UCLA faculty team up and think BIG in the “Sandpit”

October 19, 2020

This fall, more than 60 UCLA faculty are participating in a novel approach to developing research projects that address sustainability challenges in Los Angeles, the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Sandpit 2020. The cross-campus exercise will culminate in a pitch event on December 7, where research teams will compete for a funding award of up to $1 million.

The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge (SLA GC) team launched the Sandpit in September to facilitate relationships across campus, stimulate new lines of inquiry and research, and help set UCLA’s research strategy in urban sustainability for 2021 and beyond.

Through a series of virtual workshops and events facilitated by Idea Farm Co-op and the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge (SLA GC) team, Sandpit participants get to prototype big ideas, form interdisciplinary teams, and develop research projects that advance UCLA’s goal of helping Los Angeles become the most sustainable megacity by 2050.

With participants representing 14 schools at UCLA and 27 departments, the Sandpit is truly a cross-campus exercise.

“What makes the Sandpit different from other funding competitions is that we’ve asked faculty to come without a specific research project, and instead bring an open mind and a spirit of curiosity,” said Cassie Rauser, SLA GC executive director. “With the diverse group of faculty who are participating, we cannot wait to see the ideas that come out of the Sandpit.”

The Research

Sandpit teams will design research proposals exploring one of the SLA GC topic areas: energy, transportation, water and ecosystems. All proposals must address the theme of “equity, access and justice,” as well as at least one other cross-cutting theme:

-Climate and environment
-Law, policy and economics
-Human health and well-being
-Culture, design and land use
-Science, technology and innovation

Proposals are also required to address a specific action item, target or goal from the OurCounty Los Angeles Sustainability Plan. Throughout the Sandpit process, participants engage with key external stakeholders—including leaders from the City and County of Los Angeles, private and nonprofit leaders, and community-based organizations—to help shape research and ensure real-world impact.

“With Los Angeles facing simultaneous and interrelated crises like inequality, racial injustice, climate change, air pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic, this work is truly urgent,” said SLA GC director Eric Hoek, a professor in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “For so many of us faculty, it’s personal. Los Angeles is home, where we are raising children. I’m inspired by so many faculty coming together to help Los Angeles thrive during this challenging time, and excited by the potential.”

The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Sandpit 2020 is made possible through a generous gift from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation.