Graduate Students Awarded Scholarship for Agriculture Research

Photo: Chris Anderson, standing center with the seven other scholarship finalists, was one of the group of three UC Berkeley graduate students awarded the Meltwater Scholarship.
Kimling Lam/Photo
Chris Anderson, standing center with the seven other scholarship finalists, was one of the group of three UC Berkeley graduate students awarded the Meltwater Scholarship.

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Three UC Berkeley graduate students' efforts to combat soaring food prices and increase agricultural yields were recognized late last month with a $30,000 scholarship from the Meltwater Scholarship Program.

The students, who have been developing a system of lighting to promote indoor agriculture, were chosen from a pool of more than 120 applicants and seven finalists in a program to finance sustainable innovations.

"The team wanted to develop a lighting system that emits the most efficient light for photosynthesis," said Kimling Lam, the U.S. director of university relations for the media-monitoring company. "They're working toward a cost-efficient solution."

The group, which consists of doctoral candidates Chris Anderson, Ryan Miyakawa and David Carlton, began developing the system three months ago. The students are working on the project independent of their other academic responsibilities.

"We treated the plant as a customer-looked at what colors are used for photosynthesis and tried to figure out exactly what the plant needed," Anderson said.

The system utilizes light-emitting diodes to target the spectrum of colors that will make a plant grow most efficiently, Anderson said. The result is a method of lighting that is more cost-effective than the standard gas discharge lamp and that may produce better yields than plants exposed to plain sunlight.

The students said they expect their new development will prove to be less expensive and thus more widely used than previous technologies.

"Growing crops indoors in skyscrapers so you can maximize space is very costly, so the movement hasn't taken off," Lam said.

The team will use the scholarship to create a prototype of the lighting mechanism as well as to research the best way to light the plants for maximum yields.

In awarding the scholarship, the group was looking for an innovative, professionally presented idea that would be sustainable over a long period of time, Lam said.

"We wanted to create an opportunity for entrepreneurial-minded students to get launched and achieve something they wanted to do," Lam said. "We saw a symbiotic relationship in Chris and his crew, along with passion, energy and enthusiasm."

Although the company could only choose one winner, all finalists received consulting time with their employees.

"It was incredible, the Meltwater team really created a very collaborative environment," Anderson said. "It didn't feel competitive, it felt like we were all there talking about our ideas. They were able to mix a social environment and a professional environment in a way that's rare."

Anderson, Miyakawa and Carlton hope to have the prototype completed by the end of the summer.

"We're looking into collaborating in terms of testing with several different people at UC Berkeley and we're hoping to team up with them," Anderson said. "I think that this project will be really interesting science for Berkeley."


Contact Keena Batti at [email protected]

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