6 multicampus, interdisciplinary projects selected for 2023 CITRIS Seed Awards

Collage of five photos: Drops of water on a smooth surface, close-up of silicon wafer, plane flying over air traffic control tower, hand holding seedling in dirt, person using lancet device to measure blood sugar.

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) at the University of California (UC) are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 CITRIS Seed Awards. 

The six selected proposals, submitted by multicampus research teams from UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Davis Health, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz, will receive up to $60,000 for their work, thanks in part to external philanthropic support. The winning projects will use information technology to address challenges in various sectors, including aviation, climate resilience and sustainability, digital health, and semiconductors and systems. 

“The pool of seed proposals was highly competitive this year,” said Costas Spanos, director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and the Andrew S. Grove Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley. “We are pleased to support the innovative ideas demonstrated in the winning proposals and look forward to seeing the results of their research.” 

Sustainability and health were common areas of interest this year, as more than half of the selected projects aim to either reduce carbon emissions or advance noninvasive health procedures. Another strong throughline among the 2023 winners was harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI), with the majority of the projects incorporating AI in their methodology.

The successful proposals reflected a diverse applicant base, with more than 65 percent of the selected research teams including a woman or person of color. A majority of the teams also feature at least one pre-tenure faculty member, and over 85 percent of the principal investigators this year are new CITRIS Seed Award recipients.

Since its launch in 2008, the CITRIS Seed Funding Program has funded more than 245 early-stage faculty proposals. While these projects are designed to set the stage for much larger extramural funding within a year, many of them show potential to profoundly influence the futures of their fields.

The following proposals received 2023 awards:

Advanced nanofabrication of semiconductor quantum hardware based on silicon color centers
Principal investigators: Marina Radulaski (lead PI, UC Davis), Alp Sipahigil (UC Berkeley) 

While silicon is ubiquitous in integrated electronics and photonics, its presence in quantum computing has lagged due to a lack of high-performing quantum emitters, which are necessary to produce and manipulate individual photons. Color centers, formed as defects in semiconductor materials, have emerged as promising candidates to fit this need. However, the silicon-on-insulator nanofabrication techniques in current use tend to degrade the emitter performance. This project will employ ion beam etching to create devices directly in bulk silicon, using a unique tool at the UC Davis Center for Nano-MicroManufacturing, with the aim of developing a process that can be widely implemented across the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Both undergraduate and graduate students will work on the project, helping to strengthen the national quantum and semiconductor workforce pipelines.

Deep non-invasive in vivo printing using direct sound printing
Principal investigators: Mohsen Habibi (lead PI, UC Davis), Gavin Caesar (UC Davis Health), Barbara Linke (UC Davis), James P. Marcin (UC Davis Health), Clifford Pereira (UC Davis Health)

The concept of using 3D printing technology to implant biocompatible structures within the human body and avoid invasive surgery has existed for more than 20 years. However, most bioprinting methods rely on light-based energy sources, which cannot be used for deep-tissue applications where light cannot penetrate. This project will advance direct sound printing (DSP), a novel additive manufacturing technology that uses powerful ultrasound radiation to transform liquid medium into solid structures through a process called sonochemistry. Since DSP can work through layers of skin, muscle and bone tissue with pinpoint accuracy, it could be used to create orthopedic and soft tissue implants without the need for open surgery, reducing operating room costs, postoperative pain and length of inpatient hospital stays.

Metabolic watchdog system for improved self-management of Type 1 diabetes among young adults
Principal investigators: Samuel King (lead PI, UC Davis), Stephanie Crossen (UC Davis Health)

Type 1 diabetes (T1D), a chronic autoimmune condition that destroys the body’s ability to create insulin, affects more than 1.5 million people in the United States and typically begins in childhood. People with T1D must take multiple doses of insulin each day, in amounts that vary depending on their food intake, physical activities and stress levels. However, inequity in access to medical technologies that help people manage T1D is increasing, with adolescents, young adults, and non-white and lower-income Americans in particular showing lower rates of insulin pump usage. This project will create a prototype of a “metabolic watchdog,” using a modified smartwatch to detect metabolic changes, a cloud-based monitoring system and a notification system that alerts the patient when their glucose levels are likely to go out of range. This low-cost intervention intends to narrow the equity gap of diabetes treatment and, ultimately, lower the prevalence of long-term disease associated with T1D.

Real-time microbial insight into the soil carbon cycle
Principal investigators: Colleen Josephson (lead PI, UC Santa Cruz), Rajeevan Amirtharajah (UC Davis), Hannah Waterhouse (UC Santa Cruz)

Soil has a remarkable capacity to sequester carbon, and expanding soil carbon stores could prove instrumental to achieving a carbon-neutral future. However, there is currently no effective way to monitor the cycle of carbon building up and breaking down in soil over large areas in real time, to better measure carbon sequestration capabilities. This project will develop a bioelectrochemical system that observes naturally occurring microbial reactions in agricultural soils and links those measurements to soil carbon levels. The researchers will then design sensors that detect microbial activity, and thus carbon storage potential, for deployment in agricultural and ecological lands.

Safety guarantees in the context of generative artificial intelligence models
Principal investigators: Ayush Pandey (lead PI, UC Merced), Gireeja Ranade (UC Berkeley)

Air traffic control is a safety-critical service — meaning a single malfunction or mistake may lead to severe property damage, serious injury or death. It is also a very complicated system, simultaneously incorporating voice communication between pilots and traffic controllers, radar and meteorological data, and information about flight plans and maintenance logs. Generative AI has the potential to enhance the efficiency of air traffic control by managing various manual tasks and automatically detecting anomalies. However, generative AI is susceptible to user-interface attacks and is also prone to “hallucinating,” or offering reasonable-sounding but incorrect responses. This project aims to explore whether techniques from control theory can be used to provide safety guarantees for generative AI systems. The research team will identify a publicly available large language model and curate a dataset from the existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) catalog to use as an experimental testbed.

Temperature-adaptive radiative coating for thermal comfort in energy-poor communities 
Principal investigators: Junqiao Wu (lead PI, UC Berkeley), Vinod Narayanan (UC Davis)

As the world warms, more areas are feeling the effects of severe heat and cold. Extreme temperatures pose a significant threat to human health and lead to an increased reliance on energy-intensive heating and air conditioning systems. This project will work to enhance the panel size and production efficiency of temperature-adaptive radiative coating (TARC), a material designed to coat the roofs and walls of residential and commercial buildings. TARC passively switches between radiative cooling and heat-retaining modes, allowing for improved thermal comfort while reducing carbon emissions. The research team will also work to integrate TARC with existing roofing materials, and will conduct tests on thermal performance and durability.