Bhattacharya Named Vice Provost

On July 15, Kaushik Bhattacharya, the Howell N. Tyson, Sr., Professor of Mechanics and Materials Science, will become one of Caltech's two vice provosts. He takes on the role filled for the last six years by Mory Gharib, the Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering. Gharib will continue to serve as director of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories (GALCIT) and the recently established Center for Autonomous Systems and Technology.

Bhattacharya joined the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) faculty in 1993. His research group studies the mechanical behavior of solids and uses theory to guide the development of new materials. He has made contributions on a wide array of topics, ranging from the fundamental mechanics of materials, to active materials and devices, to multi-scale and multi-physics scale simulation of materials. Though trained as a theoretician, he is well known for live demonstrations of shape-memory materials in action. 

Bhattacharya was executive officer of the mechanical and civil engineering department from 2007 to 2015, overseeing the department's academic program and the renovation of the Charles C. Gates Jr.–Franklin Thomas Laboratory.  

As vice provost, he will focus on overseeing sponsored research policies and proposal authorizations, human subject policies and procedures, the technology transfer and corporate relations program, and research compliance. Caltech's other vice provost, Cindy Weinstein, professor of English, focuses on academic matters. "I have great confidence in Kaushik and am very pleased that he has agreed to take on the job of vice provost," says Ed Stolper, Caltech's provost and the William E. Leonhard Professor of Geology and Carl and Shirley Larson Provostial Chair. "I am confident that he, Cindy Weinstein, and I will function as an effective team carrying out the diverse tasks of the provost's office."

"Caltech is a special place and I look forward to the opportunity to assist my colleagues in their pursuit of excellence in research and innovation," says Bhattacharya.

"Kaushik's technical strength, deep knowledge of the Institute, energy, and enthusiasm will serve him and us well as he takes on this important role," says Guruswami (Ravi) Ravichandran, the John E. Goode, Jr., Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering and Otis Booth Leadership Chair of the EAS division.

Bhattacharya received his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1991 and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences from 1991 to 1993. He is a recipient of several honors and awards, including the Warner T. Koiter Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, the Young Investigator Prize from the Society of Engineering Science, the Special Achievements Award in Applied Mechanics from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award. In 2013, Bhattacharya received Caltech's annual Graduate Student Council Teaching and Mentoring Award. He served as editor of the Journal of Mechanics and Physics of Solids from 2005 to 2015.

"I want to thank Mory Gharib for his six years of service as vice provost," Stolper says. "In my opinion, Mory's deep knowledge of Caltech; his instincts in interacting with his fellow faculty members regarding sometimes contentious issues; his understanding of issues associated with technology transfer and interactions with industry based on his many successful experiences in this realm; his leadership in the establishment of the Linde Institute of Economic and Management Sciences; and his intuition for resolving potentially difficult conflicts of interest have all resulted in unique and lasting contributions to the Caltech community for which we all, and I in particular, owe him our thanks."

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Bhattacharya Named Vice Provost
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Kaushik Bhattacharya will replace Mory Gharib as Caltech vice provost.

DNA Origami Lights Up a Microscopic Glowing Van Gogh

Using folded DNA to precisely place glowing molecules within microscopic light resonators, researchers at Caltech have created one of the world's smallest reproductions of Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night. The reproduction and the technique used to create it are described in a paper published in the advance online edition of the journal Nature on July 11.

The monochrome image—just the width of a dime across—was a proof-of-concept project that demonstrated, for the first time, how the precision placement of DNA origami can be used to build chip-based devices like computer circuits at smaller scales than ever before.

DNA origami, developed 10 years ago by Caltech's Paul Rothemund (BS '94), is a technique that allows researchers to fold a long strand of DNA into any desired shape. The folded DNA then acts as a scaffold onto which researchers can attach and organize all kinds of nanometer-scale components, from fluorescent molecules to electrically conductive carbon nanotubes to drugs.

"Think of it a bit like the pegboards people use to organize tools in their garages, only in this case, the pegboard assembles itself from DNA strands and the tools likewise find their own positions," says Rothemund, research professor of bioengineering, computing and mathematical sciences, and computation and neural systems. "It all happens in a test tube without human intervention, which is important because all of the parts are too small to manipulate efficiently, and we want to make billions of devices."

The process has the potential to influence a variety of applications from drug delivery to the construction of nanoscale computers. But for many applications, organizing nanoscale components to create devices on DNA pegboards is not enough; the devices have to be wired together into larger circuits and need to have a way of communicating with larger-scale devices.

One early approach was to make electrodes first, and then scatter devices randomly on a surface, with the expectation that at least a few would land where desired, a method Rothemund describes as "spray and pray."

In 2009, Rothemund and colleagues at IBM Research first described a technique through which DNA origami can be positioned at precise locations on surfaces using electron-beam lithography to etch sticky binding sites that have the same shape as the origami. For example, triangular sticky patches bind triangularly folded DNA. 

Over the last seven years, Rothemund and Ashwin Gopinath, senior postdoctoral scholar in bioengineering at Caltech, have refined and extended this technique so that DNA shapes can be precisely positioned on almost any surface used in the manufacture of computer chips. In the Nature paper, they report the first application of the technique—using DNA origami to install fluorescent molecules into microscopic light sources.

"It's like using DNA origami to screw molecular light bulbs into microscopic lamps," Rothemund says.

In this case, the lamps are microfabricated structures called photonic crystal cavities (PCCs), which are tuned to resonate at a particular wavelength of light, much like a tuning fork vibrates with a particular pitch. Created within a thin glass-like membrane, a PCC takes the form of a bacterium-shaped defect within an otherwise perfect honeycomb of holes.

"Depending on the exact size and spacing of the holes, a particular wavelength of light reflects off the edge of the cavity and gets trapped inside," says Gopinath, the lead author of the study. He built PCCs that are tuned to resonate at around 660 nanometers, the wavelength corresponding to a deep shade of the color red. Fluorescent molecules tuned to glow at a similar wavelength light up the lamps—provided they stick to exactly the right place within the PCC.

"A fluorescent molecule tuned to the same color as a PCC actually glows more brightly inside the cavity, but the strength of this coupling effect depends strongly on the molecule's position within the cavity. A few tens of nanometers is the difference between the molecule glowing brightly, or not at all," Gopinath says.

By moving DNA origami through the PCCs in 20-nanometer steps, the researchers found that they could map out a checkerboard pattern of hot and cold spots, where the molecular light bulbs either glowed weakly or strongly. As a result, they were able to use DNA origami to position fluorescent molecules to make lamps of varying intensity. Similar structures have been proposed to power quantum computers and for use in other optical applications that require many tiny light sources integrated together on a single chip.

"All previous work coupling light emitters to PCCs only successfully created a handful of working lamps, owing to the extraordinary difficulty of reproducibly controlling the number and position of emitters in a cavity," Gopinath says. To prove their new technology, the researchers decided to scale-up and provide a visually compelling demonstration. By creating PCCs with different numbers of binding sites, Gopinath was able to reliably install any number from zero to seven DNA origami, allowing him to digitally control the brightness of each lamp. He treated each lamp as a pixel with one of eight different intensities, and produced an array of 65,536 of the PCC pixels (a 256 x 256 pixel grid) to create a reproduction of Van Gogh's "The Starry Night."

Now that the team can reliably combine molecules with PCCs, they are working to improve the light emitters. Currently, the fluorescent molecules last about 45 seconds before reacting with oxygen and "burning out," and they emit a few shades of red rather than a single pure color. Solving both these problems will help with applications such as quantum computers.

"Aside from applications, there's a lot of fundamental science to be done," Gopinath says.

Other authors of the Nature paper, entitled "Engineering and mapping nanocavity emission via precision placement of DNA origami," include Andrei Faraon, assistant professor of applied physics and materials science, and graduate student Evan Miyazono. The work was supported by the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Science Foundation.

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DNA Origami Lights Up a Microscopic Glowing Van Gogh
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A technique that allows manmade DNA shapes to be placed wherever desired now removes a hurdle for the integration of molecular devices on chips.

2016 Distinguished Alumnus: Thomas (Tim) J. Litle IV (BS ’62, Engineering and Applied Science)

The 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards were presented on Saturday, May 21, during the 79th annual Seminar Day. Each week, the Caltech Alumni Association will share a story about a recipient.

Every time you use a credit card to make a purchase, there's a strong chance that you're interacting with one of Tim Litle's products or companies. Over his five-decade career, Litle has been responsible for a number of major innovations in marketing and financial services, new methods that include making credit-card transactions more secure. The next time you enter that three-digit code on the back of your card, or your zip code at a gas pump... thank Litle.

Litle grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. At a time when the automotive industry was at its peak in the city, he learned how to take apart car engines, which fostered an interest in mechanics. Litle recalls his father, who worked for Time Inc., one day dropping a copy of Time magazine in front of him. "My dad pointed to the cover, which showed [Caltech's then president] Lee DuBridge and said, 'This school is the perfect place for you,'" Litle says.

Read the full story on the Caltech Alumni Association website

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Litle received the award for revolutionary contributions to commerce, including the presorted mail program and the three-digit security codes on credit cards.

Community Seismic Network Detected Air Pulse From Refinery Explosion

Tight network of low-cost detectors improve resolution of seismic data gathering and could offer city inspectors crucial information on building damage after a quake

On February 18, 2015, an explosion rattled the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, causing ground shaking equivalent to that of a magnitude-2.0 earthquake and blasting out an air pressure wave similar to a sonic boom.

Traveling at 343 meters per second—about the speed of sound—the air pressure wave reached a 52-story high-rise in downtown Los Angeles 66 seconds after the blast.

The building's occupants probably did not notice a thing; the building shifted at most three-hundredths of a millimeter in response. But the building's seismometers—one is installed on every floor, as well as on the basement levels—noted and recorded the motion of each individual floor.

Those sensors are part of the Community Seismic Network (CSN), a project launched at Caltech in 2011 to seed the Los Angeles area with relatively inexpensive seismometers aimed at providing a high level of detail of how an earthquake shakes the Southern California region, as well as how individual buildings respond. That level of detail has the potential to provide critical and immediate information about whether the building is structurally compromised in the wake of an earthquake, says Caltech's Monica Kohler, research assistant professor in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science.

For example, if building inspectors know that inter-story drift—the displacement of each floor relative to the floors immediately below and above it—has exceeded certain limits based on the building's size and construction, then it is a safe bet that the building has suffered damage in a quake. Alternately, if inspectors know that a building has experienced shaking well within its tolerances, it could potentially be reoccupied sooner—helping an earthquake-struck city to more quickly get back to normal.

"We want first responders, structural engineers, and facilities engineers to be able to make decisions based on what the data say," says Kohler, the lead author of a paper detailing the high-rise's response that recently appeared in the journal Earthquake Spectra.

The keys to the CSN's success are affordability and ease of installation of its seismic detectors. Standard, high-quality seismic detectors can cost tens of thousands of dollars and need special vaults to house and protect them that can easily double the price. By contrast, the CSN detectors use $40 accelerometers and other off-the-shelf hardware, cost roughly $300 to build, and require minimal training to install. Approximately 700 of the devices have been installed so far, mostly in Los Angeles.

However, the CSN sensors are roughly 250 times less sensitive than their more expensive counterparts, which is why the ability to successfully detect and quantify the downtown building's response to the ExxonMobil explosion was such an important proof-of-concept.

"It's a validation of our approach," says CSN's project manager, Richard Guy.

Sonic booms have been noted by seismic networks dozens of times before, beginning in the 1980s with the first detections of seismic shaking caused by space-shuttle reentries. The sonic booms, found Hiroo Kanamori and colleagues at Caltech and the United States Geological Survey, rattled buildings that, in turn, shook the ground around them.

"Seismologists try to understand what is happening in the earth and how that affects buildings by looking at everything we see on seismograms," says Kanamori, Caltech's John E. and Hazel S. Smits Professor of Geophysics, Emeritus, and coauthor of the Earthquake Spectra paper. "In most cases, signals come from the interior of the earth, but nothing prevents us from studying signals from the air. Though rare, the signals from the air provide a new dimension in the field of seismology."

The earlier sonic boom detections were made using single-channel devices, which typically record motion in one direction only. While this information is useful for understanding ground shaking, a three-dimensional record of the floor-by-floor motion of a building can reveal how much a building is rocking, swaying, and shifting; two or more sensors installed per floor can show the twisting of the structure.

"The more sensors you have in a small area, the more detail you're going to see. If there are things happening on a small scale, you'll never see it until you have sensors deployed on that scale," Kohler says.

Kohler and her colleagues found that the air pressure wave from the explosion had about the same impact on the high-rise as an 8 mile-per-hour gust of wind. A pressure wave about 100 times larger would have been required to have broken windows in the building; a wave 1,000 times larger would have been necessary to cause significant damage to the building.

The ExxonMobil blast was not the first shaking recorded by the building's seismometers. A number of earthquakes—including a magnitude-4.2 quake on January 4, 2015, with an epicenter in Castaic Lake, about 40 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles—also were registered by the seismic detectors on nearly every floor of the building. But the refinery explosion-induced shaking was an important test of the sensitivity of the instruments, and of the ability of researchers to separate earthquake signals from other sources of shaking.

Other authors of the Earthquake Spectra paper, "Downtown Los Angeles 52-Story High-Rise and Free-Field Response to an Oil Refinery Explosion," include Caltech's Anthony Massari, Thomas Heaton, Egill Hauksson, Robert Clayton, Julian Bunn, and K. M. Chandy. Funding for the CSN came from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Terrestrial Hazard Observation and Reporting Center at Caltech, and the Divisions of Geological and Planetary Sciences and Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech. 

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Community Seismic Network sensors detected motion of each floor of a building in response to the 2015 ExxonMobil refinery explosion.

Caltech Trustee and Alumnus Simon "Si" Ramo Passes Away

Alumnus and life member of the Board of Trustees Simon "Si" Ramo (PhD '36), a founding giant of the aerospace industry and chief architect of the nation's intercontinental ballistic missile system, passed away on June 27, 2016. He was 103.

First appointed to the Caltech Board of Trustees in 1964, Ramo was elected a Life Member of the board on May 7, 1985, in which capacity he served Caltech until the time of his death. During his active service on the board, Ramo served as vice chair and chair of the Nominating Committee, and as a member of the Investment Committee and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Committee. 

"Si lived the Caltech dream. He was a scientist, entrepreneur, educator, advisor, trustee, benefactor, and friend," says David L. Lee (PhD '74), chair of the Caltech Board of Trustees. "His life was dedicated to an unflinching search for solutions to a wide array of challenges. He will be missed by us all."

"Si Ramo was not only a great leader, but also an important mentor to many. Among thousands of others, he had an important influence on my life," says Thomas Everhart, president emeritus and professor of electrical engineering and applied physics, emeritus, at Caltech. "The nation, Caltech, and the many other organizations that Dr. Ramo provided insight, leadership, and personal support to, have lost a great friend. We are all richer for having known him."

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on May 7, 1913, Ramo earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of Utah 1933. In 1936, at age 23, Ramo was awarded a PhD, magna cum laude, from Caltech with dual degrees in physics and electrical engineering.

Ramo joined the General Electric Research Laboratories in Schenectady, New York, in 1936 and accumulated 25 patents before turning 30. He was a pioneer in microwave transmission and detection equipment and was the first researcher in the U.S. to produce microwave pulses at the kilowatt level. He developed GE's electron microscope, published the first book on microwave electricity, and authored a book on electromagnetic fields and waves that for 50 years was a leading text in universities worldwide.

In 1946, Ramo joined Hughes Aircraft Company in Culver City, California, where, as vice president for operations, he developed radar, navigation, computer, and other electronics systems for aircraft. He also led the development of their Falcon air-to-air guided missiles, used in the Korean War.

Along with engineer Dean Wooldridge, Ramo left Hughes in 1953 to found the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. The company was responsible for developing Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)—with Ramo serving as the chief scientist from 1954–58 of the U.S. ICBM program—and produced other defense and research missiles, including those that carried exploratory probes into space in the late 1950s and 1960s. Ramo-Wooldridge merged with Thompson Products in 1958 to become Thompson Ramo-Wooldridge, Inc. (later shortened to TRW).

At TRW, Ramo served vice chairman of the board of directors and chairman of the board's executive committee before retiring. He created TRW's Space Technology Laboratories, which won NASA's first spacecraft contract and built the Pioneer 1 probe, which, on October 11, 1958, became the first spacecraft launched by NASA. Under Ramo's guidance, TRW was a pioneering developer of missile systems and spacecraft, including the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 probes to Jupiter and the outer solar system; instruments for the Viking 1 and Viking 2 martian landers; and NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and Chandra X-ray Observatory, among other projects.

Ramo also cofounded the Bunker-Ramo Corporation, which produced the first version of the National Association of Securities Dealers' Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) system.

He served on numerous corporate and university boards and in government advisory roles that included positions on the National Science Board, the White House Council on Energy R&D, the Advisory Council to the Secretary of Commerce, and the Advisory Council to the Secretary of State for Science and Foreign Affairs. Ramo was chairman of Gerald Ford's President's Advisory Committee on Science and Technology and was Science Adviser to the President of the Republic of China under Ronald Reagan.

The recipient of numerous honors and honorary degrees, Ramo was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983, the National Medal of Science in 1979, and the Founders Medal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1980. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus of Caltech in 2012.

He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and a founding member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). The namesake of the NAE's Simon Ramo Founders Award—established in 1965 and renamed in Ramo's honor in 2013 on the occasion of his 100th birthday—he was also the first recipient of the Academy's Arthur M. Bueche Award for statesmanship in national science and technology policy.  

In December 2013, Ramo was awarded patent 8,606,170 for a computer-based learning invention, making him, at 100 years old, the oldest person to ever receive a U.S. patent. He was also the author of many books, on topics ranging from microwaves and communication electronics, to management, to tennis.

Virginia Ramo, his wife of seven decades, preceded him in death in 2009. He is survived by sons James and Alan. 

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In Memoriam, Simon "Si" Ramo, 1913‑2016
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Alumnus and life member of the Board of Trustees Simon "Si" Ramo (PhD '36), a founding giant of the aerospace industry, passed away on June 27, 2016.

2016 Distinguished Alumnus: Carl V. Larson (BS ’52, Mechanical Engineering)

The 2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards were presented on Saturday, May 21, during the 79th annual Seminar Day. Each week, the Caltech Alumni Association will share a story about a recipient.

Larson grew up on Mercer Island in Lake Washington, at a time when it was only accessible by ferry and there were about 300 residents. "It was incredibly isolated and quiet," Larson recalls. He arrived at Caltech in 1948 with the intention of studying chemistry, but switched to mechanical engineering. 

"I had the utmost respect for the theorists, but soon learned I wasn't one of them," Larson laughs. "Maybe it was survival. I figured, 'Better to graduate as an engineer than flunk as a chemist or theoretical physicist.'" After graduation, Larson joined the military, serving three years as a meteorologist stationed in South Korea and Japan.

Read the full story on the Caltech Alumni Association website

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Larson received the award for his accomplished career in the electronics industry.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

CTLO's Summer Short Course for Faculty: (Re)Designing Your Class

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

SAVE THE DATE - 4th Annual Caltech Teaching Conference -- Details Coming Soon!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Noyes 147 (J. Holmes Sturdivant Lecture Hall) – Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics

Teaching Statement Workshop

The Next Big Thing

To get a glimpse into the future, what better place is there to look than the minds of those about to become Caltech's newest alumni? After all, our 2016 graduates have been at the forefront of research in vastly different fields for the past few years. Their unique perspectives have informed their ideas of the future, and their work will reach far beyond the confines of a lab.

With that in mind, in the Summer 2016 issue of E&S magazine, we talked to a handful of undergraduate and graduate students prior to commencement to find out what they think will be the next big thing in science and engineering and how their plans after graduation reflect those ideas.

 

I believe that the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) will place a greater emphasis on implementation and impact of research. While rapid economic growth and globalization have introduced numerous difficult challenges, society has acquired powerful new tools and technology to develop and implement solutions for these issues.

I will be working as a management consultant after graduating to expose myself to business and strategy. That way, I can perhaps one day help new discoveries and ideas produce a tangible impact on people's lives."

Aditya Bhagavathi
BS in Computer Science

 

I believe the future of planetary and space exploration will follow two paths—one, the search for life beyond Earth within the solar system, and two, the characterization of exoplanets.

For the solar system, the initial survey of its major worlds was just completed with the New Horizons flyby of Pluto, and therefore a new focus will likely emerge. That initial survey has revealed several worlds to be potentially habitable, including Mars, Europa, and Enceladus, with the former two already targets for future missions. These new missions will not only reveal more about these worlds but also force us to reevaluate what life is, how it arises, and how it endures.

For exoplanets, the diversity of worlds is immense. From giant planets that orbit their host stars in less than a day to habitable planets with permanent daysides and nightsides, exoplanets offer a tremendous opportunity to understand the planets in our own solar system. With the rapid development of technologies, instruments, and observing techniques, the flood of data regarding exoplanets will only continue. I plan to be among the scientists who will analyze this data and combine their results with theoretical models to investigate what these distant worlds are like. By doing this, we will be exploring our place in the universe and whether we are alone within it."

Peter Gao
PhD in Planetary Science

 

When asked what he would do with his degree in philosophy during a routine dentist appointment, David Silbersweig, MD at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Academic Dean at Harvard Medical School, responded with a single word that spoke volumes: 'Think.' Simply put, I too want to think.

I want to learn how to think at a complex level such that my ability to think and subsequently solve problems allows me to change lives. The history and philosophy of science degree at Caltech has given me exactly this. According to Silbersweig, 'If you can get through a one-sentence paragraph of Kant, holding all of its ideas and clauses in juxtaposition in your mind, you can think through most anything.' In my first History and Philosophy of Science class, I read Kant. I also find immense happiness in working with and helping other individuals, a sense of euphoria matched by little else in life. I learned this lesson through tutoring students and coaching younger athletes. And finally, as a collegiate athlete myself, I have undergone multiple orthopedic surgeries that ignited an interest in the musculoskeletal system and its ability to suffer injury yet recover remarkably. Together, these three aspects of life are central to my vision of the future. Becoming an orthopedic surgeon is the perfect combination—the career that will give me these components and a lot more.

One of the major developments in medicine will be 3-D printing, primarily in order to provide individuals with replacement bones and organs. Combining new progress in computer science will facilitate immense progress in 3-D printing, which also aligns well with the use of robotics in surgery. As an athlete who has torn my ACL and had bone spurs in the past year, I'm excited to be a part of this field in the future and hopefully help other athletes succeed in pursuing their passions."

Harinee Maiyuran
BS in History and Philosophy of Science

 

My personal hunch, and perhaps a somewhat common one, is that all disciplines—and not just STEM ones—are moving toward being increasingly data driven, a phenomenon rooted in freer dissemination and greater influx of research data. Correspondingly, computers and programming drive data processing in all disciplines; a common joke is that every scientist is automatically a software engineer. Statistical and machine learning techniques that are designed to tackle vast quantities of data are increasingly common in academic papers and will probably continue to climb in popularity.

I am planning to go into computational astrophysics research because I believe that the recent influx of data from new detectors will drive a huge surge of research questions to be investigated. And as a physics/computerscience double major, I'm uniquely equipped to analyze big data and extract scientific meaning from it."

Yubo Su
BS in Physics and Computer Science

 

Many aspects about future climate are unclear, such as how cloudiness, precipitation, and extreme events will change under global warming. But recent progress in observational and computational technology has provided great potential for clarifying these uncertainties. I plan to continue my research and utilize new data and models to develop theoretical understanding of these problems. I hope that such new insight will be helpful for assessing climate change impacts and designing effective adaptation and mitigation strategies."

Zhihong Tan
PhD in Environmental Science and Engineering

 

The future of science and engineering depends on closing the huge gap between the general public and scientists and engineers. I think this stems from a good deal of ignorance about what it is we do and hope to achieve, which leads to misconceptions about our work and community, and the separation between 'us' and 'them.' But if we're trying to understand and solve problems that affect everyone, shouldn't everyone be more involved?

When I graduate, I'm going to take a year off to try and bridge this gap in my own life. I don't know what I'll do yet, but it will be decidedly nonacademic. I want to travel, work odd jobs, and pursue hobbies I've set aside to finish my education. If I want to help people understand why I do what I do, I need to be certain that I understand first. After only four years surrounded almost exclusively by scientists and engineers, I want to get away a little. That way, when I inevitably return, I'll have a bit more perspective."

Valerie Pietrasz
BS in Mechanical Engineering and Planetary Science

 

Driven by the goal of reducing fossil fuel use and pollution, clean energy research plays and will play a pivotal role in America's energy future. Clean energy research spans disciplines such as biological and environmental sciences, advanced materials, nuclear sciences, and chemistry. Therefore, multidisciplinary efforts are not only necessary but also crucial to develop and deploy real-world solutions for energy security and protecting the environment.

As a graduate student, I have focused on understanding nanoscale energy transport in novel energy-efficient materials. In the future, I plan to further advance and apply my expertise to solve real-world problems in an integrated and multidisciplinary approach. I hope this effort will eventually lead to developing advanced clean energy technologies that could not only ease today's energy crisis but also improve our quality of life."

Chengyun Hua
PhD in Mechanical Engineering

 

I believe that in the next decade, the behavioral and computational subfields of neuroscience will work together seamlessly. I think this change will be primarily fueled by the development of new tools that allow us to measure the activity of large populations of neurons more precisely.

A prominent behavioral method of research, in mice at least, is to activate large structures in the brain and observe the aggregate behavioral effect. However, it is unlikely that all of these neurons are responsible for the same signal, so this approach may be too crude. I think new measurement techniques will enable behavioralists to collect large-scale population activity that computationalists can use in order to find subtle differences of function within these structures. Hopefully this collaboration will lead to generating and validating fundamental theories underlying how the brain works.

Currently, I am in the process of developing a method to measure the activity from over 10,000 neurons simultaneously. I hope to validate this technique before I graduate and then apply it to studying large-scale population activity during various behaviors. My future aim is to work closely with computationalists with the hope of discovering fundamental theories of brain function."

Gregory Stevens
BS in Biology

 

I think the future of planetary science is to discover and characterize more and more extra-solar planets, including their orbital configurations, atmospheres, and habitability. This is a challenging task because it requires a solid understanding of how chemistry and physics work on a planetary scale. Learning more about the planets closest to us paves a way toward the understanding of exoplanets that are far beyond our reach, since we can send missions to them. So after graduation, I will join the team for Juno—the spacecraft that will arrive at Jupiter in summer 2016—at JPL. New discoveries about Jupiter will also tell us more about what other planets beyond our solar system could look like."

Cheng Li
PhD in Planetary Science

 

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We hear from a handful of graduating students to learn what they think will be the next big thing in science and engineering and how their plans reflect those ideas.

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