(Nearly) Autonomous Bob (Almost) Ready to Race

PASADENA, Calif. -- It's do-or-die time for Bob. Next week marks the final test for the Chevrolet truck with the human nickname, the California Institute of Technology's entry in the DARPA Grand Challenge autonomous ground vehicle race scheduled for March 13.

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is offering a $1 million prize to a team whose vehicle can complete an off-road course of more than 200 miles that will start somewhere near Barstow, CA, and end somewhere near Las Vegas (the exact course won't be revealed until race day).

The challenge, of course, is that the 25 vehicles invited to race by DARPA (culled from an original 106 entries) will race without a driver and must be fully autonomous--not a remote-controlled vehicle driven by a student wielding a laptop at a distance, but a completely autonomous car that will drive and navigate itself. The vehicles will have to contend with such pitfalls as dirt roads and ditches, open water, rocks and boulders, underpasses, cattle guards, sandpits, and their fellow competitors.

Before that race, though, Bob and the other vehicles must meet a challenge that is almost as great--a Qualification, Inspection, and Demonstration (QID) test to take place at the California Speedway in Fontana. On Monday, March 8, from 10:30 to 11 a.m., and again on Wednesday, March 10, from 9:30 to 10 a.m., Bob will have to successfully navigate a mile-and-a-half-long course that will contain all the dire elements mentioned above. "We think of it as the precursor to the actual race," says Dave van Gogh, the project manager for Team Caltech. (QID General Opening Ceremony is scheduled for Monday, March 8, at 9 a.m., and continues on Tuesday and Wednesday, at 8 a.m.)

For a year now, van Gogh has shepherded between 18 and 23 Caltech undergraduates who receive academic credit for their work. Although they are receiving advice from scientists at Caltech, the Jet Propulsion Lab, and Northrop Grumman, it is ultimately the students' responsibility for the computing hardware, software coding, and designing and building Bob's mechanical infrastructure.

All of the hardware has been installed, and in tests, the truck has been able to navigate from one point to another by itself. What hasn't been accomplished yet is the autonomous avoidance of obstacles, which is--obviously--critical for Bob's success. Currently, several of the students are feverishly writing additional code and rooting out programming errors in preparation for the Monday QID.

DARPA is sponsoring the challenge to encourage innovation in driverless technology, which the Department of Defense believes will be critical to future military endeavors. The idea for the race itself was suggested by former Caltech provost Steve Koonin, now on leave from the Institute. At the time he chaired the JASONs, an elite core of academic scientists that provides the federal government with advice on national security issues. DARPA had approached the group for advice on how best to advance research into autonomous vehicles.

The immediate goal of Team Caltech is to pass Monday's QID. The other primary goal, says van Gogh, has already been met--providing the students with a unique educational opportunity. "All of the students are really motivated and excited about this," he says. "That was our goal from the beginning--to create a unique learning experience for them."

The QID is free and open to the public. The California Speedway is located at 9300 Cherry Avenue in Fontana. More information on attending the QID and race can be found at http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge/spectators.htm.

Media Contact:Mark Wheeler (626) 395-8733 wheel@caltech.edu

Visit the Caltech Media Relations website at http://pr.caltech.edu/media


Caltech Engineers Design a Revolutionary Radar Chip

PASADENA, Calif. -- Imagine driving down a twisty mountain road on a dark foggy night. Visibility is near-zero, yet you still can see clearly. Not through your windshield, but via an image on a screen in front of you.

Such a built-in radar system in our cars has long been in the domain of science fiction, as well as wishful thinking on the part of commuters. But such gadgets could become available in the very near future, thanks to the High Speed Integrated Circuits group at the California Institute of Technology.

The group is directed by Ali Hajimiri, an associate professor of electrical engineering. Hajimiri and his team have used revolutionary design techniques to build the world's first radar on a chip--specifically, they have implemented a novel antenna array system on a single, silicon chip.

Hajimiri notes, however, that calling it a "radar on a chip" is a bit misleading because it's not just radar. Having essentially redesigned a computer chip from the ground up, the technology is revolutionary enough to be used for a wide range of applications.

The chip can, for example, serve as a wireless, high-frequency communications link, providing a low-cost replacement for the optical fibers that are currently used for ultrafast communications. Hajimiri's chip runs at 24 GHz (24 billion cycles in one second), an extremely high speed, which makes it possible to transfer data wirelessly at speeds available only to the backbone of the Internet (the main network of connections that carry most of the traffic on the Internet).

Other possible uses:

* In cars, an array of these chips--one each in the front, the back, and each side--could provide a smart cruise control, one that wouldn't just keep the pedal to the metal, but would brake for a slowing vehicle ahead of you, avoid a car that's about to cut you off, or dodge an obstacle that suddenly appears in your path.

While there are other radar systems in development for cars, they consist of a large number of modules that use more exotic and expensive technologies than silicon. Hajimiri's chip could prove superior because of its fully integrated nature. That allows it to be manufactured at a substantially lower price, and makes the chip more robust in response to design variations and changes in the environment, such as heat and cold.

* The chip could serve as the brains inside a robot capable of vacuuming your house. While such appliances now exist, a vacuum using Hajimiri's chip as its brain would clean without constantly bumping into everything, have the sense to stay out of your way, and never suck up the family cat.

* A chip the size of a thumbnail could be placed on the roof of your house, replacing the bulky satellite dish or the cable connections for your DSL. Your picture could be sharper, and your downloads lightning fast.

* A collection of these chips could form a network of sensors that would allow the military to monitor a sensitive area, eliminating the need for constant human patrolling and monitoring.

In short, says Hajimiri, the technology will be useful for numerous applications, limited only by an entrepreneur's imagination.

Perhaps the best thing of all is that these chips are cheap to manufacture, thanks to the use of silicon as the base material. "Traditional radar costs a couple of million dollars," says Hajimiri. "It's big and bulky, and has thousands of components. This integration in silicon allows us to make it smaller, cheaper, and much more widespread."

Silicon is the ubiquitous element used in numerous electronic devices, including the microprocessor inside our personal computers. It is the second most abundant element in the earth's crust (after oxygen), and components made of silicon are cheap to make and are widely manufactured. "In large volumes, it will only cost a few dollars to manufacture each of these radar chips," he says.

"The key is that we can integrate the whole system into one chip that can contain the entire high-frequency analog and high-speed signal processing at a low cost," says Hajimiri. "It's less powerful than the conventional radar used for aviation, but, since we've put it on a single, inexpensive chip, we can have a large number of them, so they can be ubiquitous."

Hajimiri's radar chip, with both a transmitter and receiver (more accurately, a phased-array transceiver) works much like a conventional array of antennas. But unlike conventional radar, which involves the mechanical movement of hardware, this chip uses an electrical beam that can steer the signal in a given direction in space without any mechanical movement.

For communications systems, this ability to steer a beam will provide a clear signal and will clear up the airwaves. Cell phones, for example, radiate their signal omnidirectionally. That's what contributes to interference and clutter in the airwaves. "But with this technology you can focus the beams in the desired direction instead of radiating power all over the place and creating additional interference," says Hajimiri. "At the same time you're maintaining a much higher speed and quality of service."

Hajimiri's research interest is in designing integrated circuits for both wired and wireless high-speed communications systems. (An integrated circuit is a computer chip that serves multiple functions.) Most silicon chips have a single circuit or signal path that a signal will follow; Hajimiri's innovation lies in multiple, parallel circuits on a chip that operate in harmony, thus dramatically increasing speed and overcoming the speed limitations that are inherent with silicon.

Hajimiri says there's already a lot of buzz about his chip, and he hasn't even presented a peer-reviewed paper yet. He'll do so next week at the International Solid State Circuit Conference in San Francisco.

Note to editors: Color pictures of the tiny chip, juxtaposed against a penny, are available.

Media Contact: Mark Wheeler (626) 395-8733 wheel@caltech.edu

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Caltech engineers announce new, more promising type of electrolyte for fuel cells

PASADENA, Calif.—The quest for a cheap and robust fuel cell for future cars may be a bit closer this week to the "grail" moment. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have announced that they're getting promising results with a new material that solves various limitations of previously tested fuel cells.

In an article published online November 20 by the journal Science on the Science Express Website, associate professor of materials science and chemical engineering Sossina Haile and her colleagues report that they have created a new phosphate-based electrolyte to go inside the fuel cells. The new substance, formally named cesium dihydrogen phosphate is, for a variety of reasons, better than the team's previously favored electrolyte, which was based on a sulfate.

"It's a whole new way of doing fuel cells that opens up tremendous possibilities for system simplification," says Haile, a leading authority on fuel cell technology. Haile's most spectacular results in recent years have been with the "solid acid" electrolytes, such as both the phosphate and the sulfate materials, that ferry current along the fuel cell in a way that minimizes the use of expensive parts that rapidly wear out.

Fuel cells have for some time been promoted as a way to help wean global society away from its addiction to gasoline and internal-combustion engines. Like a combustion engine, a fuel cell uses some sort of chemical fuel as its energy source, but like a battery, the chemical energy is directly converted to electrical energy, without a messy and inefficient combustion step.

The components in a fuel cell that make this direct electrochemical conversion possible are an electrolyte, a cathode, and an anode. In the simplest example hydrogen fuel is brought into the anode compartment and oxygen is brought into the cathode compartment. There is an overall chemical force driving the oxygen and the hydrogen to react to produce water.

In the fuel cell, however, the direct chemical reaction is prevented by the electrolyte that separates the fuel (H2) from the oxidant (O2). The electrolyte serves as a barrier to gas diffusion, but it will let protons migrate across it. In order for the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to occur, the hydrogen molecules shed their electrons to become protons. The protons then travel across the electrolyte and react with oxygen atoms at the cathode, where they also pick up electrons to produce neutral water. An additional requirement for these electrochemical reactions to occur is that there be some external path through which the electrons migrate; it is precisely this electron motion that provides usable electricity from the fuel cell.

Traditional fuel cells, which utilize polymer electrolytes, are hampered by a number of problems. The most notable are the cells' inability to operate at high temperatures, their requirement for complicated water regulation systems, and their failure to control fuel diffusion.

Haile and her associates have addressed these shortcomings by creating a novel fuel cell with a solid-acid electrolyte. Solid acids have unique properties that lie between those of normal acids and normal salts. Importantly, solid acids are very efficient at conducting protons when they are heated to "warm" temperatures.

However, their use for any application was largely ignored because they are water-soluble and difficult to fabricate into useful forms. In previous work, Haile explored the applicability of the solid acid CsHSO4 as a fuel cell electrolyte and demonstrated the successful operation of such a fuel cell. She found that the key to creating a functional solid-acid fuel cell is an operation temperature above 100 degrees C, which ensures that water in the system, which would otherwise dissolve and leach away the solid acid, is present as harmless steam.

The CsHSO4 electrolyte fuel cell suffered from a serious problem that prohibited its use for power generation. Specifically, the output of the fuel cell decreased over time as the hydrogen fuel reacted with the solid acid in the presence of the catalyst. As reported in their Science paper, Haile and her colleagues circumvented this problem by replacing the CsHSO4 solid acid with CsH2PO4, which does not react with hydrogen.

According to Haile, they were initially hesitant to use this material because it decomposes via dehydration into a nonuseful salt. However, they found that humidifying the fuel cell anode and cathode chambers with a relatively low level of water vapor could prevent the dehydration reaction and thereby maintain the fuel cell for long-term power generation.

Haile's humidity-stabilized CsH2PO4 fuel cells solve several critical problems that have plagued polymer fuel cell development. First, these solid-acid fuel cells can be operated at higher temperatures than those built with polymer electrolytes, which are limited to temperatures less than 100 degrees C. Operation at "warm" temperatures, 100-–300 degrees C, brings a number of benefits to fuel cell technology. Most directly, catalyst activity is enhanced, resulting in higher-efficiency fuel cells and allowing one to use less of the expensive catalyst.

In addition, the susceptibility of the catalyst to poisoning from carbon monoxide contamination of the fuel decreases. As a consequence, the fuel stream need not be purified as thoroughly as for polymer fuel cells, reducing the overall system complexity. Perhaps most significantly, operation at warm temperatures opens up the possibility of using less-expensive base-metal catalysts, which are not active enough to be considered for low temperature applications.

Additional system simplifications come about from the fact that the radiator necessary for maintaining a fuel cell at about 200 degrees C is much smaller than the one required for maintaining a temperature of about 90 degrees C. This has significant implications for automotive applications. Warm-temperature operation can furthermore be easily integrated with onboard hydrogen-generation systems that produce hydrogen also at warm temperatures. For a polymer electrolyte fuel cell, the hydrogen stream from these generators has to be cooled before it can be introduced into the cell.

Solid-acid fuel cells can be operated in the temperature range of 100–300 degrees C because, unlike polymers, they do not rely on water molecules to transport protons from one side of the membrane to the other. This "dry" proton transport results in additional advantages. In particular, there is no longer a need to remove water that accumulates at the cathode and replenish it at the anode. As a consequence, the overall system is, again, significantly simplified.

In the case of CsH2PO4, a small amount of water partial pressure, equivalent to about 10 percent relative humidity at 100 degrees C, is required in order to prevent dehydration of the material, but no water recirculation is necessary. The dry, solid-acid electrolytes are furthermore much less corrosive than their hydrated, polymer counterparts. This allows for much more flexibility in the choice of materials for the other components of the fuel cell system.

Where solid-acid fuel cells have tremendous advantages over polymer electrolyte fuel cells is in the use of alcohol (e.g., methanol) fuels. Hydrogen "stored" as methanol results in a liquid fuel with a high energy density, which is much easier to transport, store, and carry on board than hydrogen, says Haile. Polymer-based fuel cells do not work well with alcohol fuels because the fuel diffuses across the electrolyte, consuming fuel without generating electrical output. The solid-acid electrolytes are entirely impermeable to methanol, which means very high power outputs are possible—much higher than from polymer fuel cells running on methanol.

While the solid-acid fuel cells solve many of the problems of polymer fuel cells, there are still a few obstacles standing in the way of extensive fuel cell use. A continuing problem of the solid-acid fuel cells is the water solubility of the electrolytes. Haile suggests that clever engineering could circumvent this drawback. However, she plans to solve this problem by developing new solid-acid materials that are water-insoluble.

In developing humidity-stabilizing CsH2PO4 fuel cells, Haile was assisted by the lead author Dane Boysen, a graduate student in materials science; and Tetsuya Uda and Calum Chisholm, both postdoctoral scholars in Haile's lab.

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The Future of Really Big Computers

PASADENA, Calif. – Supercomputers are the gleam in every scientist's eye, useful for such data-intensive research as simulating global climate or unraveling the human genome. They work by a concept known as "parallel processing," whereby multiple computer chips execute parts of a program simultaneously. The more chips, the bigger the problem the computer can handle and the faster it can do it.

Over the last decade, says Thomas Sterling, a faculty associate in the Center for Advanced Computing Research at the California Institute of Technology, the performance of supercomputers has increased almost one thousand times, from less than 70 gigaflops, or one billion calculations per second, in 1993, to over 35 teraflops, or one trillion calculations per second, in 2003. And yet, many of today's largest systems often demonstrate disappointing efficiency, even though their size, cost, and power consumption continue to escalate. Current design strategies won't work for the next generation of supercomputers, making it unlikely they will be able to achieve the future potential speed of multi-petaflop computing (a quadrillion calculations per second).

On Wednesday, November 5, Sterling, a leader in the field of high-performance computer architecture, will discuss the challenges and the possible solutions for supercomputers in his talk "From PCs to Petaflops--The Future of Really Big Computers," the second of the 2003-2004 Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series at Caltech.

New research at Caltech, JPL, and other institutions, he says, is pushing the frontiers of supercomputers. By the end of the decade this work may revolutionize the way in which such computers are built and operated, and solve the problem of performance degradation. Sterling's talk will describe the very biggest computers ever built, and predict what future supercomputers will look like and what they may be able to achieve.

Sterling's lecture will take place at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, near Michigan Avenue south of Del Mar Boulevard, on Caltech's campus in Pasadena. Seating is available on a free, no-ticket-required, first-come, first-served basis. Caltech has offered the Watson Lecture Series since 1922, when it was conceived by the late Caltech physicist Earnest Watson as a way to explain science to the local community.

For more information, call 1(888) 2CALTECH (1-888-222-5832) or (626) 395-4652.

Media Contact: Mark Wheeler (626) 395-8733 wheel@caltech.edu

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National Medal of Technology awardedby President Bush to Caltech's Carver Mead

Carver Mead, a renowned inventor and longtime faculty member of the California Institute of Technology, has been named by President George W. Bush as a recipient of the National Medal of Technology. The announcement was made by the White House today.

Mead, who is the Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus, at Caltech, is known by the high-tech community for many contributions in microelectronics and information technology. His major innovations include pioneering work on the very large-scale integration (VLSI) design for complex circuitry at the microscopic level; and an amplifying device known as the high electron mobility transistor (HEMT), used in microwave communications that is also an integral component of the Internet. He has also been a pioneer in computer animation, microchip design, neuromorphic electronic systems, and other computer interfaces.

His laboratory led an effort to create silicon models of specific areas of the nervous system. Early experiments have shown that the elementary operations of the nervous system can be emulated by analog circuits for the creation of novel devices.

In short, his work is aimed at technologies that will eventually result in human-machine interfaces. The devices his group has experimented on in the past include a cochlear chip, which is modeled after human hearing, as well as devices modeled after vision and learning.

A graduate of Caltech, Mead has been a member of the faculty for 45 years. He holds more than 50 U.S. patents, and has written more than 100 scientific publications.

Mead was presented the award "for pioneering contributions to the microelectronics field, that include spearheading the development of tools and techniques for modern integrated-circuit design, laying the foundation for fabless semiconductor companies, catalyzing the electronic-design automation field, training generations of engineers that have made the United States the world leader in microelectronics technology, and founding more than 20 companies including Actel Corporation, Silicon Compilers, Synaptics, and Sonic Innovations," according to the White House statement.

In announcing the award, the White House also cited the National Medal of Technology for its recognition of individuals and organizations that "embody the spirit of American innovation and have advanced the nation's global competitiveness. Their groundbreaking contributions commercialize technologies, create jobs, improve productivity and stimulate the nation's growth and development."

The award was established by Congress in 1980, and complements the older National Medal of Science. The National Medal of Technology is administered by the Department of Commerce. To date, there have been 146 recipients of the honor, 12 medals having gone to Caltech faculty, alumni, and trustees.

Additional information is available at http://www.technology.gov/medal.



Internet Voting to Get a Closer Look

PASADENA, Calif. - It's election morning. In the old days you would track down your voter's pamphlet to find your precinct, open a map, figure out how to get there, and determine how you would fit voting into your work day--before work, after work, on your lunch hour, etc. But today, you shuffle to your computer in your pajamas, cast your vote, and go start the coffee.

How far in the future is this scenario? It's a little closer than it once was, thanks to a $643,085 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $273,200 from the Carnegie Corporation to the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project, to explore the challenges and opportunities of Internet voting.

The Knight Foundation grant will fund the model of a more accessible voting system that would lower voter confusion, allow the visually impaired to vote without assistance, and improve the accuracy and usefulness of voter registration. It would also fund a study of electronic voting system security.

The Carnegie grant will fund multiple efforts as well: a conference on the sociological and technological issues surrounding electronic voting; an examination of the potential uses of the Internet to solve problems with the voter registration system; and an examination of the possibility that Internet voting may introduce a digital divide in elections.

In terms of Internet voting, the researchers will investigate the many security questions that arise--how do you ensure that voters vote only once and are free from coercion, and how can voters be certain that their votes are confidential. Additionally researchers will consider how voters who don't own computers will be able to gain computer access in order to vote.

According to Shuki Bruck, Moore Professor of Computational and Neural Systems and Electrical Engineering at Caltech, "Internet voting will happen, and will help in making our democratic decision process more robust. The key question is how long it will take our society to get it right. Solving the technological challenges is only one piece of the puzzle, addressing the social and political issues of this paradigm shift seems to be a more complex challenge." The researchers on both campuses include political scientists, engineers, sociologists, and individuals who study the interaction between humans and machines.

"Recent events in California, Maryland, and elsewhere have shown that election reform can be undermined when suspicions are raised by voting technologies. These two grants will help us shine a brighter light on the more troubling aspects of electronic voting, hopefully in ways that will support a robust voting technology industry while also assuring the public that their votes are being counted as cast," remarked Charles Stewart, associate dean of humanities, arts, and social sciences and professor of political science at MIT.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities.

Carnegie Corporation of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding." As a grantmaking foundation, the corporation seeks to carry out Carnegie's vision of philanthropy, which he said should aim "to do real and permanent good in the world." The corporation awards grants totaling approximately $80 million a year in the areas of education, international peace and security, international development, and strengthening U.S. democracy.


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Caltech Researchers to Receive Award for Environmental Contribution

PASADENA, Calif. – With the presentation of the prestigious Jack Edward McKee Medal to Hui-Ming Hung, Joon-Wun Kang, and Michael R. Hoffmann, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) is recognizing the environmental importance of the three scientists' work.

The McKee Medal, named for the past WEF president and Caltech professor, was created to honor achievement in groundwater protection, restoration, and sustainable use. The medal is awarded for significant contributions to the field of groundwater science or engineering, published in any WEF journal.

The three scientists are being honored for their article, "The Sonolytic Destruction of Methyl tert-butyl Ether Present in Contaminated Groundwater," which was published in the December 2002 issue of Water Environment Research.

Hoffmann is the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and the dean of graduate studies at Caltech. Hung received her PhD under Hoffmann's tutelage and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University. Kang spent a year as a visiting associate in Hoffmann's laboratory and is currently a professor in the department of industrial environment and health, Yonsei University, Korea.

Since 1990, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) has been added to gasoline to meet the oxygenate requirements established by Congress in the Clean Air Act Amendments. Oxygenates are a family of chemicals that increase the oxygen content of gasoline, thereby allowing cleaner and more complete consumption of the fuel. MTBE, because it is less expensive and easier to transport than other oxygenates, has been extensively used by refiners and is found in close to 90 percent of treated gasoline. MTBE-treated gasoline has helped to improve air quality, reducing smog-forming pollutants by at least 105,000 tons and toxins by at least 24, 000 tons annually.

However, the benefits of MTBE come at a price. Leaks from storage containers and spills during transportation have led to a growing problem of MTBE contaminating groundwater, including drinking-water sources. The potential health risks of MTBE have not yet been determined, but the offensive odor and taste of the chemical can make water undrinkable. Because MTBE is not as biodegradable as other gasoline components, it has become a persistent problem that traditional methods of decontamination have proved unsuccessful in treating.

In their paper, Hung, Kang, and Hoffmann applied the established technique of ultrasonic irradiation to the removal of MTBE from a crude sample of contaminated groundwater. They first analyzed the mechanism of ultrasonic degradation in pure water spiked with MTBE, and then compared the degradation in the spiked sample to that in water collected beneath JFK International Airport, New York. They demonstrated that the destruction of the MTBE in the crude sample occurred efficiently, thus establishing the usefulness of ultrasonic irradiation for decontamination. Their thorough characterization of this technique has laid the groundwork for the development of a practical system for the efficacious removal of MTBE from contaminated groundwater.

WEF will recognize the three scientists on October 14 during WEFTEC.03, the largest water-quality conference and exhibition in North America. This year marks the 76th annual meeting which will be held from October 11 to 15 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. ###

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Brennen Receives Research Award

PASADENA, Calif. -- Christopher Brennen, professor of mechanical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, is the first non-Japanese recipient of the Fluids Science Research Award, given by the Japanese Fluid Science Foundation.

The foundation was created in 1947 by Professor Fukusaburo Numachi and is currently managed by the Institute of Fluid Science at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. Tohoku University was founded in 1907 as the third Imperial University of Japan, and is among the most prestigious science and technology institutions in the world.

Brennen, author of Cavitation and Bubble Dynamics, published in 1995 by Oxford University Press, is an international expert in cavitation and multiphase flows. His contributions to the field of rocketry have greatly benefited the development of the U.S. and Japanese space programs. Brennen has traveled to Tohoku University's campus in northern Honshu on several occasions throughout his career, and is a familiar contributing collaborator at the Institute for Fluid Science.

Brennen looks forward to traveling once again to the university on December 11 to receive his award. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Brennen earned his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Oxford, and has been a Caltech faculty member since 1969. The honors and awards that Brennen has garnered throughout his career include the 1992 Fluids Engineering Award of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and last year's Fluids Engineering Award of the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers. Additionally, Brennen served as a United Nations consultant to India in 1980 and chaired the 4th International Symposium on Cavitation in 2001.

In response to the award, Brennen emphasizes Tohoku University's continued role in improving international relations. It was the first school in Japan to admit international students. In awarding his accomplishments within the field of mechanics, says Brennen, "In part they are recognizing my contribution to international cooperation."

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Caltech Car: No CD Player, No Seats, No Driver

PASADENA, Calif. – Interstate 15 is a virtual race track on any given Friday night, as road warriors from Los Angeles speed to cover the 250 miles to the neon-lit town wags refer to as "Lost Wages" (that is, of course, Las Vegas).

Making that same journey off-road across the Mojave desert would be a little insane for these folks. Making that same journey without a driver would be crazier still, but that's exactly what a group of undergraduates at the California Institute of Technology plan on doing. Talk about gambling.

The team of 23 Caltech students is competing for a $1 million prize in the DARPA Grand Challenge autonomous ground vehicle race, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This will not be a remote-controlled vehicle driven by a student wielding a laptop at a distance, but a completely autonomous car that will drive and navigate itself at speeds as fast as 55 mph; to win, says project manager and Caltech staff member David van Gogh, the car will need to average between 25 and 30 mph. "It's an historic opportunity," he says, "similar to the crossing of the Atlantic by Lindbergh."

That's because, while autonomous vehicles have driven successfully on paved highways, none has done so off-road, at high speed. The Caltech vehicle, a 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe 4x4 (nicknamed "Bob"), will be equipped with navigational software from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's lead center for robotic exploration of the solar system. That software is used on slow-moving planetary rovers, like the ones currently en route to Mars. It will have to be refined for this race, which is the responsibility of the students, who over the summer are engaged full time in making Bob race-ready for the March 13, 2004, starting gun. The race will leave from an as-yet undisclosed location somewhere near Los Angeles and follow a course that won't be announced until two hours before the race begins.

The students, selected last spring, are divided into three teams: computing (hardware and software), sensors, and mechanical infrastructure. Bob's interior has already been stripped; a batch of computers will be installed in the rear, suspended in air to avoid jolts. A spare gas tank will be installed, and the tires have been filled with a special foam to prevent a dreaded flat. Actuators--mechanical devices for controlling steering, acceleration, and braking--are also being installed; as is vision in the form of stereo cameras, infrared sensors, and lasers that will give Bob a three-dimensional view of the road. Last, global positioning software will provide the vehicle with the "big picture" of its desert environment.

It is a demanding race. Bob will have to avoid rocks, gullies, and other race cars, and must navigate over so-called "whoop-de-doos"--washboard-like ruts on a dirt road that any off-roader will tell you are challenging for a human to drive over, let alone a camera and a computer. The vehicles also have to stay within a defined corridor that will vary in width from tens of feet to possibly miles. There will be a series of checkpoints every car must pass through while en route.

It is a student-run event, with the undergraduates, mostly sophomores, making the decisions. Advice and oversight is provided, however, by experts from both Caltech, JPL, and Northrop-Grumman--"Sanity checks," says van Gogh.

The fastest team to complete the race in less than 10 hours will win the $1 million prize. (If the Caltech team wins, the money will go to an undergraduate student fund.) DARPA imposed the time constraint to push the limits of existing technologies. The prize will be available through 2007, so if no one wins the first time out, two more race days will be available.

The total cost of the Caltech project is estimated to be several hundred thousand dollars; a number of corporate donors have contributed equipment to the Caltech team. DARPA is sponsoring the challenge to encourage innovation in driverless technology, which the Department of Defense believes will be critical to future military endeavors. Because it wants to support creativity, DARPA has placed few restrictions on the type of vehicle, though it expects most will be modifications of existing 4x4s.

""The keys are the software and the integration of all these different components to work together," says van Gogh. There have been several field trials to date, at California's El Mirage dry bed lake, the others in the parking lot of the Santa Anita race track, not far from the Caltech campus. Media are welcome to attend future test runs; for details, call Caltech media relations, (626) 395-3227.

Contact: Mark Wheeler (626) 395-8733 wheel@caltech.edu

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Niles Pierce Awarded 2003 Feynman Teaching Prize

PASADENA, Calif. – There are numerous requirements before a faculty member at the California Institute of Technology can be awarded a Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching. To be nominated, an individual must be someone who demonstrates, in the broadest sense, "unusual ability, creativity, and innovation in undergraduate and graduate classroom or laboratory teaching."

For Niles Pierce, the 2003 Feynman Prize winner, teaching is innate. "I never learned any magic rules for lecturing--I just get up and talk and write in a way that feels natural," says Pierce, an assistant professor of applied and computational mathematics. "I like to explain things clearly. I'm sure my teaching style was influenced by my experiences learning from my mother, who is an extraordinary teacher. Maybe I'm a little unpredictable. I try to feed off the intellectual playfulness of the Caltech student body."

He was "thrilled and surprised" to learn of the award, Pierce says. "I remember the first day I stepped in front of a chalkboard after I arrived at Caltech--teaching was much harder than I expected."

That may be due to Pierce's area of expertise. His lab is focused on the development of computational algorithms--step-by-step procedures for a computer that solves a particular problem--with the goal of designing novel molecular machines that are capable of self-assembling from a collection of molecules, and functioning at the nanometer scale.

Still, Pierce's manner and his method have resonated with both undergrads and graduate students. "I wanted to communicate in a way that students would become excited by the ideas of applied and computational mathematics," says Pierce. "Of course, some material is hard to love, and I try to be honest with the students. If I really like a certain topic, I explain why. If we're talking about a subject that I think is boring, there better be a good reason, and I give it. My favorite lectures are the ones where the material is potentially hard to understand or absorb. It's not much fun to give a lecture if there's nothing challenging to explain and discuss."

Given the tremendous demands placed on Caltech students, he says, it is quite a challenge to generate intellectual excitement every other day during a hectic academic term. "I guess I enjoy that challenge."

Pierce joined Caltech in 1998 as a senior postdoctoral scholar before becoming an assistant professor in 2000. Prior to Caltech, Pierce graduated as valedictorian from Princeton University in 1993, then went to the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, earning his D.Phil. in 1997.

The Feynman Prize, awarded annually, consists of a cash award of $3,500 and an equivalent raise in the winner's salary. Past recipients include Professors Joseph Kirschvink, geobiology; David Stevenson, planetary science; Donald Cohen, applied mathematics; Emlyn Hughes, physics; Barbara Imperiali, chemistry; R. David Middlebrook, electrical engineering; Yaser Abu-Mostafa, electrical engineering and computer science; Erik Antonsson, mechanical engineering; and Tom Tombrello, physics.

The prize was established in appreciation of Richard Feynman's contributions to excellent teaching, and is made possible by an endowment from Ione and Robert E. Paradise, with additional contributions from William and Sally Hurt.

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