Chemistry of Airborne Particulate—Lung Interactions Revealed by Agustin Colussi and Colleagues
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.
Michael Elowitz Named HHMI Investigator
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]
Chiara Daraio Wins Richard von Mises Prize
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 Named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
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].
Annenberg Center Ground Breaking
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]
New Center to Study the Global Environment
To address the complex issue of global climate change from a wide range of disciplines, Ronald and Maxine Linde have established an $18 million endowment for the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, uniting faculty from chemistry, engineering, geology, environmental science, and other fields. The initiative will help Caltech achieve its vision of having an integrated program in global environmental science, spanning the many disciplines that must make up such a program. Edward Stolper, Caltech's provost, explains that the Linde Center "will provide a central home and focus for researchers and students working on understanding natural variations in and the impact of human activity on the global environment. These are among the most important and most difficult problems facing our society." [Caltech Press Release]