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EAS Remembers James J. Morgan

09-21-20

James (Jim) J. Morgan, Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Environmental Engineering Science, Emeritus, passed away on September 19, 2020. Dr. Jim Morgan came to Caltech in 1965 as Associate Professor of Environmental Health Engineering. After 35 years of distinguished service to the Institute, he became emeritus in 2000. He served as the Academic Officer for Environmental Engineering Science, 1971-72, Dean of Students, 1972-75, Executive Officer for Environmental Engineering Science, 1974-80 and 1993-96, Acting Dean of Graduate Studies, 1981-84, and Vice President for Student Affairs, 1980-89. Professor Morgan’s research was concerned with the chemistry and technology of water treatment, the scientific basis for establishing criteria and standards for water quality protection, and manganese in fresh and marine waters. He was renowned as a caring teacher and mentor to generations of students and scholars. His book on Aquatic Chemistry, which he co-authored with his advisor Werner Stumm, remains the standard reference on the subject (cited more than 25,000 times) and has become a worldwide classic. He received numerous awards and honors, including election to the National Academy of Engineering and the Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for Water Science and Technology from the National Water Research Institute. Jim Morgan and Werner Stumm were awarded the Stockholm Water Prize in 1999. [Caltech story]

Tags: EAS history ESE James Morgan

Effective Pathway to Convert Greenhouse Gas into Valuable Products

09-18-20

A research team from Caltech and the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering has demonstrated a promising way to efficiently convert carbon dioxide into ethylene—an important chemical used to produce plastics, solvents, cosmetics, and other important products globally. They developed nanoscale copper wires with specially shaped surfaces to catalyze a chemical reaction that reduces greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously generating ethylene. "The idea of using copper to catalyze this reaction has been around for a long time, but the key is to accelerate the rate so it is fast enough for industrial production," says William A. Goddard III, Charles and Mary Ferkel Professor of Chemistry, Materials Science, and Applied Physics. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights William Goddard

Lab-Grown Earthquakes Reveal the Frictional Forces Acting Beneath Our Feet

09-03-20

Simulating an earthquake on a miniature scale in a laboratory known unofficially as the "seismological wind tunnel," engineers and seismologists have produced the most comprehensive look to date at the complex physics of friction driving destructive thrust-fault earthquakes. "Simulating earthquakes in a lab lets us observe how these brief and violent events grow and evolve by ‘slowing down' their motion through high-speed photography and optics," says Ares Rosakis, the Theodore von Karman Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE Ares Rosakis

AI for a Better Prediction COVID-19 Model

08-25-20

A team of Caltech students, led by Professor Yaser Abu-Mostafa, have developed a tool to predict the impact of COVID-19 using artificial intelligence (AI). While many models to predict the spread of a disease already exist, few if any incorporate AI, which makes predications based on observations of what is actually happening as opposed to what the model's designers think should happen. AI has the power to discover patterns hidden in data that the human eye might not recognize. [Caltech story]

Tags: EE research highlights CMS Yaser Abu-Mostafa

Collecting Hot Carriers: New Process Harvests Excited Quasiparticles

08-12-20

Professor Harry Atwater has developed a way to eke more energy out of solar power by collecting freshly charged particles before they have an opportunity to cool off. This fundamental research could one day help scientists harvest energy from the sun more efficiently than by the natural photosynthesis used by plants. "If hot carriers, transporting more energy, could be captured, we would be able to wring three to four times as much energy from solar power," says Atwater. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Harry Atwater

A Pathway to Longer-Lasting Lithium Batteries

08-06-20

The energy density of batteries have been a major challenge for consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and renewable energy sources. Professor Julia R. Greer has made a discovery that could lead to lithium-ion batteries that are both safer and more powerful. Findings provide guidance for how lithium-ion batteries, one of the most common kinds of rechargeable batteries, can safely hold up to 50 percent more energy. "Every power-requiring application would benefit from batteries with lithium instead of graphite anodes because they can power so much more," says Greer. "Lithium is lightweight, it doesn't occupy much space, and it's tremendously energy dense." [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights MCE Julia Greer

Ari Rosner Develops Tool That Configures Socially-Distanced Students In Classrooms

07-31-20

Mechanical engineering student Ari Rosner, has developed an interactive Excel worksheet powered by advanced algorithms to help schools with social distancing in classrooms. Schools can plug a room’s dimensions and social distancing parameters into the worksheet, and the most efficient configuration of students for a designated classroom would automatically be mapped out. Rosner’s model situates students in rows or in a hexagonal pattern, depending on a room’s shape, in order to safely maximize space. "I cried when I saw how this worked," said Rachael Burton, the development director at a small private school in Brooklyn, New York. "I knew Ari’s mathematical chart could save our lives." [Forbes story]

Tags: research highlights MCE Ari Rosner

Superconducting Twisted Bilayer Graphene—Magic not Needed?

07-16-20

A new study shows that superconductivity in twisted bilayer graphene can exist away from the magic angle when coupled to a two-dimensional semiconductor. "Our observations were quite unexpected. It implies that we only scratched the surface of graphene twistronics. These are exciting times for the field," says Stevan Nadj-Perge, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Stevan Nadj-Perge

Machine Learning Helps Robot Swarms Coordinate

07-14-20

Soon-Jo Chung, Bren Professor of Aerospace, Yisong Yue, Professor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, postdoctoral scholar Wolfgang Hönig, and graduate students Benjamin Rivière and Guanya Shi, have designed a new data-driven method to control the movement of multiple robots through cluttered, unmapped spaces, so they do not run into one another. "Our work shows some promising results to overcome the safety, robustness, and scalability issues of conventional black-box artificial intelligence (AI) approaches for swarm motion planning with GLAS and close-proximity control for multiple drones using Neural-Swarm," says Chung. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT CMS Yisong Yue Soon-Jo Chung postdocs Benjamin Rivière Guanya Shi Wolfgang Hönig

Optical Microcomb Device May Result in Improved Telecommunications, Sensors, Clocks

06-19-20

Modern telecommunications often makes use of multiple lasers of different colors to transmit data, but a new device the size of a cigarette pack can replace them. A team of researchers from Caltech, UC Santa Barbara, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a new device that will lead to improved optical data transmission and could have applications ranging from communications to the miniaturization of time standards or to the search for exoplanets. Their device converts laser light of a single frequency into an evenly spaced set of many distinct frequencies (a comb of frequencies). The resulting optical frequency microcomb is built from a single piece of silicon, in much the same way as computer chips. And its many colors can replace many separate lasers for data transmission. "The new approach makes the process as easy as switching on a room light," says co-author Kerry Vahala, Ted and Ginger Jenkins Professor of Information Science and Technology and Applied Physics and executive officer for Applied Physics and Materials Science. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Kerry Vahala