From Radioactive Blueberries to Virtual Limbs: Berkeley MDes’s Award-Winning Designs

radioactive blueberries installation

02/08/2024 10:00 pm

Berkeley Master of Design students have been busy!  Recent graduates and current students alike have been winning design competitions with some thoughtful and evocative projects:  

  • Gia Kirk of the MDes2024 cohort and her team took second place in the iHackHealth Appathon. She and her team developed an app called “Phantom Mirror” which leverages AR to provide free therapy for people with phantom limb pain.
  • Carmela Wilkens (MDes2023) became a finalist in Berkeley’s Big Ideas Contest for Counter Culture, a a Human-Food Interaction (HFI) hub, centers Black geographies and African diasporic knowledge to directly confront food apartheid—the systemic denial of equitable food access due to racial and economic segregation. Best of luck to Carmela as she embarks on Big Ideas’ intensive mentorship and training journey as part of the final round of the competition.
  • MDes2023 cohort members Karthika Baiju, Ellie Hoshizaki, and Yue Wu were shortlisted for the 2024 Interaction Awards for their project Radioactive Blueberries: A Glimpse into the Future of Fruits.  Radioactive Blueberries was developed last spring in Designing Emerging Technologies.  (See featured pic above.) “It presents a thought-provoking critique through a soft robotic blueberry bush crafted with silicone casting, which glows and pulses eerily, evoking a future where all fruits may bear the mark of radioactivity.” 

Multiple MDesians from the 2023 and 2024 cohorts participated in MIT Reality Hack, the AR/VR metaverse hackathon held at MIT.  A few came home with recognition:

recoVR Bronze Prize group photo

  • Koi Ren and Ronan Chen (both MDes2023) won the bronze prize for Best of Vitality Unleashed AND Best of Startup Hack with RECOVR, an application to give disabled users the ability to control a virtual limb. The project was conceived after a friend of the team lost all control of his left arm from a motorcycle accident. “RECOVR is designed to accompany users during their recovery journey of a prosthetic limb with immersive joyful experiences.” 
  • Ananth Nayak (MDes2023) and his team won Best Use of Meta Presence Platform – Augmented Productivity with Talk to Me, a concept prototype that promises to “boost productivity and deepen workplace connections” through “revolutionizing collaboration between XR and non-XR users.”

The International Design Awards 2023 awarded two MDes teams prizes:

  • MDes2024 cohort members Abigail Chen and Ankur Kela were awarded a Silver Award for their work on Hydropoonics, a self-sufficient plant system that utilizes toilet tank water (and a toilet!) to fulfill the needs of a hydroponic system.


  • Phyllis Fei, Ziyi Zhou, John Brechbill, and Lingke Song took home a Silver Prize in the Conceptual Products/Work & Office Product Design category for their work on Bravo. “This elegant IoT device enables remote teams to engage in delightful, spontaneous ways beyond the screen.”

Bravo, collaborative office device

And most recently at the #HackDisability: AI for Accessibility (hosted jointly by the Howe Innovation Center and MIT CSAIL):

  • MDes2022 alumni Xingtai (Ted) Huang took home 2nd place for a project his team developed called “Hear The Room,” which leverages AI to interpret facial expressions in virtual meetings to provide new ways for blind or low-vision individuals to engage. (Read a bit more about this work here.)

"Hear the Room" research group with award

It’s exciting to see our MDes students’ thoughtful approaches recognized by leaders in the design industry. Their projects span a wide range of themes and applications—from speculative designs that provoke thought about our future, to practical solutions aimed at enhancing productivity, vitality, and sustainability. And each project reflects the Berkeley MDes ethos of interdisciplinary collaboration, critical thinking, and a commitment to addressing societal and environmental issues through design. 

Congratulations MDesians!