Tapio Schneider and Colleagues Discover Storms in the Tropics of Titan
Tapio Schneider, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, and his colleagues have discover storms on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which is generally "a very bland place, weatherwise," says Mike Brown, Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor and Professor of Planetary Astronomy. "The first cloud was seen near the tropics and was caused by a still-mysterious process, but it behaved almost like an explosion in the atmosphere, setting off waves that traveled around the planet, triggering their own clouds. Within days a huge cloud system had covered the south pole, and sporadic clouds were seen all the way up to the equator." Schneider, an expert on atmospheric circulations, was instrumental in helping to sort out the complicated chain of events that followed the initial outburst of cloud activity. [Caltech Press Release]
Shang-Li and Betty Huang Create Endowment to Support Caltech Graduate Students
Shang-Li Huang (PhD '76 Mechanical Engineering) and his wife Betty have pledged $1 million to endow the Shang-Li and Betty Huang Endowed Graduate Fellowship Fund in Mechanical Engineering. "S.L. was my graduate student and did an outstanding PhD thesis back in the 1970s—a thesis whose results are still widely used in the rocket-engine design business," said Chris Brennen, the Richard L. and Dorothy M. Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Caltech. "He and Betty are deeply interested in education—in particular, graduate education. They have been instrumental in rallying support for mechanical engineering at Caltech. We are most grateful for their generous help and advice." [Caltech Press Release]
Chiara Daraio Selected to Participate in the STS Forum - Future Leaders Initiative
Chiara Daraio, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Applied Physics, has been selected to participate in the 2009 Science & Technology in Society (STS) Forum - Future Leaders Initiative. Daraio will join nine other outstanding young scientists from Japan, England, Germany, Chile, Uruguay, Malawi, China and the United States to discuss the impact of their research on societal development. Daraio's research focuses on synthesizing and testing so-called "smart" materials that have a variety of potential applications, ranging from novel methods for sustainable engineering and nondestructive evaluation of civil and mechanical infrastructure (e.g., bridges, power plants) to new acoustic lenses for biomedical imaging and surgery.
The STS Forum is organized and sponsored by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). Guruswami Ravichandran, director of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories and John E. Goode, Jr. Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, said, "I am delighted that Dr. Daraio will be representing GALCIT and Caltech at this internationally renowned, interdisciplinary, and cross-sectoral forum". "Dr. Daraio's selection to participate in this world forum is yet another indication of the importance and far reaching impact of the research conducted by the engineering and applied science faculty", said Professor Ares Rosakis, chair of Caltech's Division of Engineering and Applied Science and Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering.
John Dabiri and Kakani Katija Link Tiny Sea Creatures to Large-scale Ocean Mixing
John Dabiri, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering, and graduate student Kakani Katija have discovered a new mechanism that explains how some of the ocean's tiniest swimming animals can have a huge impact on large-scale ocean mixing. Dabiri describes, "we've been studying swimming animals for quite some time, the perspective we usually take is that of how the ocean—by its currents, temperature, and chemistry—is affecting the animals. But there have been increasing suggestions that the inverse is also important—how the animals themselves, via swimming, might impact the ocean environment." Ares Rosakis, the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering and chair of the EAS Division described the research as, "truly reflective of the type of exciting, without-boundaries research at which Caltech engineering professors excel." [Caltech Press Release]
Michael Roukes and Akshay Naik Create First Nanoscale Mass Spectrometer
Michael L. Roukes, Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Bioengineering; Co-Director, Kavli Nanoscience Institute, and colleague Akshay Naik have created the first nanoscale mass spectrometer. This new technique simplifies and miniaturizes the measurement of the mass of molecules through the use of very tiny nanoelectromechanical system (NEMS) resonators. Askshay Naik explains, "the frequency at which the resonator vibrates is directly proportional to its mass. When a protein lands on the resonator, it causes a decrease in the frequency at which the resonator vibrates and the frequency shift is proportional to the mass of the protein". Professor Roukes points out, "the next generation of instrumentation for the life sciences must enable proteomic analysis with very high throughput. The potential power of our approach is that it is based on semiconductor microelectronics fabrication, which has allowed creation of perhaps mankind's most complex technology." [Caltech Press Release]
Michael Elowitz and Avigdor Eldar Show How Evolution Can Allow for Large Developmental Leaps
Michael Elowitz, Associate Professor of Biology and Applied Physics; Bren Scholar, and Avigdor Eldar, Postdoctoral Scholar, show how evolution can allow for large developmental leaps. Most volutionary changes happen in tiny increments: an elephant grows a little larger, a giraffe's neck a little longer. Elowitz and Eldar's team have shown that such changes may at least sometimes be the result of noise, working alongside partial penetrance. Eldar, states "if you take a bunch of cells and grow them in exactly the same environment, they'll be identical twin brothers in terms of the genes they have, but they may still show substantial differences in their behavior". Elowitz adds that "noise—these random fluctuations of proteins in the cell—is not just a nuisance in this system; it's a key part of the process that allows genetically identical cells to do very different things." [Caltech Press Release]
Regina Dugan Named Director of DARPA
Regina Dugan (PhD '93 Mechanical Engineering) has been named director of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense. Dugan, the founder and CEO of RedXDefense, LLC, a Maryland-based firm that develops technologies to detect and counter explosives, becomes the 19th director and first woman to head DARPA, the DoD's principal research and development agency.
President Obama Presents Three EAS Faculty with the PECASE
In a special White House ceremony, President Obama will be presenting three EAS faculty: John Dabiri, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering, Beverley McKeon, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics, and Joel Tropp, Assistant Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics, with the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). "These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country," President Obama said. Dabiri,describes the idea behind his PECASE-winning research as "giving underwater vehicles the enhanced performance of fish (e.g. efficiency, stealth, and maneuverablity) without mimicking the shape and swimming motions of fish. Instead, we replicate the vortex dynamics in the wakes of swimming fish." His "bio-inspired systems" were used by Lydia Ruiz (PhD '09 Mechanical Engineering), to demonstrateincreases in vehicle propulsive efficiency of over 50 percent.
McKeon is receiving the PECASE for her research on fundamental questions in complex turbulent boundary layers. McKeon states that "the ultimate goal is to incorporate recent advances in the understanding of flow physics in order to develop low order models of flow over surfaces for Air Force applications". Tropp's PECASE-winning research "focuses on developing new algorithms for solving inverse problems, a basic challenge that arises throughout the mathematical sciences. Inverse problems also appear in medical imaging, in communication systems, in statistical data analysis, and a host of other areas." He uses tools from modern applied mathematics, such as optimization techniques and randomized algorithms to collect partial information about an object of interest, and incorporate additional background knowledge to develop a complete picture of the object.
Other researchers receiving the PECASE award this year are Joshua K. Willis from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the following Caltech Alumni Elizabeth Boon, (PhD '03 CCE), Markus J. Buehler, (Post doc in CCE) Michael J. Hochberg, (Ph.D. '06 EAS - Applied Physics), Justin K. Romberg, (Post doc in EAS - Applied and Computational Mathematics), Cecilia R. Aragon, (B.S. '82 PMA), Jason Graetz, (Ph.D. '03 EAS - Materials Science), and Ioannis Chasiotis, (Ph.D. '02 EAS - Aerospace).