UC Berkeley innovators featured in Pathways to Invention film

May 2, 2024

Are inventors born or made? Berkeley engineers explore that question in the award-winning documentary “Pathways to Invention,” set to premiere in May on PBS stations nationwide. The 60-minute special follows eight “modern inventors of diverse backgrounds and their journeys as they develop life-changing innovations.”

Among those profiled are Berkeley alumni Paige Balcom (Ph.D.’22 ME), Corten Singer (B.A.’17 CS, B.A.’17 CogSci, M.S.’18 EECS) and Tomás Vega (B.A.’17 CS, B.A.’17 CogSci). Civil engineering professor Ashok Gadgil and Chris Myers, former senior lab manager at the CITRIS Invention Lab, are also featured.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the film will first air at 10 p.m. PT on Wednesday, May 1, on KQED 9. It will also air at 9 p.m. PT on Tuesday, May 7, on KQED WORLD and will be available to stream after May 1 in the PBS app. The film will also be available for viewing on May 2 during the Jacobs Spring Design Showcase at UC Berkeley.

In the film, the inventors share their perspectives and the insights they gained while innovating against considerable odds. By inviting us into their workspaces and telling their stories, they hope to provide inspiration to the next generation of inventors.

Paige Balcom was a Fulbright Scholar visiting Uganda when she became inspired to develop a small-scale community recycling process in Gulu, employing street-connected, at-risk youth. This supposedly “impossible” initiative was the genesis of Takataka Plastics, where Balcom now serves as co-founder and is currently working to expand to five towns across Uganda, as well as other low- to middle-income countries.

Corten Singer and Tomás Vega, co-founders of Augmental, set out to develop assistive technologies to change the paradigm of human-device interaction. Their invention, MouthPad^, transforms the concept of the computer mouse or trackpad into a Bluetooth-enabled device that rests like a retainer on the roof of one’s mouth. Controlled by the tongue, mouth pressure and head gestures, MouthPad^ enables more universal access to personal devices, like smartphones, computers and tablets.

In addition to celebrating innovation, curiosity and resilience, the documentary examines how the inventors are making a “tangible impact” in such fields as biotech, medical diagnostics and prosthetics, sustainable agriculture, food production, software development and materials science.

Pathways to Invention is produced by Maaia Mark Productions in association with the Lemelson-MIT Program with funding from The Lemelson Foundation and Berkeley Engineering. The program is presented by American Public Television.

This article originally appeared on the UC Berkeley College of Engineering website >

Berkeley Engineering

Pathways to Invention: Broadcast Promo

Two men look at a computer screen together

Tomás Vega and Corten Singer, from left, worked on MouthPad^ and co-founded Augmental. (Photo courtesy of Maaia Mark Productions)