Michael Elowitz and Avigdor Eldar Show How Evolution Can Allow for Large Developmental Leaps
Michael Elowitz, Associate Professor of Biology and Applied Physics; Bren Scholar, and Avigdor Eldar, Postdoctoral Scholar, show how evolution can allow for large developmental leaps. Most volutionary changes happen in tiny increments: an elephant grows a little larger, a giraffe's neck a little longer. Elowitz and Eldar's team have shown that such changes may at least sometimes be the result of noise, working alongside partial penetrance. Eldar, states "if you take a bunch of cells and grow them in exactly the same environment, they'll be identical twin brothers in terms of the genes they have, but they may still show substantial differences in their behavior." Elowitz adds that "noise—these random fluctuations of proteins in the cell—is not just a nuisance in this system; it's a key part of the process that allows genetically identical cells to do very different things." [Caltech Press Release]
Regina Dugan Named Director of DARPA
Regina Dugan (PhD '93 Mechanical Engineering) has been named director of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense. Dugan, the founder and CEO of RedXDefense, LLC, a Maryland-based firm that develops technologies to detect and counter explosives, becomes the 19th director and first woman to head DARPA, the DoD's principal research and development agency.
President Obama Presents Three EAS Faculty with the PECASE
In a special White House ceremony, President Obama will be presenting three EAS faculty: John Dabiri, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering, Beverley McKeon, Assistant Professor of Aeronautics, and Joel Tropp, Assistant Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics, with the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). "These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country," President Obama said. Dabiri,describes the idea behind his PECASE-winning research as "giving underwater vehicles the enhanced performance of fish (e.g. efficiency, stealth, and maneuverablity) without mimicking the shape and swimming motions of fish. Instead, we replicate the vortex dynamics in the wakes of swimming fish." His "bio-inspired systems" were used by Lydia Ruiz (PhD '09 Mechanical Engineering), to demonstrateincreases in vehicle propulsive efficiency of over 50 percent.
McKeon is receiving the PECASE for her research on fundamental questions in complex turbulent boundary layers. McKeon states that "the ultimate goal is to incorporate recent advances in the understanding of flow physics in order to develop low order models of flow over surfaces for Air Force applications". Tropp's PECASE-winning research "focuses on developing new algorithms for solving inverse problems, a basic challenge that arises throughout the mathematical sciences. Inverse problems also appear in medical imaging, in communication systems, in statistical data analysis, and a host of other areas." He uses tools from modern applied mathematics, such as optimization techniques and randomized algorithms to collect partial information about an object of interest, and incorporate additional background knowledge to develop a complete picture of the object.
Other researchers receiving the PECASE award this year are Joshua K. Willis from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the following Caltech Alumni Elizabeth Boon, (PhD '03 CCE), Markus J. Buehler, (Post doc in CCE) Michael J. Hochberg, (Ph.D. '06 EAS - Applied Physics), Justin K. Romberg, (Post doc in EAS - Applied and Computational Mathematics), Cecilia R. Aragon, (B.S. '82 PMA), Jason Graetz, (Ph.D. '03 EAS - Materials Science), and Ioannis Chasiotis, (Ph.D. '02 EAS - Aerospace).
EAS Remembers Hans Wolfgang Liepmann
Hans Wolfgang Liepmann, the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics, Emeritus, passed away at the age of 94 on June 24. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology. He mentored more than 60 students became leaders in the aerospace industry as well as universities around the world. [Caltech Press Release]
LaHaye, Schwab, and Roukes Develop New Tool to Search for Quantum Effects
Dr. Matt LaHaye, Professor Keith Schwab, Professor Michael Roukes, and colleagues have developed a new tool to search for quantum effects in ordinary objects. Matt LaHaye is a postdoctoral research scientist working with Michael L. Roukes, a Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Bioengineering and Codirector of Kavli Nanoscience Institute. "Quantum jumps are, perhaps, the archetypal signature of behavior governed by quantum effects," says Roukes. "To see these requires us to engineer a special kind of interaction between our measurement apparatus and the object being measured. Matt's results establish a practical and really intriguing way to make this happen." [Caltech Press Release]
Kent and Joyce Kresa Endow Professorial Chair at Caltech
Kent Kresa, interim chairman of General Motors, and his wife have pledged $2 million to Caltech to endow the Joyce and Kent Kresa Professorship in Engineering and Applied Science. Kresa is chairman of the Caltech Board of Trustees. The Kresa gift is matched with an additional $1 million provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Matching Program. "Endowed chairs offer our faculty the ultimate freedom to pursue the research thrusts they are most passionate about—and this is truly invaluable to Caltech and our continued vitality," said Ares Rosakis, the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering and chair of the EAS Division. [Caltech Press Release]
Oskar Painter Developes a Nanoscale Device
Oskar Painter, Associate Professor of Applied Physics, has developed a nanoscale device that can be used for force detection, optical communication, and more. The nanoscale device is called a zipper cavity because of the way its dual cantilevers-or nanobeams, as Painter calls them-move together and apart when the device is in use. "If you look at it, it actually looks like a zipper," Painter notes. The device exploits the mechanical properties of light to create an optomechanical cavity in which interactions between light and motion are greatly strengthened and enhanced. These interactions are the largest demonstrated to date. [Caltech Press Release]
Dickinson Reveales that the Twirling Seeds of Maple Trees Spin Like Miniature Helicopters As They Fall to the Ground
Research by Michael H. Dickinson, the Zarem Professor of Bioengineering and David Lentink of Wageningen, reveals that, by swirling, maple seeds generate a tornado-like vortex that sits atop the front leading edge of the seeds as they spin slowly to the ground. This leading-edge vortex lowers the air pressure over the upper surface of the maple seed, effectively sucking the wing upward to oppose gravity, giving it a boost. The vortex doubles the lift generated by the seeds compared to nonswirling seeds. "There is enormous interest in the development of micro air vehicles, which, because of their size, must function using the same physical principles employed by small, natural flying devices such as insects and maple seeds," says Dickinson. [Caltech Press Release]
Michael Winterrose and Brent Fultz Use High-Pressure "Alchemy" to Create Nonexpanding Metals
Graduate student Michael Winterrose, and Brent Fultz, professor of materials science and applied physics, and colleagues, describe the exotic behavior of materials existing at high pressures in a paper in the June 12th issue of Physical Review Letters. By squeezing a typical metal alloy at pressures hundreds of thousands of times greater than normal atmospheric pressure, the material does not expand when heated, as does nearly every normal metal, and acts like a metal with an entirely different chemical composition. This insight into the behavior of materials existing at high pressures becomes doubly interesting when you consider that some 90 percent of the matter in our solar system exists at these high pressures. [Caltech Press Release]