Campus dedicates new state-of-the-art CITRIS research headquarters
Public-private collaboration hailed as 'engine of economic growth'
| 2 March 2009
BERKELEY — Ceremonial ribbon-cuttings by definition offer pomp, but seldom the circumstances for amazement. Friday's dedication of Sutardja Dai Hall, however, had it all: distinguished speakers, guided tours, and demos of socially useful, occasionally jaw-dropping inventions — from smart thermostats to a life-saving firefighting system to an ingenious kit for diagnosing disease in remote areas.
|. (Peg Skorpinski photos)|
More than 600 people turned out for the festive dedication of the facility — a 141,000-square foot, state-of-the-art building in the northeast quadrant of campus, where the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Dado and Maria Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley will be headquartered.
CITRIS is one of four public-private institutes for science and innovation, each with its own research theme, launched in 2001 by former Gov. Gray Davis, who spoke at the dedication. At Sutardja Dai Hall, researchers from the UC Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz campuses, as well as Berkeley, will use information technology, such as sensors and transmitters, to address social problems, and will collaborate with industrial partners to streamline the path to commercialization of their innovations.
Visitors got a first-hand look at the stunning new facility — its 149-seat auditorium, cybercafé, technology museum, distance-learning classrooms, and Marvell Nanofabrication Laboratory, whose two large cleanrooms are equipped with some of the world's most advanced semiconductor-fabrication equipment. The lab is named for the Santa Clara-based manufacturing company founded by Weili Dai and Sehat and Pantas Sutardja, three Cal engineering alums for whom the building takes its name.
"In these walls, brilliant, well-trained minds will take a delicate prototype, and then, with robust engineering, create a more vital, proven concept" from which a start-up company and eventually a whole industries can grow, predicted Paul Wright, director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute. Such a process, at this time of economic crisis, can help reignite the economy in California and beyond, he said.
As illustration, Wright held up a tiny device, consisting of a microchip, radio, and sensors, developed by campus researchers in the late '90s. Reports on the technology "could have sat in academic libraries, but instead, because of the ecosystem of CITRIS," innovators in a variety of fields turned it into commercially viable inventions.
One is a "smart," wireless "programmable communicating thermostat," which home and commercial-building owners can program to communicate with the utility company, so as to automatically adjust their energy use to increase efficiency and avoid electric-grid overloads. Tim Simon, founder of Golden Power Manufacturing, said he learned of the new technology from CITRIS researchers, and is now selling more than a million of the thermometers annually.
The opening of Sutardja Dai Hall represents "an incredible milestone, nearly a decade in the making," said major donor Dado Banatao, founder of Tallwood Venture Capital and chair of the College of Engineering Advisory Board. As immigrants from the Philippines, he said, "CITRIS's focus on global partnerships means a great deal" to himself and his wife, Maria, a trustee of the UC Berkeley Foundation. "I believe that American universities such as UC Berkeley can become even stronger by engaging in substantial collaborations with overseas partners."
The center's potential role as an engine of economic growth was noted throughout the day. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said CITRIS promises to serve society "by improving people's health, protecting the environment, and conserving our energy resources — and by smart kind of economic growth that the country will need in the 21st century."
Turning research innovations into "new waves of economic growth" is "exactly what we need today," noted UC President Mark Yudof. "This is not the time to pass over and decline to invest in innovation and technology which in the long run will bring this economy back."