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Pietro Perona, Allen E. Puckett Professor of Electrical Engineering, and colleagues have shown that the distance at which facial photos are taken influences perception. Their study found that close-up photo subjects are judged to look less trustworthy, less competent, and less attractive. [Caltech Release]

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Caltech Welcomes Professor Chandrasekaran


Venkat Chandrasekaran, Assistant Professor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, arrived at Caltech in early September 2012. His area of research is mathematical optimization. He describes, "Almost anything we wish to do in engineering design is about maximizing objectives subject to certain constraints—trading off different aspects of a system to optimize a few others. For instance, if you work in jet-engine design, you have certain constraints in the amount of material you can use, the weight of these materials, aerodynamic issues, etc. But then you want to be able to design your wings and so on in such a way that you maximize, for example, how fast you are able to go. My specific focus deals with trying to look at optimization problems that (a) are tractable to solve—not all optimization problems are ones that can be efficiently solved on a computer—and (b) arise in the information sciences." [Caltech Release]

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Taming Turbulence


"Turbulence is everywhere," says Professor Beverley McKeon—from continent-spanning weather systems down to the swirls of air your car leaves behind itself as you drive. "I think about things like ships, planes, and pipelines," she explains, noting that about half of the energy consumed by each of those three transportation systems goes to counteract turbulence-induced drag. In her Watson Lecture she notes that finding a way to reduce that turbulence by 30 percent would save the global economy well over $100,000,000 dollars in fuel costs annually. [Learn More]

Tags: energy research highlights GALCIT Beverley McKeon

Weighing Molecules One at a Time


Michael L. Roukes, Robert M. Abbey Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Bioengineering as well as Co-Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute, and colleagues have created the first-ever mechanical device that measures the mass of a single molecule. The device—which is only a couple millionths of a meter in size—consists of a tiny, vibrating bridge-like structure. When a particle or molecule lands on the bridge, its mass changes the oscillating frequency in a way that reveals how much the particle weighs. [Caltech Press Release]

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Solar Loops and Space Weather


Paul M. Bellan, Professor of Applied Physics, and colleagues have reproduced plasma loops in the laboratory to help understand solar physics. "We're studying how these solar loops work, which contributes to the knowledge of space weather," says Professor Bellan, who compares the research to studying hurricanes. For example, you can't predict a hurricane unless you know more about the events that precede it, like high-pressure and low-pressure fronts. The same is true for solar flares. "It takes some time for the plasma to get to Earth from the sun, so it's possible that with more research, we could have up to a two-day warning period for massive solar flares." [Caltech Release] [E&S Article]

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Self-Contained, Photovoltaic Powered Domestic Toilet


Michael Robert Hoffmann, James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science, and his team of graduate students Asghar Aryanfar, Clement Cid, Kangwoo Cho, Daejung Kwon, and Hao Zhang, along with post doctoral scholar Yan Qu have won the Reinventing the Toilet Challenge issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Their winning proposal was to build a toilet that uses the sun to power an electrochemical reactor. The reactor breaks down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy. The treated water can then be reused to flush the toilet or for irrigation. [Caltech Feature] [CNN Ideas]

Tags: energy research highlights MCE ESE Michael Hoffmann Asghar Aryanfar Clement Cid Kangwoo Cho Daejung Kwon Hao Zhang Yan Qu

Professor Kitaev Receives $3M Fundamental Physics Prize


Alexei Y. Kitaev, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Computer Science, and Mathematics, has received the $3 million Yuri Milner Fundamental Physics Prize. The prize citation recognizes Professor Kitaev's "theoretical idea of implementing robust quantum memories and fault-tolerant quantum computation using topological quantum phases with anyons and unpaired Majorana modes."  This new prize is the most lucrative academic prize in the world and Professor Kitaev is one of only nine scientists to receive it this year. [New York Times Article] [The Guardian Article] [Caltech Release]

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A Tissue-engineered Jellyfish with Biomimetic Propulsion


Graduate student Janna C. Nawroth, working with Professor John Dabiri and colleagues at Harvard, has turned solid element—silicon—and muscle cells into a freely swimming jellyfish.

"It is fascinating to witness the evolution of the Dabiri group's research from their initial ground-breaking work in understanding the fluid dynamics of jellyfish propulsion to the building of these complex engineered systems using biological materials," says Chair Ares Rosakis. [Caltech Press Release]

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Material's Spacing is Key to Brittle-to-ductile Transition


Julia R. Greer, her postdoctoral scholar Dr.Dongchan Jang, and colleagues have used experiments and atomistic simulations of nano-twinned metals (which have the unique combined effect of being strong and ductile) to decipher the specific role of the twin boundaries. They have found that it is the spacing between the twin boundaries that determines whether a material is brittle or ductile as opposed to the sample size, as would be expected. Greer states "this is probably the first study that truly isolated the twin boundaries by making samples which contained only twin boundaries, periodically spaced throughout the sample, and then tested them in tension. This understanding will help in the design of better structural materials and provide a certain amount of predictability in doing so, which has not been possible to date." [Nature Nanotechnology Article and Movies]

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Demonstrating the Quantum World at Macroscopic Scales


Keith Schwab, Professor of Applied Physics, and colleagues describe how, aided by optical cavities and superconducting circuits, researchers are coaxing ever-larger objects to wiggle, shake, and flex in ways that are distinctly quantum mechanical. [Physics Today Article] [Institute for Quantum Information and Matter]

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