Project Archives

Learn to design and build with the IDEASS community!

IDEASS projects take place at a variety of places in the Santa Cruz area and most are designed to mitigate problems recognized by community leaders as important to develop sustainable societies. Over the course of the year, teams of 2-4 students pursue projects that enhance their academic and professional skills. They also learn valuable techniques for working with professionals that will prepare them for the workforce and serve them for the rest of their lives.

To learn more about past and present IDEASS projects, click here, or please visit the UCSC Sustainaiblity Project Clearinghouse and use the search term “IDEASS”.


Ongoing Projects

Digital Narratives

Solar Lanterns

See more here.

Bay View Elementary DROPS Program


Smart Irrigation 

Trash Toss Videogame 

Trash Toss Gametest

See more here.

Completed Projects

Clean Oceans International Plastic to Fuel Conversion 

Clean Oceans International is a Santa Cruz Ca. based environmental non-profit working with students and faculty of the UCSC IDEASS program to introduce practical solutions to plastic pollution. In addition to training student teams on shoreline survey and cleanup techniques COI has been on the developing edge of plastic to fuel (P2F) conversion technology that profitably produces clean burning fossil fuels from waste plastic on any scale in any location.

See more here and here

Green Careers Apprenticeship Learning

Green Careers

A team of IDEASS students is creating a curriculum for at-risk high school students at the Natural Bridges Green Center to engage and interest them in green careers. Students will be working on a 6-month innovative project applying chemistry and engineering skills to create solar dye cells, building a rainwater catchment system, and monitoring solar tubes. The students will learn how and why to critically address the importance of sustainability by the amount of much energy and water they are saving by utilizing the solar tubes/dye cells and rainwater catchment system.  Throughout the year, students will be creating an environmentally focused film and audio logs. Their finished film will be presented at the 2014 summer exposition at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center at Santa Cruz, California.

Microgrids: Sensing, Data Management and Analysis:

This project intends to improve energy sensing and data management to demonstrate and study the advantages of microgrids. This team integrates wireless transmitters in energy monitoring devices (Kill-A-Watts) to view energy data in real-time. and their goal is to have sensors integrated ubiquitously on the UCSC campus that constantly collect energy data. This data from the sensors, along with energy data from the microgrid at NASA Ames, will be displayed creatively online for analysis and education. Users will be able to schedule time, check the status and collect data from instruments at the NASA Ames microgrid, while monitoring their energy use on campus.

Analyzing LEED Building Performance:

LEEDS Building

This project analyzes the energy efficiency of NOAA Foundation’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center on the waterfront in Santa Cruz, CA, which has been certified as a LEED Gold building. The goal is to compare actual performance data with expected and use that analysis to support building managers and occupants invested in optimizing the performance of the building’s design and to inform visitors. Our analysis compares the architectural designs and goals for MBNMS with the awarded standards for LEED certification. The team then uses actual energy performance data, and compares it to a simulated model of optimal performance created by the team using the software program Design-Builder. These findings will be used to develop a real-time visual or interactive display that will educate the public about the green building. This project illuminates the importance of monitoring ongoing energy performance post construction and LEED certification.

Smart Designs for Zero Waste Packaging with Zero Motorcycles:

Zero Motorcycles Logo

Zero Motorcycles

IDEASS has been recruited by Zero Motorcycles—a global leader in all-electric motorcycle design and manufacturing in Scott’s Valley—to help redesign the shipping crates they use to send their products overseas. The current crate uses a combination of cardboard/plywood to support and protect the motorcycles shipped internationally. However there are several problems with this design that Zero would like to overcome. 

  • International import/export policies prevent some countries from accepting plywood from overseas

  • Cardboard recycles and/or biodegrades more easily than plywood which can often end up as waste in landfills

  • Existing alternative cardboard crate design does not satisfy structural demands and puts motorcycles at risk

  • Styrofoam sheets and plastic are used to protect finish

The management at Zero is interested in using alternative materials, packaging designs and assembly techniques to minimize or eliminate waste associated with shipping their products overseas.  Undergraduate team members have been researching alternative materials (such as high performance biomaterials grown from mycelium and agricultural waste) and working in the DANM prototyping lab with 3-D modeling software, 3-D printing, and laser cutting to explore innovative geometries and assembly techniques to reduce waste while improving the structural integrity of  a redesigned shipping crate. 

Green Wharf


The collaborative agreement between the City of Santa Cruz and UCSC to partner in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase environmental awareness has resulted in the creation of the GreenWharf project. As a research and demonstration site, the GreenWharf combines a number of more specific initiatives such as the creation of a renewable energy test bed, mounting an electrical vehicle charging station, furthering a green business program, and the launch of the Santa Cruz Wharf EcoTour. 
IDEASS collaboration with the GreenWharf project is now in its fourth year enabling students to work on several initiatives including: installation of a renewable energy test bed (wind and solar sensors, a vertical axis wind turbine, and a solar panel) and data analysis; promoting Ecology Action’s RightLights program and the Monterey Green Business program to wharf businesses; design and launch of docent-led and self-guided EcoTour supported by interpretive signs and QR code access points in collaboration with Long Marine Lab; plans and preparation for a public access electric vehicle charging station. For 2012/2013 students are focused on waste-to-fuel recycling with particular emphasis on biosolids and waste grease processing.

Game Design


This project involves designing and building a computer game to teach principles of green building, renewable energy, and energy efficiency to youth. The premise of the game positions players as safeguards/heroes responsible for resolving environmental problems across the globe. Players are assigned a set of tools and the solution to various problems and are prompted to proceed. Players win higher scores by making prudent decisions but also learn about the tradeoffs resulting from the choices theymake. The idea is to provide an interactive and fun way to learn about sustainability for the built environment. Students in the UCSC Game Design major were mentored by Mike Parisi, an independent game design entrepreneur, and Thomas Rettenwender of EcoLogicDesign.

The Natural Bridges High School / Green Career Projects

IDEASS students with their NB class and completed bike generator

The Natural Bridges Green Career Center is an alternative education program that motivates and prepares youth (ages 15-18) to pursue careers in the emerging green-tech workforce. Projects implemented by IDEASS combine educational goals with sustainable mitigation strategies. In 2010, IDEASS students decided to design, install and monitor a rainwater catchment and irrigation system to support the school’s vegetable garden and to reduce the school’s demand for municipally distributed water. Another team has been awarded funds to purchase equipment and design a system that replaces interior lighting with solar-tubes  a passive solar technology. Each of the technological solutions piloted on site are coupled with the design and implementation of hands-on-curriculum for the youth.

Campus Energy Dashboard and Behavior Change


Students living in UCSC dorms are an important target audience for campaigns to reduce energy consumption through behavior change. In order to influence student behavior, easy access to information on energy consumption is needed, along with a strategy and outreach campaign to influence student behavior.
This project has two components. The first is designing and building a web-based and/or mobile app dashboard to display real-time building energy use in an interactive and fun way. Data for this project is available through the UCSC Physical Plant’s Tridium server, and the dashboard needs to be designed and built. The second component is publicizing this information, integrating it into a strategy to influence student behavior, and supplementing building energy use information with tips on how students can reduce their own energy usage. An IDEASS student from last year made an initial plan for campus-wide dorm energy education and competitions, but this plan would need to be revisited, completed, and implemented. Integrating the dashboard with the outreach campaign will make the overall project successful. This project requires participation from students in the Computer Science Department.

Rainwater Systems and Water Rebate Outreach

Rainwater Catchment

Over the past four years, IDEASS has been designing and developing rainwater catchment systems and technologies at various sites around the City of Santa Cruz and at UCSC. The overarching goal is to increase water capture and retention in Santa Cruz through the use of low impact development (LID) projects that reduce storm water runoff, increase our groundwater supply, reduce the amount of pollutants leaching into our waterways, increase access and educate the community about alternatives they can immediately pursue to directly participate in sustainable water resource management. IDEASS is accomplishing this through the development of LID and rainwater catchment systems at three different locations. A Smart Irrigation system that includes rainwater catchment, solar power and moisture sensors is nearly completed at the Natural Bridges Green Career High School at 313 Swift Street. The unveiling of one of the first comprehensive rainwater to toilet systems at the UCSC Wellness Center celebrates the involvement of undergraduates in a major campus project. Plans for a comprehensive Rainwater Catchment and other LID installations (e.g. bio-swales, rain gardens and semipermeable paving) at Bay View Elementary are expected to be funded through the new DROPS program with the State of California. These projects will continue to raise awareness about the challenges and benefits of promoting decentralized water systems.

Bicycle Transit Planning

Bike transit GIS investigation

To promote bicycle riding in the city of Santa Cruz and reduce carbon emissions, the City of Santa Cruz Climate Action plan includes promotion of biking as an alternative mode of transportation. To help City of Santa Cruz meet the needs of current and future cyclists in Santa Cruz, an isolated study of transit to and from the University of California Santa Cruz has been conducted by the Impact Designs: Engineering & Sustainability through Student Service (IDEASS) Bicycle Transit Planning Team (BTPT). Brenden Fant (Environmental Studies '13), Austin Seller (Environmental Studies and Biology '13), and Anthony Siao (Environmental Studies and Technology Information Management '14) worked on the project with Ross Clark, the City of Santa Cruz Climate Change Action Manager. The team compiled data from three sources and used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to construct maps outlining frequently used roads, road quality, and cycling collision locations in order to "increase the level of safety for cyclists in high traffic corridors," said Fant. To read the full story, click here.

Click here to read their draft report. If you have comments or questions, please email Brenden Fant.