From the Ground Up

What's it like to build an entire research program from scratch? It's all about becoming part of a community, according to three brand-new professors: 

"It's very important to generate an environment where people help each other." —André Hoelz 

"I have two challenges getting started here. One is bringing in students and postdocs, and the other is fostering a connection between economics and computer science." —Katrina Ligett

"It is not traditionally a field Caltech has done. . . . So when I was looking at coming to Caltech, the idea of being 'the oceanographer' was an exciting prospect.' —Andrew Thompson

Read "From the Ground Up" in the Spring 2012 issue of Caltech's Engineering & Science magazine. 

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Doug Smith
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Building a Research Program from the Ground Up
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Leadbetter Elected Fellow of American Academy of Microbiology

Jared R. Leadbetter, professor of environmental microbiology, has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Fellows of the academy are elected annually through a selective, peer-review process based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology.

Leadbetter's research seeks to clarify the form, function, and spatial distribution of diverse microbes in their environment. His past studies have focused on the cultivation of microbial strains possessing unusual, atypical, or previously unrecognized properties, and have sought to reveal the impact of these organisms on their given environment.

There are over 2,000 fellows of the American Academy of Microbiology, representing all subspecialties of microbiology, including basic and applied research, teaching, public health, industry, and government service.

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Allison Benter
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Caltech Offers Online Course with Live Lectures in Machine Learning

Anyone anywhere can watch one of Caltech's most popular courses on machine learning, complete with live lectures, beginning April 3. Every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the spring term, Yaser Abu-Mostafa, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Caltech, will deliver lectures for his Learning From Data class live on Caltech's Ustream channel. Course material will be available on Dr. Abu-Mustafa's website, so that no matter where a viewer is, they can experience the class—both the lectures and the coursework.

"The idea is that if people in the furthest reaches of the world want to learn the material and have the discipline to go through it, we are giving them the opportunity to experience this course in real time," Abu-Mostafa says. "We will be interested to see how this experiment goes."

With 18, one-hour lectures scheduled, the course will cover basic theory, algorithms, and applications of machine learning—the discipline that deals with enhancing the ability of computational systems to learn from data, enabling them to improve their performance with experience. Examples of machine learning applications include systems used by banks to determine whether to approve applications for credit cards based on financial data, and the Netflix system that tries to anticipate how much a given subscriber will enjoy a particular movie. 

For more information on the course and to register as an online participant, click here. Recorded lectures and course materials will also be available for download as an iTunes U course for viewing on Apple mobile devices here

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Kimm Fesenmaier
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Liquid-like Materials May Pave Way for New Thermoelectric Devices

PASADENA, Calif.—In the continual quest for better thermoelectric materials—which convert heat into electricity and vice versa—researchers have identified a liquid-like compound whose properties give it the potential to be even more efficient than traditional thermoelectrics.

Thermoelectric materials have been used to power spacecraft ranging from Apollo to the Curiosity rover now headed for Mars. Recently, however, scientists and engineers have been turning to these materials to use wasted heat—released from automobiles or industrial machinery, for instance—as an efficient energy source. They have also proposed using these materials to create more efficient heating systems in electric cars or even as new ways to exploit solar power.

In identifying this new type of thermoelectric material, the researchers studied a material made from copper and selenium. Although it is physically a solid, it exhibits liquid-like behaviors due to the way its copper atoms flow through the selenium's crystal lattice.

"It's like a wet sponge," explains Jeff Snyder, a faculty associate in applied physics and materials science in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a member of the research team. "If you have a sponge with very fine pores in it, it looks and acts like a solid. But inside, the water molecules are diffusing just as fast as they would if they were a regular liquid. That's how I imagine this material works. It has a solid framework of selenium atoms, but the copper atoms are diffusing around as fast as they would in a liquid."

The research, led by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Science's Shanghai Institute of Ceramics in collaboration with researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory and the University of Michigan, as well as from Caltech, is described in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Materials.

A thermoelectric material generates electricity when there is a temperature difference between one end of the material and the other. For example, if you place a thermoelectric device right next to a heat source—say a laptop battery—then the side closest to the battery will be hotter. The electrons in the hot end will diffuse to the cool end, producing an electric current.

A good thermoelectric material must be good at conducting electricity but bad at conducting heat. If it were good at conducting heat, the heat from the hot end would move to the cool end so fast that the whole material would rapidly reach the same temperature. When that happens, the electrons stop flowing.

One way to improve thermoelectric efficiency, then, is to decrease a material's ability to conduct heat. To that end, researchers have been developing thermoelectric materials with a mix of crystalline and amorphous properties, Snyder says. A crystalline atomic structure allows electrons to flow easily, while an amorphous material, such as glass, has a more irregular atomic structure that hinders heat-carrying vibrations from traveling.

These heat-carrying vibrations travel via two types of waves. The first type is a longitudinal or pressure wave, in which the direction of displacement—in this case, the jiggling of atoms—is the same as the direction of the wave. The second type is a transverse wave, in which the direction of displacement is perpendicular to the direction of the wave, like when you shake a jump rope up and down, resulting in waves that travel horizontally along the rope.

In a solid material, a transverse wave travels because there is friction between the atoms, meaning that when one atom vibrates up and down, an adjacent atom moves with it, and the wave propagates. But in a liquid, there is minimal friction between the atoms, and a vibrating atom just slides up and down next to its neighbor. As a result, transverse waves cannot travel inside a liquid. Ocean waves are different because they have an interface between the liquid and the air.

The team found that because heat-carrying vibrations in a liquid can travel only via longitudinal waves, a material with liquid-like properties is less thermally conductive. Therefore, a liquid-like material that's also good at conducting electrically should be more thermoelectrically efficient than traditional amorphous materials, Snyder says.

In the case of the copper-selenium material that the researchers studied, the crystal structure of the selenium helps conduct electricity, while the free-flowing copper atoms behave like a liquid, damping down thermal conductivity. The efficiency of a thermoelectric material is quantified using a number called a "thermoelectric figure of merit." The copper-selenium material has a thermoelectric figure of merit of 1.5 at 1000 degrees Kelvin, one of the highest values in any bulk material, the researchers say.

NASA engineers first used this copper-selenium material roughly 40 years ago for spacecraft design, Snyder says. But its liquid-like properties—which were not understood at the time—made it difficult to work with. This new research, he says, has identified and explained why this copper-selenium material has such efficient thermoelectric properties, potentially opening up a whole new class of liquid-like thermoelectric materials for investigation.

"Hopefully, the scientific community now has another strategy to work with when looking for materials with a high thermoelectric figure of merit," Snyder says.

In addition to Snyder, the research group includes Caltech graduate student Tristan Day. The other authors on the Nature Materials paper, titled "Copper ion liquid-like thermoelectrics," are Huili Liu, Xun Shi, Lidong Chen, Fangfang Xu, Linlin Zhang, and Wenqing Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Science's Shanghai Institute of Ceramics; Qiang Li of Brookhaven National Laboratory; and Citrad Uher of the University of Michigan.

Support was provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission, the CAS/SAFEA International Partnership Program for Creative Research Teams, the National Basic Research Program of China, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research's Multidisciplinary Research Program of the University Research Initiative.

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Marcus Woo
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ME 72 Robots Prepared to Take Over Caltech's Millikan Pond

Robots designed and built by Caltech undergraduate students will battle in head-to-head competition on Thursday, March 8, in what has been dubbed "The Conquest of Millikan Islands," this year's ME 72 Engineering Design Contest. Setup for the contest, which has become a popular event in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, begins at 1 p.m. at Millikan Pond, and the competition is scheduled to begin around 2 p.m.

"You don't get a whole lot of opportunities like this where you're given a challenge, given a budget, and just told to go do it," says Wesley Swank, a junior mechanical engineering major who is participating in the competition.  "If you're a real MechE, you live for that."

In each heat of the double-elimination tournament, two teams will have five minutes to direct their robots to retrieve 11 ping-pong balls from dispensers on the footbridge and to use a second robot to enter the water and deposit the balls on "islands" in Millikan Pond. At the end of each heat, teams will receive points for having their ping-pong balls on the various islands, earning two points for "controlling" harder-to-access islands and just one for those closer to the pond's perimeter.

In this, the competition's 27th year, organizers have added an autonomous component into the mix. To pick up extra points, robotic vessels will be able to head under the footbridge, into an "autonomous zone." Once a vessel enters that zone, its operators must take their hands off the controls, allowing the robot to direct itself. An infrared beacon on an island there will help the robots, outfitted with their own infrared sensors, find their bearings. Getting close to the island will earn a team four points, and depositing a ball on the island will garner a whopping 10 points. 

Each team was given $400 worth of radio-control equipment and a budget of $800 for discretionary spending. Some teams are focusing on defense, trying to swat away balls deposited by opponents, while others are more interested in racking up high scores. To convert their designs into actual robots, the students worked in the Jim Hall Design and Prototyping Lab using drills, lathes, a water jet, a laser cutter, and a rapid 3D prototyper. The task also requires some understanding of electronics and computer programming.

"One of the things that's great about this contest is it gives students a chance to build something and see all the complications of it," says John Van Deusen, the mechanical engineering shop supervisor. It's easy enough to draw something up and do all the modeling and everything, but in reality, it's a different world. Just the progression to get these things up and moving is huge."

Juniors Matthew Fu and Christine Viveiros would agree. They have spent about 40 hours each week for a few weeks working on their robots as part of a team called Dim Sum 41. "It's weirdly cathartic while simultaneously masochistic," says Fu. "You spend five weeks tearing your hair out, but when it finally works, you feel really, really happy."

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Kimm Fesenmaier
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Plasmas Torn Apart

Caltech researchers make discovery that hints at origin of phenomena like solar flares

PASADENA, Calif.—January saw the biggest solar storm since 2005, generating some of the most dazzling northern lights in recent memory.

The source of that storm—and others like it—was the sun's magnetic field, described by invisible field lines that protrude from and loop back into the burning ball of gas. Sometimes these field lines break—snapping like a rubber band pulled too tight—and join with other nearby lines, releasing energy that can then launch bursts of plasma known as solar flares. Huge chunks of plasma from the sun's surface can zip toward Earth and damage orbiting satellites or bump them off their paths.

These chunks of plasma, called coronal mass ejections, can also snap Earth's magnetic field lines, causing charged particles to speed toward Earth's magnetic poles; this, in turn, sets off the shimmering light shows we know as the northern and southern lights.

Even though the process of field lines breaking and merging with other lines—called magnetic reconnection—has such significant effects, a detailed picture of what precisely is going on has long eluded scientists, says Paul Bellan, professor of applied physics in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Now, using high-speed cameras to look at jets of plasma in the lab, Bellan and graduate student Auna Moser have discovered a surprising phenomenon that provides clues to just how magnetic reconnection occurs. They describe their results in a paper published in the February 16 issue of the journal Nature.

"Trying to understand nature by using engineering techniques is indeed a hallmark of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech," says Ares Rosakis, the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and professor of mechanical engineering and the chair of engineering and applied science.

In the experiments, Moser fired jets of hydrogen, nitrogen, and argon plasmas at speeds of about 10 to 50 kilometers per second across a distance of more than 20 centimeters in a vacuum. Plasma is a gas so hot that atoms are stripped of their electrons. As a throughway for speeding electrons, the jets act like electrical wires. The experiment requires 200 million watts of power to produce jets that are a scorching 20,000 degrees Kelvin and carry a current of 100,000 amps. To study the jets, Moser used cameras that can take a snapshot in less than a microsecond, or one millionth of a second.

As in all electrical currents, the flowing electrons in the plasma jet generate a magnetic field, which then exerts a force on the plasma. These electromagnetic interactions between the magnetic field and the plasma can cause the jet to writhe and form a rapidly expanding corkscrew. This behavior, called a kink instability, has been studied for nearly 60 years, Bellan says.

But when Moser looked closely at this behavior in her experimental plasma jets, she saw something entirely unexpected.

She found that—more often than not—the corkscrew shape that developed in her jets grew exponentially and extremely fast. The jets in the experiment formed 20-centimeter-long coils in just 20 to 25 microseconds. She also noticed tiny ripples that began appearing on the inner edge of the coil just before the jet broke—the moment when there was a magnetic reconnection.

In the beginning, Moser and Bellan say, they did not know what they were seeing—they just knew it was strange. "I thought it was a measurement error," Bellan says. "But it was way too reproducible. We were seeing it day in and day out. At first, I thought we would never figure it out."

But after months of additional experiments, they determined that the kink instability actually spawns a completely different kind of phenomenon, called a Rayleigh-Taylor instability. A Rayleigh-Taylor instability happens when a heavy fluid that sits on top of a light fluid tries to trade places with the light fluid. Ripples form and grow at the interface between the two, allowing the fluids to swap places.

What Moser and Bellan realized is that the kink instability creates conditions that give rise to a Rayleigh-Taylor instability. As the coiled plasma expands—due to the kink instability—it accelerates outward. Just like a passenger being pushed back into the seat of an accelerating car, the accelerated plasma is pushed down on the vacuum behind it. The plasma tries to swap places with the trailing vacuum by forming ripples that then expand—just like when gravity forces a heavy fluid to try to change places with a light fluid underneath. The Rayleigh-Taylor instability—as revealed by the ripples on the trailing side of the accelerating plasma—grows in about a microsecond.

"People have not observed anything like this before," Bellan says.

Although the Rayleigh-Taylor instability has been studied for more than 100 years, no one had considered the possibility that it could be caused by a kink instability, Bellan says. The two types of instabilities are so different that to see them so closely coupled was a shock. "Nobody ever thought there was a connection," he says.

What is notable is that the two instabilities occur at very different scales, the researchers say. While the coil created by the kink instability spans about 20 centimeters, the Rayleigh-Taylor instability is much smaller, making ripples just two centimeters long. Still, those smaller ripples rapidly erode the jet, forcing the electrons to flow faster and faster through a narrowing channel. "You're basically choking it off," Bellan explains. Soon, the jet breaks, causing a magnetic reconnection.

Magnetic reconnection on the sun often involves phenomena that span scales from a million meters to just a few meters. At the larger scales, the physics is relatively simple and straightforward. But at the smaller scales, the physics becomes more subtle and complex—and it is in this regime that magnetic reconnection takes place. Magnetic reconnection is also a key issue in developing thermonuclear fusion as a future energy source using plasmas in the laboratory. One of the key advances in this study, the researchers say, is being able to relate phenomena at large scales, such as the kink instability, to those at small scales, such as the Rayleigh-Taylor instability.

The researchers note that, although kink and Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities may not drive magnetic reconnection in all cases, this mechanism is a plausible explanation for at least some scenarios in nature and the lab.

The title of Moser and Bellan's Nature paper is "Magnetic reconnection from a multiscale instability cascade." This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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Marcus Woo
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Two Caltech Researchers Receive Frontiers of Knowledge Award

For their work in information and communication technologies, and biomedicine, Carver Mead, Moore Professor Emeritus of Engineering and Applied Science, and Alexander Varshavsky, Smits Professor of Cell Biology, have been honored by the BBVA Foundation as recipients of 2011 Frontiers of Knowledge awards. The BBVA Foundation—a social responsibility arm of the multinational Spanish banking group Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA)—presents the 400,000 euro (approximately $520,000) awards to recognize world-class research and "contributions of lasting impact for their originality, theoretical significance, and ability to push back the frontiers of the known world." For more information on the awards, and to read profiles on the winners, click here.

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Katie Neith
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Rosakis Receives Commandeur de l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques

Ares Rosakis, von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and professor of mechanical engineering, and chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, has been selected to receive the Commandeur de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques—the Commander grade of the French Republic's Order of Academic Palms. Originally a decoration created by Napoléon in 1808 to honor educators and scholars, it was established as an order in 1955 and now honors recipients from all around the world who have made significant contributions to the development of French culture, science, and education. It is currently awarded by the prime minister of France.

The order comprises three grades—commandeur, officier, and chevalier—and in distinction immediately follows such honors as the Legion of Honor and the Order of the Liberation.

Elected to the Academy of Engineering last year, Rosakis is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Society of Experimental Mechanics, and American Society of Mechanical Engineers. His many honors include the Society of Engineering Science's Eringen Medal and the Caltech Graduate Student Council's Excellence in Teaching Award.

He received his BSc from the University of Oxford in 1978 his PhD from Brown University in 1982, the same year he joined Caltech as an assistant professor. He became associate professor in 1988 and professor in 1993. He directed the Graduate Aeronautical Laboratories (GALCIT), now the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories, from 2004—the same year he was named von Kármán Professor—to 2009, when he was appointed division chair.

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Michael Farquhar
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New Faculty Members in EAS Zoom in on the Nanoscale

Three new faculty members in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) have big ideas about really small things. Assistant professors Hyuck Choo, Dennis Kochmann, and Austin Minnich focus on quite different challenges, but they all home in on the nanoscale, where they manipulate, model, and measure structures and phenomena at the level of individual atoms.

"Caltech and EAS take pride in lowering the barriers between disciplines to create collaborative environments for researchers such as Hyuck, Dennis, and Austin to work on a variety of topics including understanding and predicting behavior of materials at the nanoscale, which already is an area of strength within EAS," says Ares J. Rosakis, chair of the division, Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics, and professor of mechanical engineering.

Hyuck Choo, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineer Hyuck Choo is developing a mechanism to focus laser light down to a spot just 25 nanometers (25 billionths of a meter) in diameter. Such a tiny spotlight could help manufacturers of hard disk drives continue to increase the capacity of their disks.

A typical hard drive includes a platter where data is recorded; that platter is made up of many, many individual magnetic grains, called bits. To increase the storage capacity of these disks, developers have to keep squeezing more bits into each square inch of a platter.

But they've hit a wall of sorts. Top-of-the-line hard drive disks currently hold about 750 gigabytes (GB) per square inch. The upper limit, using current methods and materials, is 1 terabyte (1,024 GB) per square inch. However, to reach such a density, the individual bits need to be smaller than 25 nanometers, and at that size, the ferromagnetic materials they're traditionally made from become unstable at room temperature, making them unreliable for data storage.

Switching to a different material, iron-platinum alloy, for the platters, the individual bits can remain stable down to 2.5 nanometers. The only problem is that iron platinum is so stable that it has to be heated in order to record information.

That's where Choo, who is part of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute, comes in. "We are creating a laser spot that is small enough to go down to the 25-nanometer size, so that we can just heat up individual magnetic bits," Choo says. "Our solution could be used to enable the next generation of hard drive disks."

To illuminate such a miniscule spot, Choo's group has developed a device called a "plasmonic waveguide." Made of gold and glass, the three-dimensional guide channels laser light through a tapering geometry to a tip that's just 14 nanometers across. Choo explains that when they shine laser light at an angle along the waveguide, "the energy of the photons gets transferred to the electrons at the interface between the glass and the gold." Once that happens, an electron wave travels down to the tip, compressing the energy into a very small spotlight.

Choo was born in the United States, raised in South Korea, and went to high school in Worcester, Massachusetts. He did his undergrad work at Cornell University and earned his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to the light-focusing project, Choo's lab is also working on label-free imaging for glaucoma research.

Dennis Kochmann, Assistant Professor of Aerospace

Aerospace engineer Dennis Kochmann is developing theoretical and computational models of solid materials across multiple time and length scales-from the nano all the way up to the macroscale, which we deal with on an everyday basis.

"The behaviors that you observe at the macroscale usually stem from very many mechanisms from components at lower scales," Kochmann says. "If you zoom in with a microscope on a piece of metal, which looks homogeneous to the naked eye, you will see that it has microstructure-that there are many, many very small things going on across various length scales."

For example, a metal is basically a regular lattice of atoms. But if you zoom in, that lattice is full of defects such as misplaced or completely missing atoms (so-called dislocations or vacancies). Kochmann says these innumerable defects are extremely important because they provide a material with its very distinct properties. "We need to model these lower scales in order to, on the one hand, be able to understand the behavior of materials, but also to predict the behavior of materials," Kochmann says. "If you want to design a material, you need to understand where its properties come from."

In his research, Kochmann focuses on modeling the behavior of crystalline solids bridging scales from the nano all the way up to the macro. At the lowest scale, methods of molecular dynamics help him to investigate the basic mechanisms at play within a crystal. These studies inform higher-scale engineering models and lay the basis for full-physics material models. He hopes that such complete and efficient models will help engineers simulate and predict material behavior with high accuracy.

He's also interested in designing new materials, in particular composite materials with novel properties that can be turned on and off. As a grad student, he was involved in the creation of such a material, which could be made both highly stiff and highly damping, or energy absorbent, at a particular temperature. At Caltech he plans to expand this concept to create new materials with tunable properties.

Kochmann, who was born and raised in Germany, earned his Diplom and doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Ruhr-University Bochum. He also studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a Fulbright fellow, and earned his MS in engineering mechanics there. He spent the last academic year working as a postdoctoral scholar in the lab of Michael Ortiz, the Dotty and Dick Hayman Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering at Caltech.

Austin Minnich, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering

Mechanical engineer Austin Minnich is interested in thermoelectrics-materials that are capable of converting heat directly into electricity. Thermoelectrics have been around for decades but are receiving increased attention now because they could help with energy conservation efforts. "The simplicity and reliability of thermoelectric devices offer many opportunities to recover wasted energy," Minnich says.

Thermoelectrics require an unusual combination of properties. "You're looking for high electrical conductivity and low thermal conductivity," Minnich explains. Just as electrical conduction is the flow of electrons through a material, thermal conduction refers to the flow of phonons, packets of vibrational energy, through a material. Typically, he says, a material is high in both types of conductivity or low in both. For example, metals are high in both, while glass is low in both.

But over the past decade, researchers have started to find that they can improve existing thermoelectrics by introducing nanostructures-tiny inclusions. If the inclusions are carefully sized, they can disrupt or scatter phonons, while retaining most of the material's electrical conductivity.

Minnich is focused on developing and using different tools to investigate the nanoscale physics at play in such thermoelectric materials. To properly size the nanoinclusions to scatter phonons, Minnich says it would be useful to know a measurement called the mean free path-the distance that phonons travel without being disrupted-for a variety of materials. The problem is, these values haven't been determined for most materials. "This means that we don't really know what size or distribution of sizes of nanostructures are needed to optimally scatter phonons," he says.  

As part of his research program, Minnich has developed a method to measure the details of heat transport at nanometer-length scales using ultrafast lasers. Fourier's law, which governs heat transfer at the macroscopic level, no longer holds true at nanometer scales. Minnich systematically varies the size of the region heated by the laser and observes both how that heat moves through the material and how heat transfer deviates from what would be expected with Fourier's law. From those deviations, he can figure out how different phonon mean free paths contribute to the material's heat conduction.

"We use these techniques with very fine time resolution, looking at thermal conduction over periods of just femtoseconds," he says. "And that allows us to look at details of transport that are normally just lost if you look at longer time scales." So far, he's been able to measure mean free paths for phonons in silicon and sapphire, and he plans to apply the technique to many more semiconductors, including thermoelectric materials.

Minnich grew up on the East Coast and went to high school in New Mexico. He completed his undergraduate education at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Kimm Fesenmaier
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Caltech Faculty Receive Gates Foundation Grants for Global Health Initiatives

On December 15, the Gates Foundation and Grand Challenge Canada announced over $31 million in new grants to help advance healthcare in the developing world. James Heath, Gilloon Professor and professor of chemistry, and Axel Scherer, Neches Professor of Electrical Engineering, Applied Physics, and Physics, were among the 12 grant recipients who will be funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Caltech was the only organization to receive more than one award.  

The grants are part of the Point-of-Care Diagnostics (POC Dx) Initiative, which aims to create high-quality, low-cost diagnostic platforms to improve the quality and efficacy of healthcare in the world's poorest countries. POC Dx is the 14th program of the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, launched in 2003 to create new healthcare tools across a range of disciplines.   

"New and improved diagnostics to use at the point of care can help health workers around the world save countless lives," said Chris Wilson, director of global health discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a press release. "Our hope is that these bold ideas lead to affordable, easy-to-use tools that can rapidly diagnose diseases, trigger timelier treatment and thereby reduce death, disability and transmission of infections in resource-poor communities."

Heath was awarded a grant to develop HIV diagnostic tools that use synthetically created peptides instead of antibodies in diagnostic assays. Their chemical structure would allow them to be transported, stored, and used more easily than antibodies. Scherer will work with collaborators at Dartmouth to develop a prototype technology to detect a wide range of pathogens that is low-cost, low-power, and easy to use.

For more information on the Grand Challenges in Global Health program, visit the program's website

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Katie Neith
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