Three climate resilience projects supported by 2023 CITRIS Interdisciplinary Innovation Program

A row of plants on the UCSC farm, with a greenhouse to the right of the image.
This year's CITRIS Interdisciplinary Innovation Program (I2P) will fund research on behavior change stimulation through a serious game to enhance climate resilience policy and action, community power enhancement through campus microgrids and battery storage, and robotic sensor use for ecological assessment. (photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

As a result of a pilot collaboration between CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and the Innovation & Business Engagement Hub through its Climate Action Solutions Catalyst Program, this cycle the CITRIS I2P program is collectively able to fund three projects focused on climate resilience and that align with developing solutions that address some of the state's most pressing climate challenges.  In addition to seed funding, this novel collaboration provides all three project teams with access to other valuable development and capacity-building elements in the Climate Action Solutions Catalyst Program.

Researchers were tasked with designing solutions to significant social challenges related to climate resilience through new or existing technology. Grants of up to $40,000 will fund research on behavior change to enhance climate resilience policy and action, reinforcement of community power enhancement through campus microgrids and battery storage, and the application of robotic sensors to improve vegetation assessments.

Stimulating Behavior Change to Enhance Climate Resilience Policy and Action through a Serious Game Approach

Magy Seif El-Nasr, professor of Computational Media, will lead a project to enhance understanding of how serious games can support sustainable behavior change and effective decision-making for climate resilience. Behavior change is essential to addressing climate challenges, and many climate adaptation plans anticipate the stakeholders will modify their actions while working towards enhancing resilience. Seif El Nasr and her team will use serious game design to investigate how to incentivize behavior change through the interplay between two levels: the policy level and the individual and urban household levels. The project focuses on the problem of sea level rise in Alexandria, Egypt, and the San Francisco Bay Area, California, interacting with stakeholders in these areas. Brent Haddad, professor of environmental studies, will be the co-principal investigator on the project.

Harnessing Campus Microgrids and Battery Storage for Reinforcing Community Power Enhancement

Yu Zhang, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will enhance community power resilience against increasing energy demands and climate change impacts by integrating microgrids and battery storage. The project consists of three interactive research thrusts. The first focuses on quantifying outage impacts, identifying critical loads, and proposing microgrid upgrades for resilience. The second thrust involves integrating non-intrusive load monitoring (NILM) techniques for data-driven load monitoring and grid management. The third thrust centers on using deep learning to design advanced nanomaterials for batteries and fuel cells. The project aims to create a resilient, sustainable energy infrastructure capable of withstanding grid disturbances by leveraging microgrids, battery storage, AI-based load monitoring, and optimized nanomaterials. Shaowei Chen, professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Pat Mantey, emeritus professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will be the co-principal investigators on the project.

Leveraging Robotics Sensors for Ecological Assessment

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Steve McGuire will lead a project to develop analytical pipelines to leverage sensor information commonly used in field robotics for vegetation assessment. The team will obtain tree measurements used to measure forest health, identify and quantify forest floor debris, and estimate the decomposition status of coarse woody debris. The project aims to enhance the understanding of the future of our ecosystems in a changing climate by improving the operational tempo and accuracy of vegetation assessments. Greg Gilbert, professor of environmental studies will be the co-principal investigator on the project.

Future CITRIS funding opportunities

The UC-wide CITRIS Core Seed Funding program invites proposals from teams which must include researchers from two or more of the UC CITRIS campuses: UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Davis Health, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. Projects must be based around the themes of aviation for a changing planet, sustainability and climate resilience, digital health innovation, people and robots, or semiconductors and systems. Proposals must be submitted by October 13, 2023. For more information, please watch an information session recording on the website.

CITRIS at UC Santa Cruz also funds student projects and events through the Tech for Social Good program and invites applications for its technology track until November 15, 2023. To learn more, information sessions will be held on Zoom on October 9 and October 18.