An Earthquake Warning System in Our Pockets?
Thomas H. Heaton, Professor of Engineering Seismology, and colleagues’ recent study suggests that all of our phones and other personal electronic devices could function as a distributed network, detecting any ground movements caused by a large earthquake, and, ultimately, giving people crucial seconds to prepare for a temblor. "Thirty years ago it took months to assemble a crude picture of the deformations from an earthquake. This new technology promises to provide a near-instantaneous picture with much greater resolution," says Professor Heaton. [Caltech story]
Ali Hajimiri's New Camera Chip Provides Superfine 3-D Resolution
To make an exact copy of an object with a 3-D printer, you must first produce a high-resolution scan of the object with a 3-D camera that measures its height, width, and depth. The most sensitive systems generally are too large and expensive to be used in consumer applications. Ali Hajimiri, Thomas G. Myers Professor of Electrical Engineering, has created a new device called a nanophotonic coherent imager (NCI) that is an inexpensive silicon chip less than a millimeter. The NCI provides the highest depth-measurement accuracy of any such nanophotonic 3-D imaging device. 3-D imaging may be a possible feature in future smartphones. [Caltech story]
Engineering and Art
Students in Professor Hillary Mushkin’s media arts seminar (E/H/Art 89 New Media Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries) have once again put on a unique exhibition highlighting art and engineering. The course provides a platform for an expanded understanding of engineering and an active, project-based engagement with art history.
How Iron Feels the Heat
Brent Fultz, Barbara and Stanley R. Rawn, Jr., Professor of Materials Science and Applied Physics, and colleagues’ recent work provides evidence for how iron's magnetism plays a role in its curious properties—an understanding that could help researchers develop better and stronger steel. With a better computational model for the thermodynamics of iron at different temperatures—one that takes into account the effects of both magnetism and atomic vibrations—metallurgists will now be able to more accurately predict the thermodynamic properties of iron alloys as they alter their recipes. [Caltech story]
How To Study High-Speed Flows
Joanna Austin, Professor of Aerospace, researches fundamental problems in reactive, compressible flows with applications in hypervelocity flight and planetary entry, supersonic combustion and detonation, bubble dynamics, and explosive geological events. She remarks, “gas dynamics, and particularly looking at gas dynamics in reacting flows… [is] the thing I really love. It's a very challenging, coupled, problem. As the fluid is going through the model that you're studying, you also have to account for the fact that the state of the fluid is changing—the gas is chemically reacting, so it's changing from reactants to products, or it's redistributing its energy states, or both. Understanding how best to model these processes, that's what excites me.” [Interview with Professor Austin]
New Technique Could Harvest More of the Sun's Energy
Harry A. Atwater, Jr., Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science as well as Director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute, and colleagues have created a new technique to harness the lost energy from solar panels. “Silicon absorbs only a certain fraction of the spectrum, and it's transparent to the rest. If I put a photovoltaic module on my roof, the silicon absorbs that portion of the spectrum, and some of that light gets converted into power. But the rest of it ends up just heating up my roof," explains Professor Atwater. Now they have found a way to absorb and make use of these infrared waves with a structure composed not of silicon, but entirely of metal. [Caltech story]