BioE 271 - Frugal Science

Instructor: Professor Manu Prakash

Contact: Via Discord

Lecture: 12:30-1:50pm PDT, Tu/Th

Head TA: Tyler Chen

Email: Via Discord

📜 Course Description

The world is littered with global problems that need urgent solutions. We believe incredible talent also exists around the world. So why is it that many of the problems remain unsolved for long periods of time? In this course, we explore using a rubric of cost and constraints to tackle planetary scale problems with solutions that have the potential to scale.

Think of it as a design course for people who love PDEs and tinkerers who want to bring rigor and scientific methods to test and evaluate ideas rapidly. The focus will be on “emergent simplicity” and linking fundamental insights in basic science to applied problems.

The course is designed as a series of lectures which will cover case studies of what we believe are Frugal Science solutions that have already demonstrated the key principles defined above. For the first five weeks, we will focus on five such case studies - and examine the key design parameters and technical implementation of a given solution that enables it to scale globally. Every week, we will first dive into the key insight for each of the solutions from a basic science lens - these insights can be from optics, mechanics, applied math, a fundamental principle in physics, biology or chemistry - and in the next lecture we will explore how that insight leads to design solutions that would not have been feasible prior to this basic knowledge.

After five weeks of connecting the dots with a heavy focus on prior reading and in-class discussions, we will turn our eyes to solving “hairy” problems in a project based learning context. Students will be asked to identify problems they feel passionate about and link them to fields in fundamental science that solutions can be borrowed from. All materials used in the class will be things already sitting in toy stores, grocery bags, your garage or dustbin - materials that are already readily accessible and are key enabler components for a challenge you are trying to solve. The last five weeks will be run as design reviews, both for the fundamental science behind a solution and associated experiments. We will operate in a peer to peer learning environment with class participants to put in the time to make real progress.

Final evaluation of the course will be primarily based on the final project (80%) with regular check-ins for progress and class participation (20%).

🚗 Roadmap

Week 1: Welcome and Case Study 1.

Community-building, sharing observation and invention, creative play outside of class on Discord.

Week 2: Case Study 1/2.

Brainstorming, #teach-me-anything, discussion of identified problems and open questions on Discord.

Week 3: Case Study 2/3.

Preliminary subteam-forming by interest area, #teach-me-anything, discussions with mentors on Discord.

Week 4: Case Study 3/4.

Continued subteam-forming by interest area and specific idea, #teach-me-anything, brainstorming with mentors on Discord.

Week 5: Case Study 4/5.

Final team assignment via Google form.

Week 6: Case Study 5 / Project work.

Focused project work begins in dedicated Discord channels. Discord community for support, ideation, debugging. Mentors support teams where needed.

Week 7-10: Case Study 5 / Project work.

Continued focused project work and collaboration via Discord. Discord community for support, ideation, debugging. Weekly design reviews.

Week 10: Demo Day.

Demo of all teams' projects and presentation of final Notion pages!