With global temperatures soaring, scientists are working together to address the crisis, inspiring one another to think creatively about sustainability. At UCLA, this crucial work is powered by the generosity of donors like the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation, which gave $5 million to jump-start the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.
Launched in 2013, the university-wide initiative unites UCLA faculty, researchers, and students from a range of fields to seek new approaches to confront urban climate issues.
A Better World Through Blue-sky Thinking
The Grand Challenge kicked into a higher gear in 2020 with the launch of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Sandpit. This effort set out to upend “business as usual” and foster creativity and collaboration — as well as spirited competition — among the experts who are tackling some of the most pressing issues of our time.
Eight teams, made up of more than 60 UCLA faculty from 27 departments, took part. They planned and pitched new research projects with the hope of receiving up to $1 million in funding.
Helping Los Angeles Beat the Heat
The winning proposal, announced in 2021, came from a 10-person team of specialists in engineering, urban planning, public health and environmental law. Their project — Heat-Resistant LA — addresses the rapidly increasing number of days with extreme heat in Los Angeles.
In the two years since their big win, the Heat-Resistant LA team has designed cutting-edge cooling structures, similar to bus stops, which will help those Angelenos who are most vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat. The team has also connected with affected communities to identify the best locations for the structures.
The Collaborations and Breakthroughs Continue
The Sandpit didn’t just launch one groundbreaking project; it launched eight. These ranged from creating zero-emission communities to the use of genetically engineered kelp to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Each of the seven runner-up teams was awarded $25,000 in seed money to sustain them as they pursued external funding sources. Two Sandpit projects went on to attract $1 million each in anonymous donor support.
One team’s research focuses on storage systems that efficiently capture excess energy and transform it into durable, renewable fuels. Another team seeks improvements in air quality by accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles and establishing zero-emissions communities.
The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge is a perfect example of how UCLA — with philanthropic support — is seeking solutions to challenges in its own backyard. Through creativity and collaboration, these endeavors could bring real benefit to our city and to others around the globe.
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Published January 2024