The old adage about building a better mousetrap had some appeal to me when, as a young graduate student, I was trying to find a way to serve an eviction notice to a rodent who had taken up residence in my apartment. These days, however, I reserve my entrepreneurial enthusiasm for products and services with the potential to solve more pressing problems. If you catch me breaking into a poor imitation of Tevye and Lazar Wolfe singing “To Life” from the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” it may just be because of the exciting life-science innovations generated right here in our back yard that offer prospects of enhanced air quality, improved cancer survival and even the discovery of life elsewhere in our solar system and beyond.

Who are these prescient innovators? They range from highly trained scientists and engineers to concerned citizens. Their innovative solutions are spinning out of local academic and government-agency research labs, corporate entities, not-for-profit incubators and community organizations.

An early-January trip to Santa Clara for California State University ’s annual CSUPERB Biotechnology Symposium offered a spellbinding glimpse into the possibilities of the future, compliments of multidisciplinary research and entrepreneurial efforts, many emerging from research labs at California State University – Northridge. It didn’t take much searching to find others in the community pursuing similar ends with equal resolve and impressive results.

Take air quality, for example. Having grown up in a time when pictures of gray skies over Los Angeles were a favored mechanism for scaring school kids about the dangers of air pollution, I was pleasantly surprised in moving to the Valley about four years ago to discover that I could actually see the sun most days of the year. Still, with Los Angeles rated as the top U.S. city for ozone levels and fourth highest for year-round particulates, those of us just over the hill from the city center are not yet in a position to breathe easily (literally or figuratively).

Enter CSUN biology Professor Chhandak Basu and graduate student Niveditha Ramadoss. Working with colleagues from Washington University of St. Louis and University of California at Irvine, they are on the cutting edge of research in bioremediation, closing in on genetic plant transformations with substantial capability of absorbing environmental pollutants.

Visionary CSUN engineering alumnus and entrepreneur Max Aram and his partner Chris Blevins launched Pick My Solar, a startup that is transforming how homeowners transition to solar energy, aided by skilled consulting from the globally ranked incubator LACI@CSUN. Meanwhile, concerned citizens in Pacoima Beautiful, a resident-driven environmental non-profit organization, have won Environmental Protection Agency support and acknowledgement for their socially innovative program of signage alerting truck drivers to residential route restrictions and communication campaigns informing areas business of environmentally friendly practices and residents of health impacts and protective strategies for living in high-emission areas.