Seminars Unite Engineering And Development Economics

By Abby Madan, Blum Center Student Writer

UC Berkeley’s Development Impact Lab (DIL) is forging a new, interdisciplinary field of academic and applied
research, called Development Engineering (DevEng).

Development Engineering seeks to train a new cadre of experts to tightly integrate social and economic insights into the creation of technology and services to address the problems of poverty. DevEng’s inaugural “Research in Action” speaker series, which began in Spring 2014, explores global development challenges that can be attacked using technology-based solutions.

“Too often, a great idea is tested and approved before its effectiveness on a larger scale can be evaluated,” explains Alice Agogino, UC Berkeley Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Chair of the Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering. “It takes many aspects and disciplines that involve technology, impact analysis, and economics. We want to engage the academic community to test and refine our approaches to development.”

The seminar series features weekly talks from academics and professionals who contribute to the intellectual
sphere that constitutes DevEng. Speakers come from a wide variety of disciplines, including computer science,
economics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, bioengineering, civil and environmental engineering, information management, public health, and business.

At the inaugural seminar, DIL researcher Gaetano Borriello, Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at University of Washington, addressed a packed audience on the functions and features of Open Data Kit (ODK), a suite of software developed by his research group. ODK is an open-source toolkit that simplifies survey design and
deployment, enabling users to build forms and analyze, transfer, and share data on various platforms. ODK is being used by thousands of people in field settings around the world, to capture information about the needs and wants of communities and individual consumers.

The DevEng seminars have created a forum where faculty and practitioners with extensive applied expertise can engage with intellectually curious students, who bring their own innovative ideas.

“We’re all coming together to this with different perspectives, different backgrounds, different biases,” said UC Berkeley Bioengineering Professor Dan Fletcher during a seminar on CellScope, a smartphone-enabled microscope technology used for remote diagnosis in developing countries. CellScope, a DIL demonstration project, uses consumer technology to extend access to health care; it is being used to detect corneal diseases in Thailand, tuberculosis in Vietnam, oral cancer in India, and to image blood parasites in Cameroon.

The speaker series has helped to build momentum toward the launch of the Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering (Dev Eng), a new interdisciplinary PhD minor available to UC Berkeley doctoral students this Fall.

Co-directed by Agogino and Clair Brown, Professor of Economics, the DE rests on the belief that the most powerful advances in development can be propelled through interdisciplinary collaboration and analysis of development solutions. Brown said, “The goal of a Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering is to facilitate and formalize an intellectual community to use advanced science, economics, and technology for potential solutions to complex global issues.”

Courses for the Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering will begin this Fall and the Research in Action series will continue Spring 2015. To learn more about the Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering, visit Development Engineering.