News & Events
Agustin J. Colussi, senior research associate in environmental science and engineering, and colleagues have found that airborne particulates impair the lungs' naturaldefenses against ozone. Their research focused on what happens when air meets the thin layer of antioxidant-rich fluid that covers our lungs, protecting them from ozone, an air pollutant that pervades major cities. "We found new chemistry at the interfaces separating gases from liquids using a technique that continuously monitors the composition of these interfaces," Colussi says. Under normal physiological conditions, ascorbic acid instantly scavenges ozone, generating innocuous byproducts. However, the researchers discovered that when the fluid is acidic, a pathological condition found in asthmatics, ascorbic acid instead reacts with ozone to form potentially harmful compounds called ozonides.
World Wide Telescope (WWT), a new Microsoft product, combines cosmic imagery and educational content from many sources, including major ground-based sky surveys. A significant portion of the data was processed at Caltech's Center for Advanced Computing Research (CACR). [Caltech Press Release]
Tags: research highlights
Michael Elowitz, Assistant Professor of Biology and Applied Physics and a Bren Scholar, has been named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. Elowitz is fundamentally interested in how cells' own genetic circuits dictate what type of cells they become. In work that overturned the steadfastnotion that genes and networks of genes operate in a predictable and fixed fashion, he and his colleagues showed that key properties of the cell, like how actively it turns out different proteins, are intrinsically random. To show that randomness is used to more accurately control the shapes and patterns that make organisms work, Elowitz is turning to larger and more complex animal cells. "I'm grateful to HHMI for the amazing opportunity this appointment presents to focus as much as possible on research. The funds will enable us to explore new directions, especially allowing us to expand approaches we've previously developed primarily in bacteria to mammalian cells." [Caltech Press Release]
Mani Chandy, Simon Ramo Professor and Professor of Computer Science, Mathieu Desbrun, Associate Professor of Computational Science and Engineering and Computer Science, and Joel Tropp, Assistant Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics, have been recognized as exceptional teachers by the students at Caltech. Each has won a 2007-2008 ASCIT prize, awarded by the undergraduate Academics and Research Committee (ARC) and the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT). This award is bestowed upon only five faculty members each year.
Chiara Daraio, Professor Aeronautics and Applied Physics, has won the 2008 Richard von Mises Prize. This prize is awarded each year by the International Association of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics (GAMM) to a young scientist for exceptional scientific achievements in the field of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics. The prize was awarded at the opening ceremony of the Annual meeting of GAMM in March, in Bremen, Germany.
Michael Dickinson, Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering, is among the 190 new Fellows elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year. Dickinson studies animal physiology and behavior and has become well known for Robofly, a mechanical fly that sprang from his work on the neurobiology and biomechanics of fly locomotion. Throughout his career, Dickinson has used a variety of tools, such as wind tunnels, virtual reality simulators, high-speed video, and giant robotic models, to determine how the poppy seed-sized brains of these tiny insects can rapidly control aerodynamic forces. More than a simple understanding of the material basis for insect flight, Dickinson's studies provide insight into complex systems operating on biological and physical principles: neuronal signaling within brains, the dynamics of unsteady fluid flow, the structural mechanics of composite materials, and the behavior of nonlinear systems are all linked when a fly takes wing. [Caltech Press Release].
The topping off of the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology occurred on April 24. The last girder, with the flag and a tree, was hoisted and placed. The building, designed by the architectural firm Frederick Fisher and Partners in Los Angeles, will serve as home to participants in the IST initiative, a program of interdisciplinary research and instruction that addresses the growth and impact of information as it relates to all science and engineering practices. The types of questions that IST researchers seek to answer are: What are the theoretical foundations of information? What are the fundamental physical limits to information? How does nature compute and communicate information? How does information shape social systems? The Annenberg Foundation donated $25 million toward the construction of the approximately 50,000-square-foot building. Caltech Trustee, Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., donated $1 million in support of the final stages of construction. [Caltech Press Release]
Pasadena's largest-ever solar-energy facility will be installed on the Caltech campus. [Caltech Press Release]
Using computer models of neuronal circuits and experiments on live rats, Athanassios Siapas, Assistant Professor of Computation and Neural Systems, and his postdoctoral researcher Evgueniy Lubenov are revealing the curious mechanism by which the brain spontaneously tips itself toward a state balanced between order and chaos. The driving factor in the brain's self-regulation, they say, is the timing of neural pulses. "Networks self-organize to an intermediate state, in between the two extremes," Siapas says.