from the visible to the infrared with record-breaking efficiencies. The photonic system with the entire rainbow has been proposed and demonstrated with efficiencies greater than 70% in the visible-infrared region of the spectrum. The Fishnet-Achromatic-Metalens (FAM) utilizes a complex “fishnet” of tiny, connected waveguides with a gradient in dimensions, which focuses light on a single point on the other side of the lens, regardless of the incident wavelength. It has use in applications like solar energy, medical imaging, and virtual reality.

Technology Transfer

The Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Research Alliances (IPIRA) establishes multifaceted collaborations with companies. The Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) maximizes the commercialization of UC Berkeley innovations by establishing relationships and contractual agreements. More than 600 products and 240 startup companies have been born out of technology licensed by the OTL.

To license UC Berkeley technologies, contact Laleh Shayestech, Senior Licensing Officer, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 510-642-4537. Learn more here .


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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