Stills from "Old People Driving," "Guests of Space," and "The Stinking Ship."
Stills from "Old People Driving," "Guests of Space," and "The Stinking Ship."

Two trios of grad students made the news recently, not for their trinity but for the interesting work they’ve been doing in very different fields.

Three journalism students each made 26-minute documentaries as their master’s theses, and all three were scheduled to premiere at the prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival this month. The students, who all graduated in May, entered the program with backgrounds in journalism, and their work was shaped by critiques from their professors and fellow students.

To tell the story of egregious corporate dumping in Africa in The Sinking Ship, Bagassi Koura snuck a video camera into a toxic waste site so poisonous that one of his crew was sickened after just 15 minutes breathing the air.

To film the living limbo of the Nukak Maku tribe of indigenous Amazonians for Guests of Space, Alba Mora Roca flew with Colombia’s national police into a war zone. She filmed the dilemma faced by the Nukak people, who had never seen a white man until 1988 and now have been forced out of the jungle by armed conflict and modern life.

Shaleece Haas faced a challenge of a different sort. In Old People Driving, she set out to capture on film the complexity and humanity of elderly people making a decision everyone faces: if and when to give up driving. (The film’s genesis: Haas’s grandfather Milton, still driving at 96.)

Artificial E-skin
Left: An artist’s illustration of an artificial e-skin with nanowire active matrix circuitry covering a hand. The fragile egg illustrates the functionality of the e-skin device for prosthetic and robotic applications. Right: Photo of an artificial skin made of nanowires. The e-skin was able to accurately sense the shape of the Cal "C" placed on top. (Images: Ali Javey and Kuniharu Takei)

A Berkeley team has developed a material that functions like human skin, with the ability to feel and touch objects, which might help overcome a key challenge in robotics and, down the road, restore the sense of touch to patients with prosthetic limbs. Three Cal grad students — Toshitake Takahashi (electrical engineering and computer sciences), Johnny Ho (materials science and engineering), and Andrew Gillies (mechanical engineering) are co-authors of the paper describing the new “e-skin,” which was published in the journal Nature Materials in September. The lead author is a postdoc, Kuniharu Takei. Two other postdocs are co-authors, Hyunhyub Ko and Paul Leu. The team was led by EECS associate professor Ali Javey; EECS professor Ron Fearing also co-authored.


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