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UC grad students bring ingenuity to the fore at Grad Slam

A simple method for using sand to make stormwater runoff safe for drinking helped UC Berkeley grad student Joseph Charbonnet snag first place on Thursday, May 3, at UC Grad Slam, a systemwide contest aimed at communicating graduate research.

The contest challenges master’s and Ph.D. students to explain their research in three minutes, in a way that will engage and enlighten a general audience.

The winning concept, “mansand” — thusly named, Charbonnet quipped, not because it refuses to ask for directions — is sand treated with manganese oxide, which gives it superpowers to filter out toxins and polluting particles that rainwater picks up from the street and the sidewalk.

The solution, now being implemented in field sites across the state, could be a huge boon to areas like Sun Valley, Calif., which, ironically, spend millions of dollars to import water from Northern California and other areas while its streets are routinely flooded.

Charbonnet’s innovation helped him wow a panel of judges to capture the $6,000 award and the systemwide trophy, known as the Slammy.

But the fifth year Ph.D. student was hardly the only one to make the ingenious look easy at Thursday’s contest. Others covered topics that included a simple, at-home cancer screening that could dramatically improve early detection and a way to quickly identify stroke that could increase access to lifesaving care.

See our full story on the Grad Slam to learn more about the finalists from our 10 campuses who explained everything from Ancient Egypt to cancer screening in just three minutes each.


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