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Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM

25 Brilliant California Ideas

California is the nation's incubator. Ideas born here today affect how everyone lives, thinks and raises their kids tomorrow. Inventions and explorations made here reshape society and save lives.

But California not only attracts creative minds; it also has devised a remarkable public university system to nurture them. Who better, then, to select 25 of the brilliant ideas of the last quarter-century than the faculties of the two largest campuses, UCLA and UC Berkeley? Inevitably, since the two faculties are themselves first-order engines of discovery, the results reflect many of their achievements. But many do not. Their selections include the lifesaving (stem cells, the nicotine patch), the enabling (venture capital, search engines), the promising (sensor technology) and pop culture (iPod, The Simpsons).

Like this project, most inventions today are invigorated by collaboration. We trust you will find the results a source of both fascination and reflection, and, in another California tradition, we expect you will quarrel with them. Let us know what you think. Send us your own list at or

  1. D'oh Dynasty: The Simpsons
  2. Movable Feasts: iPod
  3. Search Party: Google and Yahoo!
  4. Get a Clue: DNA fingerprinting
  5. Healthy Lead: Tough, trendsetting environmental standards
  6. Cancer Killer: Herceptin
  7. A Whole New Track: The first company to produce commercial bicycles for riding up and down mountains
  8. Ground Zero: AIDS Research
  9. Elevated Eating: California Cuisine
  10. Higher Return: Compassionate capitalism
  11. Seeds of Success: The Goldman Environmental Prize
  12. Native Tongues: Saving and reviving tribal languages
  13. State of Inquiry: Stem Cells
  14. High Five: California's First Five campaign to improve the health and well-being of children up to age 5, funded by a 50-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes and passed by voters as Proposition 10 in 1998
  15. Uncommon Sense: Wireless sensing
  16. Under Your Skin: The Nicotine Patch
  17. Inside Jobs: Venture capital
  18. Show and Sell: the ideapolis
  19. A Wrinkle in Time/Space: The COBE satellite, which corroborated the Big Bang theory of the universe's origins
  20. Unreal Life: Computer-generated imagery (CGI)
  21. Hooked Up: Metcalfe's Law (social networking)
  22. Mind Games: Exercising your brain to stave off memory loss
  23. Play It Again, Tomorrow: Digital video recorders
  24. Surge Protector: Energy-saving appliances
  25. Close to Home: Transit-oriented development


» How the top 25 were chosen

» Send us your own ideas

01. D'oh Dynasty

What: The Simpsons

Who: Matt Groening, creator and executive producer

Impact: First appearing on Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, the Emmy and Peabody award-winning animated sitcom that stars the hilariously unadmirable Simpson family not only skewers American life with malign glee, it also spawned what is now an estimated $2-billion business, cemented itself into popular culture and transformed its own genre. "People talk a lot about how The Simpsons reintroduced adults to animation, but it's much bigger than that," says Michael Schneider, television editor at Variety. "It's changed comedy as we know it, making it more cynical, ironic and irreverent." President Bush once exhorted the nation's families to act "more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons," which surely put a smile on the faces of certain denizens in both Springfield and L.A. The show, in the middle of its 18th season, is the longest-running sitcom on network television.

Eureka moment: Aspiring writer Groening came to Los Angeles from Oregon in 1977 at the age of 23 and toiled as a chauffeur, music critic and record store clerk. The Simpsons' precursor, Life in Hell, was both the comic strip that put Groening on the map and his real-life assessment of life in Tinseltown. He started penning the acerbic cartoons and sending them to friends back home, but the L.A. fame machine plucked Groening out of obscurity after Life in Hell began appearing in the local alternative press. Producer James L. Brooks was a fan and approached Groening about creating animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show.

— Kristine Breese '86

02. Movable Feasts

What: iPod

Who: Apple Computer

Impact: Unveiled on Oct. 23, 2001, the Apple iPod "has made CD players practically obsolete," says Leander Kahney, managing editor of Wired News and author of "The Cult of iPod." Apple alone has sold more than 60 million of its palm-sized media units, and its omnipresent ads have become pop-culture icons — at times, to the point of absurdity. Microsoft, SanDisk, Sony, Creative and Samsung have released competing gadgets, each with its own endless line of add-ons and accessories. Now, Kahney contends, "music is back on the cultural front burner."

Eureka moment: Oct. 23, 2001. The moment it launched, the tiny tech wonder changed the world. Forever. With a backbeat.

— Randi Schmelzer

03. Search Party: Google and Yahoo!

By Quentin Hardy

Like so many precepts, the idea of Internet search was born elsewhere but came of age in California. Rightly so: Search's holy grail of naming, sating and sharing our every desire speaks to the core of life in the Golden State.

Sixteen years ago, a Canadian student gave us Archie, the first searchable database of Internet file names. A year later, text indexing came out of Minnesota, and two years later the first true search engine of the World Wide Web hatched at MIT. The pioneers of Web search, founders of AltaVista and Inktomi, today work at Google and UC Berkeley. The corporate search leaders, Google and Yahoo!, come from the same computer science building in Palo Alto.

Yahoo!, the older of the two, began with personal taste. Stanford computer science grad students David Filo and Jerry Yang listed their favorite sites on the Web, offering a "cool site of the day" to what back then seemed like a manageable community of Web surfers. The two eventually broke their topics into categories and subcategories, for an immensely attractive way to find a growing number of things — and, not incidentally, to advertise other things to their community of users. Pretty quickly, Yahoo! had a sprawling campus full of editors who scoured the Web and posted top picks. Yahoo! was known for the human touch, reflected in the many other products and services, such as e-mail, freely available under its goofy and kinetic purple logo.

Google's Stanford computer science grad students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, believed in the power of the machine. Some of that was necessity — in the four years between Yahoo!'s founding and Google's, the Web had grown from 10,022 to 2.8 million sites, clearly beyond any human management (today there are an estimated 100 million sites). Other search engines crawled and indexed this burgeoning mass, but Page and Brin's insight was to rank the relevance of Web pages in large part by how many other pages linked to them — in effect, mechanizing the value that millions of individuals writing on the Web held for other parts of the beast. The supercomputer had met the invisible hand of the market.

Both companies today are multibillion-dollar enterprises, but neither has left its roots. A large percentage of Google's nearly 10,000 employees are engineers, some hired through a famously difficult and obscure process. One job posting consisted of a question on a billboard: "What is the first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e?" If the correct answer was used as a Web address, another problem appeared. If this was answered correctly, a job application popped up.

Yahoo! eventually augmented its human-edited system with a computer-driven process that it continues to build out. But it also is investing in so-called "social media," where groups of ordinary people determine their own outcomes by posting photographs, sharing notes on Web sites or swapping music.

Even when one acts like the other, the bias is clear. Google executives say their toolkits for communication, such as an easy way to make blogs and searchable e-mail, help grow out the Internet, improving Google's search results by creating a bigger statistical sample. A Yahoo! executive has talked about the potential for search technology to aid audio and video searches to discover the best movie scene kisses.

The two styles seem like ageless dichotomies — science/humanities, nature/nurture, L.A./San Francisco. Both, however, are very attractive to advertisers, the force that pays for all this access to information.

The search ads that Google dominates are direct: State your desires (in the form of search query terms), and whoever bought the rights to advertise based on those words gets to pitch a little text alongside your search results. It's retail marketing, an electronic Yellow Pages. Yahoo! has been smart enough to start copycatting Google but also pitches itself as the home for brand advertising, that emotional representation of products that needs longer and deeper connection than Google's quick hit.

The common goal turns the Internet (to which billions of us now turn) into billions of Internets, each one a tailored ideal to the person doing the searching. It is, as they like to say at Google, a 300-year project.

Yet unanswered is how the storage, communication and collaboration tools Google and Yahoo! offer for us to share information will change us. With 6 billion Internets, we may each know a big chunk of everything at any given moment, all with no struggle. In the course of knowing things, the global chatter may be shriller, wisdom and insight scarcer than ever. As California always has demonstrated, paradise beguiles even as it disappoints us and changes us beyond recognition.

04. Get a Clue

What: DNA fingerprinting

Who: Biochemist Kary B. Mullis, working for Emeryville-based Cetus Corporation

Impact: Never heard of polymerase chain reactions? Not surprising. But you almost certainly know about CSI or Law & Order. And almost everybody recalls when blood and hair samples were introduced by prosecutors during the O.J. Simpson murder trial (in which Mullis testified for the defense). Cops and prosecutors use a technique called DNA fingerprinting — duplicating a certain section of DNA and matching it to another — to get the bad guys and to prove paternity. That's polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which matches the rungs of a ladder-shaped DNA molecule with a polymerase enzyme and artificially gets the ladder to copy itself. PCR has allowed scientists to detect viruses and genetic diseases, clone genes, map the human genome and pay the bills of countless law firms.

Eureka moment: Mullis was driving up California Highway 128 for a weekend in Mendocino, mulling techniques to analyze small mutations in DNA, when the inspiration that led to PCR hit. Mullis says he pulled over, exclaimed "Dear Thor!," and spent the next two days writing equations and drinking wine.

— Eric Vance

05. Healthy Lead

What: Tough, trendsetting environmental standards

Who: California activists, lawmakers and citizens

Impact: It's not surprising that the state would be home to many prominent thinkers on the environment, such as UCLA's Jared Diamond, whose bestseller Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed warned of eco-catastrophe. But California has led the nation in making tough love of the earth the law of the land as well. The state was the first to decouple the revenues electric utilities collect from the amount of power they produced, giving utilities an economic rationale to invest in conservation, and first to mandate that a small percentage of every customer's bill be set aside for investments in energy efficiency. In 1989, S. David Freeman, director of the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, proved that conservation measures alone could be used to replace the generating capacity of an existing power plant. In 1989, when voters in Sacramento mothballed the troubled, 913-megawatt Rancho Seco nuclear generating plant, Freeman replaced all of those lost megawatts with a host of energy-saving programs such as buying old and inefficient refrigerators, offering rebates for solar panel and wind energy projects, and planting thousands of trees to serve as a natural air conditioning system. Because California's economy is so gigantic, the standards we set often become de facto national regulations — which could happen again with the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires California to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide CO2 back to 1990 levels by 2025 and provides incentives for businesses to reduce emissions.

Eureka moment: The spark that ignited the modern environmental movement was the Santa Barbara oil spill of January 1969, an ecological disaster that blackened 35 miles of scenic coastland and killed thousands of seabirds and marine mammals. The first Earth Day took place the following April. So intense was the public's reaction that by the end of 1970, another Californian, President Richard M. Nixon, created the Environmental Protection Agency.

— Michael Zielenziger

06. Cancer Killer

What: Herceptin

Who: Oncologist Dennis Slamon

Impact: Slamon and his colleagues at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center conducted the laboratory and clinical research that led to the 1988 development of the drug Herceptin, which targets a specific genetic alteration found in about 25 percent of breast cancer patients — and proved that a drug could be designed to attack the disease by targeting defective genes in a cancer cell. The breakthrough discovery not only gave hope to the 250,000 women worldwide who have the specific, aggressive form of the disease that Slamon linked with the mutation, it also paved the way for a whole new arsenal of targeted therapies that are being developed today to treat cancer. The FDA is expected to soon approve use of the drug for early-stage breast cancer as well. For his efforts, Slamon won the American Cancer Society's Medal of Honor in 2004.

Eureka moment: Despite the doubts of many who thought his approach was a nonstarter, Slamon knew he was on to something a lot bigger than treating just one particular form of cancer. "It validated the concept that if we identify what's broken specifically and target it specifically, we can develop more therapies that are less toxic and more effective," he says.

— Cynthia Lee

07. A Whole New Track

What: The first company to produce commercial bicycles for riding up and down mountains

Who: Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly of Mountain Bikes

Impact: Between 1980 and 1985, the big-tired mountain bike went from offbeat pastime for Marin County hippies to a 70-percent share of the bicycle market. Ushering in an era of "extreme sports," mountain bikes have helped change the way Americans view athletics. Rather than seeing outdoor sports as a distraction for the young, Western culture in the past 25 years has adopted a "sports for life" attitude, according to Gary Fisher, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking. Fisher traces this attitude to a motley group of off-road racers on the slopes of California's Mt. Tamalpais in the late '70s. Along with hydration bladders, uncomfortable spandex and concussions, mountain bikes have been on the rise ever since, even penetrating into politics. While some saw the 2004 election as a conservative mandate, others saw it as a triumph of a mountain biker over a windsurfer.

Eureka moment: "Taking out just regular folks from around the neighborhood — they got it," says Fisher, Mountain Bikes co-founder and president of Fisher Bicycles. "Everybody that we took out on a ride came back with these big, wide eyes saying, 'I've got to get one of these things.' When I started to recognize it really changed those people's lives just riding the bike, I thought, 'Eureka, this is it.' "

— Eric Vance

08. Ground Zero: AIDS Research

By Dan Frankel

In the quarter-century-old battle against AIDS, California has always been on the front lines.

In March of 1981, Michael Gottlieb, a 33-year-old first-year assistant professor at UCLA specializing in immunology, encountered five patients with eerily similar symptoms and backgrounds. All of them were gay men, and relatively healthy prior to developing mysterious fevers, unexplainable weight loss and a rare lung infection called pneumocystis, a kind of pneumonia primarily known to occur in people with damaged immune systems. Using what was new technology at the time, UCLA physicians found that each patient was missing critical blood-immunity components called T-cells.

On June 5 of that year, details of these cases were published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Within days, doctors from all over the country added that they, too, had seen similar rare, opportunistic infections in young gay men.

They didn't yet have a proper name for it, but Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome — a disease that would go on to kill more than 25 million people and counting — had been officially discovered.

The fact that a global pandemic like AIDS was first identified by a California-based research institution shouldn't be surprising, given the state's geographical confluence of culture and scientific acumen, says Thomas J. Coates, who pioneered research into the behavioral science of the disease at UC San Francisco in the 1980s and is now a professor in residence at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

"I think it was because we had three major medical centers — in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego — on the edge of gay communities like Castro, West Hollywood and Hillcrest," he notes. "You had three centers immediately confronted with providing care for people with HIV. Each had staffs with gay employees — they were immediately touched by this. It was just natural that they all got involved in providing both care and scientific discovery. These people were passionate about this issue in ways they were not passionate about heart disease and cancer." Indeed, one of the early heroes of the epidemic was San Francisco Chronicle reporter Randy Shilts, a gay journalist whose coverage of the government's lack of response to AIDS became the foundation of his best-selling book, And the Band Played On.

Only a few months after the first cases were made public, UCSF cancer researcher Paul Volberding emerged on the front lines of the fight, establishing a center specifically to treat Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare disfiguring cancer that was a telltale symptom amid the burgeoning case-load of AIDS patients across the U.S. In 1983, Volberding teamed with fellow UCSF cancer specialist Donald Abrams and the late Constance Wofsy, an infectious disease researcher at the school, to open the first program specifically set up to treat AIDS, operating out of San Francisco General Hospital.

Three years later, another UCSF researcher, Coates, established the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, which paved the way to understanding how the disease was being transmitted and how its march could be slowed. And in 1990, Volberding led a groundbreaking series of studies on AZT, an antiviral drug that would provide the foundation of the so-called "AIDS cocktail" multidrug therapy that transformed AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable chronic illness in the mid-1990s.

Meanwhile, groundbreaking AIDS research centers at UCLA and UC San Diego produced their own breakthroughs. In the early '90s, pediatric researchers at UCLA pioneered the use of protease inhibitors in children and made more headlines when they documented the case of an infected infant who later tested completely free of the disease. (The UCLA AIDS Institute, established in 1992, is a multidisciplinary think tank that draws on the skills of more than 160 top-flight researchers.)

These days, Coates is spearheading efforts to establish leading-edge disease prevention and understanding in foreign hot spots. Not all of the efforts involve science.

In the Indian state of West Bengal, for example, Coates has teamed with David Gere, co-chairman of UCLA's World Arts and Cultures Department, on a unique project that involves the region's artists. An arts critic in San Francisco during the '80s, Gere vividly recalls how messages conveyed through theater, dance and other art forms helped overcome the many stigmas and misunderstandings that fueled the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., and he hopes for the same result on the subcontinent.

Armed with these kinds of big ideas, AIDS research centers at UCSF, UCLA and UCSD remain among the most robust in the country. Other California research institutions are making notable contributions to the AIDS fight, too: At Stanford, genetically engineered mice without immune systems are helping lead the way to new therapies; and researchers at UC Davis have made headway by studying HIV infection in primates.

"If you added up all the institutions in California doing AIDS research — and you consider all the funding and people involved — that probably represents the second biggest concentration of AIDS science on the planet next to the entire U.S. as a whole," notes John Greenspan, who took over as director of the UCSF program from Coates in 2003.

With the epidemic now largely confined to centers of urban poverty in the U.S. — and no longer on the front page of American consciousness — UCLA AIDS Institute director Irvin Chen hopes the brilliant ideas will keep coming, too.

"There's now a difficulty attracting new scientists to this area," he explains. "We need young researchers with new ideas and the ingenuity to keep this thing going."

09. Elevated Eating

What: California Cuisine

Who: Chefs Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower, Deborah Madison, Michael McCarty, Thomas Keller, Jonathan Waxman

Impact: Fresh, local ingredients, often bearing the name of the farm, frequently fused with Asian styles and spices and cooked with spare, old-world techniques — meaning French — really does produce remarkable cuisine. California-trained chefs and California-inspired cooks command stoves from Seattle to Las Vegas to Saratoga. Being seen in the Manhattan version of Michael's, the pioneering California cuisine restaurant in Santa Monica, is a must for New York power players. Chef Deborah Madison took her inspiration from the fields of a Zen retreat in Marin County before opening Greens, one of the nation's premier vegetarian restaurants. Alice Waters channeled her '60s activism and with Jeremiah Tower, urbanized French farmhouse cooking in an unpretentious Berkeley walkup called Chez Panisse that is considered the birthplace of California cuisine, while in Southern California, Michael McCarty channeled his French culinary academy training through Chez Panisse-trained Jonathan Waxman at Michael's.

Eureka moment: Contemporary California cuisine owes its origins to the Chinese immigrants who imported rice and found that it would grow well in the Sacramento Delta, while Japanese immigrants began cultivating large-scale vegetable farms in the Santa Clara Valley.

— Patrick Dillon

10. Higher Return

What: Compassionate capitalism

Who: Philanthropists Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll, investors John Colligan and Penelope Douglas

Impact: In the 1970s, Bangladeshi banker Muhammad Yunus pioneered the idea of giving tiny loans to impoverished but ambitious villagers — a mission taken up by the Grameen Bank. (For their work, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.) But Californians in the past 25 years expanded the concept into a growing mini-industry. Today, a growing list of top executives and corporate powers aim to do good by teaching the disenfranchised how to make a better living, including non-Californians Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation, the world's largest, expects the groups it benefits to meet milestones, achieve measurable change and, in many cases, eventually finance themselves. Among the most active, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar invests in operations with a "double" bottom line — a social agenda and enough profits to become self-supporting. Other billionaires, most at least a decade or two shy of retirement, have done likewise, such as Jeff Skoll, eBay's first employee, who set up a foundation in 1999 to foster "innovations that will benefit humanity."

Eureka moment: By 1999, John (Bud) Colligan, a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Accel Partners, had racked up much success investing in technology companies that promised to change the world. Now, Colligan figured, it was time to invest in businesses that could change the world of people in neighborhoods that success had overlooked. Working with long-time business executive Penelope Douglas, Colligan created a venture fund — now called Pacific Community Ventures — to bring capital and management expertise to modest-sized companies that pay decent wages and benefits to people in depressed neighborhoods. Colligan was among the first wave of people who changed the definition of philanthropy.

— Elizabeth Corcoran

11. Seeds of Success

What: The Goldman Environmental Prize

Who: Philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Haas Goldman

Impact: The Goldman Environmental Prize, also called the "Green Nobel," recognizes and funds grassroots environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. The prize is the most lucrative environmental award in existence, a no-strings-attached $125,000 for each recipient. Last year's winners include China's Yu Xiaogang, who documented the socioeconomic impact of dams on Chinese communities, and pushed the Chinese government to pay additional restitution to displaced villagers. Craig Williams, of Kentucky, also received the 2006 prize, for persuading the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate old chemical weapons stockpiled around the U.S. and for building a nationwide grassroots coalition to lobby for safe disposal solutions.

Eureka moment: One morning over breakfast in 1988, philanthropist Richard Goldman was reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing the winners of several Nobel Prizes, when he noted what he believed to be a glaring omission. There was no prize honoring the efforts of grassroots environmentalists. Two years later, the first Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony was held on April 16 — Earth Day. Also, happily, Richard's 70th birthday. The prize, he says, is "proof that ordinary people are capable of doing truly extraordinary things."

— Carrie Ching

12. Native Tongues

What: Saving and reviving tribal languages

Who: California tribes, Leanne Hinton, Pam Munro, and other linguists

Impact: Of 84 indigenous languages once spoken in California, 35 have no speakers left and the remaining languages are spoken by only a handful of elders, giving the state the dubious distinction of being one of the world's great native language cemeteries. Fortunately, in the early 20th century, linguists like John Peabody Harrison single-mindedly recorded the surviving languages in pen-and-ink and wax cylinder. They became an invaluable resource for tribal members and for a new generation of linguists, like Berkeley's Hinton and UCLA's Munro. Wax cylinders and field notes have been translated into digital files available on the Internet. Dozens of tribal members drive or fly to Hinton's biannual Breath of Life conference to learn new preservation techniques. Hinton also invented a "Master/Apprentice" program in which a native-speaking elder teaches a young person indigenous words, phrases and concepts. Sure, saving these languages involves a thousand acts of faith. But what could be better than learning to say, "Pass the salmon," in Hupa?

Eureka moment: There have been dozens, as a new generation first reads the letters or listens to the recorded songs of their great-aunts or grandfathers in their native tongues.

— Kerry Tremain

13. State of Inquiry: Stem Cells

By Dan Gordon '85

Three decades ago, UC researchers opened a new frontier in the life sciences and created the biotechnology industry. For many scientists, there is a sense that history is repeating itself in stem cell research.

This new frontier, heavier in politics, morality, and heady talk of cures for dozens of diseases, is arguably more monumental than the first. Although federal law limits stem cell research at the national level, states and universities across the U.S. are rushing to create stem cell centers or pass laws to capitalize on an expected biotech windfall. Once again, California is betting on its university system to keep it out front in that race.

Last August, for example, top state politicians, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa '77, chose the UCLA campus to announce a bipartisan drive to block the U.S. Senate bill that would place new limits on human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research.

"The study of stem cells has created a whole new area of biology that bridges people from many different fields," says Harley Kornblum, director of UCLA's Neural Stem Cell Research Center. "With very good scientists working together on a problem in which there is so much potential, a lot of things are going to come out of this that we don't even imagine yet."

In 2004 the state passed Proposition 71, providing $3 billion in funding to create the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a new state agency that would award grants and loans to support stem cell science at institutions across the state — including research on new HESC lines. Lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the CIRM have constrained government funding, but the initiative has generated substantial contributions from private donors. The favorable environment has also put the state's leading institutions at an advantage in the competition for the brightest young scientists.

UCLA, which in 2005 committed $20 million over five years to establish the cross-disciplinary Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, was able to land five highly sought-after stem cell researchers in its initial wave of recruiting in October. The scientists, all under 40 years old, came from such respected East Coast institutions as Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins University.

When the new faculty was announced, Owen Witte, the UCLA institute's director, noted that "These scientists [all had] multiple offers from other institutions and could have gone just about anywhere."

While adult stem cells have been studied and used clinically for many years, access to HESC lines has been restricted by presidential order for almost all researchers receiving federal funds. Scientists argue that HESC's unique potential to regenerate and form into any of the body's 200 tissues might one day lead to revolutionary new approaches to treating diseases that have baffled them for decades. Already, a company in Menlo Park, Calif., working with UC Irvine scientist Hans Keirstead, hopes to begin a clinical trial in 2007 on an HESC-based treatment for spinal cord injury.

But scientists caution that when it comes to using HESCs to repair diseased tissues, researchers are still learning the fundamentals, including how to grow cells that will remain unspecialized while replicating, and what signals cause HESCs to become specialized cells. They must learn how to deliver the cells to the desired place in the body. They must learn how to protect them against an attack by the body's immune system — and ensure that the cells won't continue to reproduce unchecked, promoting cancer.

There is another opening created by the new science, and it appears to be much less daunting. HESC research could be used to establish laboratory models able to reveal the root causes of diseases by recapitulating their processes under the microscope. Following tried-and-true methods of discovery, new drugs based on these observations could be screened in cultures with far greater efficiency for their potential utility in humans.

"That's a more traditional match for the pharmaceutical industry, and if I were to speculate, that will occupy the next decades of work with these cells," says Randy Schekman '71, campus program director of UC Berkeley's Stem Cell Center. And, like so many others in the stem cell story, he has a personal stake: His wife has Parkinson's.

"We all have family and friends who suffer from these diseases," Schekman says. "Now, we have the prospect of not just palliative care ... but cures."

14. High Five

What: California's First Five campaign to improve the health and well-being of children up to age 5, funded by a 50-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes and passed by voters as Proposition 10 in 1998

Who: Actor/activist Rob Reiner, Tipper Gore, C. Everett Koop and former Calif. State Assemblyman Mike Roos

Impact: The First Five concept and the initiative it spawned have produced myriad health and welfare programs throughout California and elsewhere. A quick Google search of the term "child development first five years" nets several million citations, including programs at NYU, Yale, the Boston Public Library and the Benevolent Society in Australia. In the 1990s, writer/director/actor Reiner took up early-years children's health as an issue along with well-placed allies like Koop, the former surgeon general, and Gore, wife of the then-vice president. The issue became an initiative after Roos, a former state assemblyman, approached Reiner after hearing the actor speak at the National Governors Association in 1997. They jointly introduced Prop. 10. At UCLA, early childhood specialists such as Neal Halfon, director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, helped create the school readiness centers that served as a model for First Five's investment of millions in such resource centers across the state. Reiner resigned as chair of the First Five Commission in March 2006 after a flap arose about his effort to pass a universal preschool initiative, but remains committed to the effort.

Eureka moment: Reiner told the Los Angeles Times that he first became interested in the issue when his analyst sister, Annie, suggested he explore his own formative years (as the kid of Hollywood luminary Carl Reiner) in therapy. The insight he gleaned triggered Reiner's interest in the emerging science of early childhood development.

— Kristine Breese '86

15. Uncommon Sense

What: Wireless sensing

Who: Scientists William Kaiser, Greg Pottie, Kristofer Pister, David Culler, Deborah Estrin

Impact: Imagine if MySpace really was a space. It's coming, and wireless sensing technology will bring it to everyone, everywhere. Scientists, soldiers and citizens alike, using networks of robotic devices all working together and all equipped with an array of sensors using a concept Business Week named one of its "21 Ideas for the 21st Century." In the forest, robotic sensors already "sense" changes in temperature, humidity, light, the actions of animals and insects. In the near future, sensors surrounding a hospital will track patient movements and vital signs. Battlefield networks will track the enemy or sniff out chemical weapons. On city streets, "urban sensing" citizens with cell phones will share a traffic snarl, a mime on the street, a sudden shower downtown. The first integrated wireless sensors were developed in the mid-'90s by two UCLA scientists, Electrical Engineering Professor William Kaiser and Greg Pottie, now associate dean of research and physical resources in the Electrical Engineering Department (Kaiser called the program, dubbed Wireless Integrated Networks Sensors, or WINS, a "global digital nervous system"). Later in the decade, a research agenda for network and software architectures for distributed sensing was developed by Deborah Estrin, now director of the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing at UCLA (one of six interdisciplinary National Science Foundation and Technology Centers formed in 2002 that include hundreds of scientists and researchers, including faculty at UCLA, UC Riverside, UC Merced, CSULA and USC, among others). The work of Estrin and her band of "Eco-geeks" led to the National Research Council's "Embedded Everywhere" study. In 2001, UC Berkeley Professor Kristofer Pister introduced the concept of "smartdust," sensor devices the size of a particle of dust, and Berkeley Computer Science Professor David Culler developed TinyOS, a software environment for Pister's "motes" that enabled a community of development.

Eureka moment: As with many scientific breakthroughs, the military made them do it. Kaiser and Pottie's research was first conducted under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program, when they realized that environmental monitoring was, as Estrin describes it, "this generation's killer app to drive the development of wireless sensing technology and practice."

— Jack Feuer

16. Under Your Skin

What: The Nicotine Patch

Who: Scientists Murray E. Jarvik M.A. '45 and Jed Rose

Impact: Jarvik and Rose (then a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA) were curious about "green tobacco illness," a malady striking tobacco farmhands harvesting the crop in the South. That led to research on the potential positive implications of absorbing tobacco through the skin, which resulted in the creation of the transdermal patch that delivers nicotine directly into the body. The patch was first available in the U.S. by prescription in 1992. Four years later, it was approved for over-the-counter sale. Research shows that tools such as the patch can double smokers' chances of quitting successfully. Jarvik, now 83 and retired, posits that California was a likely place from which this invention would spring, "because people here walk around with so much skin exposed."

Eureka moment: When the researchers could not get approval to run experiments on any subjects, they tested their idea on themselves. "We put the tobacco on our skin and waited to see what would happen," Jarvik recalls. "Our heart rates increased, adrenaline began pumping, all the things that happen to smokers."

— Kristine Breese '86

17. Inside Jobs

What: Venture capital

Who: Investors William Draper, Eugene Kleiner, Tom Perkins, Michael Markkula, Arthur Rock, Don Valentine, and many others

Impact: Money from outside investors has launched thousands of companies ranging from technology to software to health care. It caused a dot-com boom and helped lift the tech sector up from the dot-com bust. In the third quarter of 2006, nearly 800 venture capital deals worth $6.2 billion occurred, according to Pricewaterhouse-Coopers. Venture capital took root in Northern California, thanks to a web of connections among key players including investor William H. Draper Jr.; venture capitalist Don Valentine; scientist Eugene Kleiner and former Hewlett-Packard manager Tom Perkins, co-founders of legendary Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins; venture capitalist Arthur Rock; and Michael Markkula, investor and co-founder of Apple Computer.

Eureka moment: The launch of Fairchild Semiconductor Corp. in 1959, which begat the silicon companies and investment firms that changed the world in the past 25 years. "If there hadn't been that deal, the [men] would have gone their separate ways and there wouldn't have been any silicon in Silicon Valley," said Rock in 2002.

— Elizabeth Corcoran

18. Show and Sell: The Ideapolis

By Samantha Dunn

Ideas, not things, are the engine that cities and nations increasingly depend on for lucre. With the obvious exception of oil, nothing in the past 25 years has shown the potential to transform tomorrow more completely than the creation of stories or services rather than goods — and the technologies with which they are delivered to their audiences. Canada and Hong Kong have blossomed as centers for moviemaking. North Carolina wants to be an entertainment production mecca. A goodly chunk of economic largess would be Lost in Hawaii if it didn't have its North Shore cash cow to milk. But it's modern-day L.A. that is the archetype of the "Ideapolis," a word coined by New Republic senior editor John Judis to describe how postindustrial capitalism is changing the way we live and work. "Instead of a strict division between services and manufacturing, manufacturing often takes the form of the production of ideas, designs and programs. And the Ideapolis is also a place particularly conducive to a kind of center-left politics, liberal on social issues, moderate to liberal on fiscal matters," Judis says.

"The five-county, Southern California area is still the biggest concentration of manufacturing employment in the country," cautions UCLA economist Ryan Ratcliff, but his colleague Edward Leamer, who has extensively researched the commerce of creativity, claims that today Mickey Mouse trumps Boeing and DreamWorks is the new U.S. Steel. Kids today set their sights not on a stable manufacturing job like those of generations past, but on "neuro-facturing" employment, as Leamer calls it — the kind of work that depends on how original your ideas can be, how much you can master technology, and how deft you are at personal networking to get your ideas into the new marketplace. It's a bottom-up workforce, so different from the hierarchical model of the industrial revolution.

California was incubator to this brave new world. The seeds were planted when the film industry invented itself in the '20s. And no American industry has retained a continuous domination over the world like L.A.'s entertainment juggernaut, all based on an end product that "has no form other than the resonance it leaves in a person's imagination," says UCLA's Howard Suber M.A. '66, Ph.D. '68, author of The Power of Film. In the world of tomorrow, the successful economies, here and abroad, will be the Ideapolises that best put their creative talent to use.

19. A Wrinkle in Time/Space

What: The COBE satellite, which corroborated the Big Bang theory of the universe's origins

Who: Scientists George Smoot and John Mather

Impact: Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time, called the results of the COBE satellite mission "the greatest discovery of the century, if not of all time." The satellite (its name stands for Cosmic Background Explorer), conceived independently by Mather and Smoot while they were at Berkeley and launched in 1989, substantiated a prediction that the universe, at its edges, has stripes — space-time ripples — left over from just after the Big Bang. "They are like tooling marks … of the universe," says Smoot. "These little tooling marks — things that you would normally not notice — after billions of years turn into the structures we actually see with our telescopes." According to the Nobel Prize committee, which awarded the duo a Nobel in 2006, "the COBE project can also be regarded as the starting point for cosmology as a precision science." Smoot may also be a runner-up as one of the most oft-quoted scientists on religious Web sites after he enthusiastically said of his discovery, "If you're religious, it's like seeing God." More than a decade later, he is still explaining that he meant this metaphorically.

Eureka moment: Once the data from COBE was sent to Earth, Smoot analyzed it for years before he could be sure he'd found his ripples. After generating an analysis that seemed to work, he had a graduate student duplicate it to see if they matched. At one in the morning, the student slipped the results under his door. "I was out really late. But I didn't care. It was sort of like I was sliding down the hill on air. It was clear. Everything made sense."

— Erik Vance

20. Unreal Life

What: Computer-generated imagery (CGI)

Who: Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), San Francisco, Calif.

Impact: "The question is not how CGI has impacted animation, but how it has impacted entertainment," says Fred Raimondi, visual effects supervisor at Venice, Calif.-based special effects studio Digital Domain, of the advent of computer-generated imagery, the digitally based 3-D graphics application that hypnotizes teenaged boys and simulates everything from swishing party dresses to roaring factory fires to the Creation. In 1995, the first completely computer-generated feature film, Pixar's Toy Story, was a box-office smash. Since then, a steady stream of studio-produced CGI media blockbusters have rewritten the rules of movie, TV and video game animation, and transformed storytelling in live action as well. Analysts estimate the average amount spent on visual effects for a feature film has rocketed from $5 million in 2000 to more than $40 million today.

Eureka moment: Though it was used as early as the early '80s — notably, in Lucasfilm's The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Paramount's Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) — neither filmmakers nor audiences were smitten with CGI until witnessing ILM's photorealistic effects in the 1989 feature, The Abyss (20th Century Fox).

— Randi Schmelzer

21. Hooked Up

What: Metcalfe's Law (social networking)

Who: Inventor Robert Metcalfe

Impact: OK, here is the breakthrough in science-speak: Metcalfe's Law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users in the system. That's how Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, the most famous local-area computer-networking standard, first formulated it when he was working at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto in the mid-1970s. In layman's terms (that is, English), this irresistible techno-cultural force is known by a far less daunting description: social networking. As the Internet has been, it is beginning to look like mere preparation for an even bigger tech wave: online communities. A whole new generation of entrepreneurs is taking Metcalfe's Law to heart and creating Web-based structures that link together people of common interests into ever more valuable networks: MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, craigslist … hundreds now, and more to come. Value? How about $1.6 billion, the price paid by Google to purchase YouTube.

Eureka moment: When Metcalfe first pointed out that his equation might have some real-world value, few people noticed. His is a particularly maverick genius, half a serious technology entrepreneur (he founded 3Com Corp.) and half a fun-loving iconoclast. Thanks to never being taken quite seriously, Metcalfe spent many years largely uncredited for his greatest discovery. Even now, when it seems every other new high-tech business plan is built upon his Law, Metcalfe has moved from Silicon Valley to Maine, where he is more likely to be found in a local diner than in a laboratory.

— Michael S. Malone

22. Mind Games

What: Exercising your brain to stave off memory loss

Who: Researchers Marian Diamond, Gary Small '73

Impact: It's hard to imagine a time when people believed that the brain was immutable and that, like a game of cards, you simply play out the hand you were dealt when it came to smarts, skills and memory. That's the small-minded thinking that greeted Marian Diamond, professor of anatomy and neuroanatomy at UC Berkeley, and a team of other Berkeley profs back in the 1960s when they presented data to colleagues showing that the brain grew with use and got smaller with disuse. But they kept at it. The idea took root in pop culture in the 1980s as the oldest of the baby boomers turned 40 and started thinking hard about memory loss. Enter Gary Small, UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, director of the UCLA Center on Aging and a major figure in the popularization of the idea that memory games and brain exercises can help keep your memory and maybe even prevent Alzheimer's. Today, the Alzheimer's Association is working with the Centers for Disease Control on a national action plan to promote brain health. Crosswords are generally considered a mental workout. And while Diamond (who is married to UCLA Professor of Neurobiology and Psychiatry Arnold Scheibel) and Small won't take credit for the current Sudoku craze, they do agree the game's millions of players won't be sorry they stayed up late crunching numbers and stuffing them into that unforgiving grid.

Eureka moment: The Center on Aging began offering a memory training course in 2003 adapted from Small's research and taught by volunteers, and designed for "older adults." But the class was quickly crashed by boomers, young adults, even teenagers, and Small realized that brain workouts are not just for "the 70-year-old grandmother who forgets her lunch date, but also the soccer mom who forgets to pick up her kids." The "older adults" phrase was gone from the course title within months.

— Kristine Breese '86

23. Play It Again, Tomorrow

What: Digital video recorders

Who: TiVo Inc., Alviso, Calif.

Impact: First available for home use in the late '90s, Silicon Valley-based TiVo pioneered digital video recorders (DVRs) — attached-to-the-TV devices that allow viewers to record programs on an internal hard disk — allowing viewers to specify not only which programs to record but also to "pause" live TV, "rewind" just-viewed footage, and entirely skip over annoying commercials. Now a "how did we ever live without it?" staple in more than 12 million American homes, TiVo — as well as DVR brands including ReplayTV, EchoStar and Motorola — has achieved the ultimate in American pop culture: It has become a verb, as in "I'll TiVo Heroes and watch it over the weekend."

Eureka moment: The DVR's real moment of reckoning was collective, and corporate. Even though the percentage of U.S. homes with DVRs was and still is relatively small, the technology terrified the ad industry when first introduced, creating a "death of the 30-second spot" hysteria that forced radical thinking in how commerce communicates to the rest of us. The stampede of marketing money now pouring into social networking, cell phones and the like is a direct descendent of TiVo's challenge to the media status quo. "DVRs were one of the primary drivers that slapped the marketers between the eyes," says Paul Rand, global chief development and innovation officer at Ketchum marketing and PR. "They underlined that how you reached consumers was changing."

— Randi Schmelzer

24. Surge Protector

What: Energy-saving appliances

Who: Particle physicist Art Rosenfeld

Impact: The foundations for the energy-saving revolution began in the '70s, but it was in the next decade that Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) particle physicist Art Rosenfeld laid out the intellectual underpinnings of the new field — which gave rise to fluorescent light bulbs, energy-saving air refrigerators, and the like — at the Center for Building Science, which he founded at LBNL. When Rosenfeld received the Fermi Prize for lifetime achievement in physics in 2006, the EPA credited all the efficiency initiatives adopted between 1973 and 2005 with saving an annual amount of electricity equivalent to 21 percent of U.S. consumption, or $228 billion dollars.

Eureka moment: November 1973: Gas supplies have been cut by the month-old Arab Oil Embargo and people wait in long lines to buy gas. Rosenfeld's office is lit by 12 dazzling 60-watt light bulbs, which makes it easy for him to see a startling calculation. The light bulbs in his office are burning the equivalent of a .5 gallon of oil per hour, and if he leaves them on all weekend, as nearly everyone does, his empty office will have burned the equivalent of three gallons of gasoline by the time he returns on Monday morning. "There are 20 lights in the hallway between my office and the door of the building," he recalls, "and I figure it'll save several cars' worth of oil if I turn them off."

— Lisa Margonelli

25. Close to Home

What: Transit-oriented development

Who: Architect Peter Calthorpe

Impact: Main Street U.S.A. has been revived, only now it's called the New Urbanism, and it is shaping new neighborhoods around the world as a friendly, walkable alternative to suburban sprawl. Visionary California architect Peter Calthorpe and a core of UC Berkeley professors decided in 1988 to push urban planning forward by looking backward. Their deceptively simple concept: public-transit-oriented neighborhoods made of a dense mix of homes, stores, cafes and offices clustered around a train or bus station. As average commutes slowed to 10 mph, mixed-use transit neighborhoods have popped up in Dallas and Denver and spread from the U.S. to Asia and Australia. They've reshaped Pasadena, Burbank, Oakland, Sacramento and smaller cities in between. Next up is New Orleans and, eventually, China. The insidious strip mall, in fact, may fade to a memory. UC Berkeley Architecture Professors David Solomon and Harrison Fraker (the latter now dean of the College of Environmental Design), helped Calthorpe give birth to the idea with a series of workshops and the 1989 booklet, The Pedestrian Pocket Book: A New Suburban Design Strategy, which in 1993 spawned the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Eureka moment: Calthorpe was working on Sacramento's light rail system when he realized that to conserve energy, you have to do more than fix buildings — you have to fix neighborhoods. "The railroad track was the logical place for new growth. The answer to sprawl was right in front of us," he says.

— Joan Voigt

How the top 25 were chosen

The staffs at UCLA Magazine and California, the alumni and university magazines of UCLA and UC Berkeley, collaborated to produce this special issue celebrating 25 brilliant California ideas from the past 25 years. We polled our respective faculties to select ideas that were transformative in broad, but far-reaching, criteria: media and technology, culture and society, business, science and engineering, and the environment. We couldn't canvas every member of the two faculties, but we did reach out to dozens of educators, researchers and scientists at both universities, and endeavored to include a broad range of disciplines. The final selection was made jointly by the editors in consultation with faculty and administrative leaders. The stories themselves were designed and edited independently to conform to each magazine's unique voice and style.