Physicists Devise New Technique for Detecting Heavy Water

PASADENA, Calif.—Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have created a new method of detecting heavy water that is 30 times more sensitive than any other existing method. The detection method could be helpful in the fight against international nuclear proliferation.

In the June 15 issue of the journal Optics Letters, Caltech doctoral student Andrea Armani and her professor Kerry Vahala report that a special type of tiny optical device can be configured to detect heavy water. Called an optical microresonator, the device is shaped something like a mushroom and was originally designed three years ago to store light for future opto-electronic applications. With a diameter smaller than that of a human hair, the microresonator is made of silica and is coupled with a tunable laser.

The technique works because of the difference between the molecular composition of heavy water and regular water. An H2O molecule has two atoms of hydrogen that each are built of a single proton and a single electron. A D2O molecule, by contrast, has two atoms of a hydrogen isotope known as deuterium, which differs in that each atom has a single neutron in addition to a proton and an electron. This makes a heavy-water molecule significantly more massive than a regular water molecule.

"Heavy water isn't a misnomer," says Armani, who is finishing up her doctorate in applied physics and will soon begin a two-year postdoctoral appointment at Caltech. Armani says that heavy water looks just like regular water to the naked eye, but an ice cube made of the stuff will sink if placed in regular water because of its added density. This difference in masses, in fact, is what makes the detection of heavy water possible in Armani and Vahala's new technique. When the microresonator is placed in heavy water, the difference in optical absorption results in a change in the "Q factor," which is a number used to measure how efficiently an optical resonator stores light. If a higher Q factor is detected than one would see for normal water, then more heavy water is present than the typical one-in-6,400 water molecules that exists normally in nature.

The technique is so sensitive that one heavy-water molecule in 10,000 can be detected, Armani says. Furthermore, the Q factor changes steadily as the heavy-water concentrations are varied.

The results are good news for those who worry about the escalation of nuclear weapons, because heavy water is typically found wherever someone is trying to control a nuclear chain reaction. As a nuclear moderator, heavy water can be used to control the way neutrons bounce around in fissionable material, thereby making it possible for a fission reactor to be built.

The ongoing concern with heavy water is exemplified by the fact that Armani and Vahala have received funding for their new technique from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. The federal agency provides grants to university research that has potential applications for U.S. national defense.

"This technique is 30 times better than the best competing detection technique, and we haven't yet tried to reduce noise sources," says Armani. "We think even greater sensitivities are possible."

The paper is entitled "Heavy Water Detection Using Ultra-High-Q Microcavities" and is available online at

Robert Tindol

Jerry Marsden Elected to Royal Society

PASADENA, Calif.—Jerry Marsden, the Carl F. Braun Professor of Engineering and Control and Dynamical Systems at the California Institute of Technology, has been named a member of the Royal Society of the United Kingdom. Marsden joins 43 other scientists as the new inductees of a society that through the years has counted Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Stephen Hawking among its members.

Marsden was cited by the Royal Society for "his fundamental contributions to a very wide range of topics such as Hamiltonian systems, fluid mechanics, plasma physics, general relativity, dynamical systems and chaos, nonlinear elasticity, nonholonomic mechanics, control theory, variational integrators and solar system mission design. Some of his recent research has contributed to understanding and designing NASA missions to the moons of Jupiter."

Marsden earned his bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from the University of Toronto and his doctorate in applied mathematics from Princeton University. He taught at UC Berkeley from 1968 to 1995 and then came to Caltech as a professor of control and dynamical systems, becoming the Carl F. Braun Professor in 2003. In the early 1970s, he was one of the original founders of reduction theory for mechanical systems with symmetry. Marsden received the 1990 AMS-SIAM Norbert Wiener Prize and the SIAM John von Neumann Prize in 2005. He is also a recipient of the Research Award for Natural Sciences of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1992 and 1999 and the 2000 Max Planck Research Award for Mathematics and Computer Science.

The Royal Society was established in England in 1660 and is the world's oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. The society's objectives are to recognize excellence in science, to support leading-edge scientific research and its applications, to stimulate international interaction, and to promote education and the public's understanding of science.

Robert Tindol
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Aerospace Engineers and Biologists Solve Long-Standing Heart Development Mystery

PASADENA, Calif.—An engineer comparing the human adult heart and the embryo heart might never guess that the former developed from the latter. While the adult heart is a fist-shaped organ with chambers and valves, the embryo heart looks more like tube attached to smaller tubes. Physicians and researchers have assumed for years, in fact, that the embryonic heart pumps through peristaltic movements, much as material flows through the digestive system.

But new results in this week's issue of Science from an international team of biologists and engineers show that the embryonic vertebrate heart tube is indeed a dynamic suction pump. In other words, blood flows by a dynamic suction action (similar to the action of the mature left ventricle) that arises from wave motions in the tube. The findings could lead to new treatments of certain heart diseases that arise from congenital defects.

According to Mory Gharib, the Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology, the new results show once and for all that "the embryonic heart doesn't work the way we were taught.

"The morphologies of embryonic and adult hearts look like two different engineers designed them separately," says Gharib, who has worked for years on the mechanical and dynamical nature of the heart. "This study allows you to think about the continuity of the pumping mechanism."

Scott Fraser, the Rosen Professor at Caltech and director of the MRI Center, adds that the study shows the promise of advanced biological imaging techniques for the future of medicine. "The reason this mechanism of pumping has not been noticed in the heart tube is because of the limitations of imaging," he says. "But now we have a device that is 100 times faster than the old microscopes, allowing us to see things that previously would have been a blur. Now we can see the motion of blood and the motions of vascular walls at very high resolutions."

The lead author of the paper is Gharib's graduate student Arian Forouhar. He and the other researchers used confocal microscopes in the Beckman Institute's biological imaging center on campus to do time-lapse photography of embryonic zebrafish. According to Fraser, embryonic zebrafish were chosen because they are essentially transparent, thus allowing for easy viewing, and since they develop completely in only a few days.

The time-lapse photography showed that peristalsis, an action similar to squeezing a tube of toothpaste, was not the pumping mechanism, but rather that valveless pumping known as "hydroelastic impedance pumping" takes place. In this model fewer active cells are required to sustain circulation.

Contraction of a small collection of myocytes, usually situated near the entrance of the heart tube, initiates a series of forward-traveling elastic waves that eventually reflect back after impinging on the end of the heart tube. At a specific range of contraction frequencies, these waves can constructively interact with the preceding reflected waves to generate an efficient dynamic-suction region at the outflow tract of the heart tube.

"Now there is a new paradigm that allows us to reconsider how embryonic cardiac mechanics may lead to anomalies in the adult heart, since impairment of diastolic suction is common in congestive heart-failure patients," says Gharib.

"The heart is one of the only things that makes itself while it's working," Fraser adds. "We often think of the heart as a thing the size of a fist, but it likely began forming its structures when it was a tiny tube with the diameter of a human hair."

"One of the most intriguing features of this model is that only a few contractile cells are necessary to provide mechanical stimuli that may guide later stages of heart development," says Forouhar. According to Gharib, this simplicity in construction will allow us to think of potential biomimicked mechanical counterparts for use in applications where delicate transport of blood, drugs, or other biological fluids are desired.

In addition to Forouhar, Gharib, and Fraser, the authors are Michael Liebling, a postdoctoral scholar in the Beckman Institute's biological imaging center; Anna Hickerson (BS '00; PhD '05) and Abbas Nasiraei Moghaddam, graduate students in bioengineering at Caltech; Huai-Jen Tsai of National Taiwan University's Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology; Jay Hove of the University of Cincinnati's Genome Research Institute; and Mary Dickinson of the Baylor College of Medicine.

The article is titled "The Embryonic Vertebrate Heart Tube is a Dynamic Suction Pump," and appears in the May 5 issue of Science.

Robert Tindol

Candes Receives Waterman Award

PASADENA, Calif.--Emmanuel Candes, an applied mathematician in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at the California Institute of Technology, has been selected to receive the National Science Board's prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award, the highest honor awarded by the National Science Foundation.

The board cited Candes's development of new mathematical tools that allow efficient digital representation of wave signals, together with his discovery of new methods to economically translate analog data into already compressed digital form--work that promises to improve the digital processing of signals in a vast array of modern technologies.

The annual Waterman Award recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by the NSF. Candidates may not be more than 35 years old or seven years beyond receiving a doctorate. In addition to a medal, the awardee receives a grant of $500,000 over a three-year period for scientific research or advanced study in the mathematical, physical, medical, biological, engineering, social, or other sciences at the institution of the recipient's choice.

"Candes's work is nothing short of revolutionary," said John Cozzens, the program officer in NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering who oversees Candes's grants. NSF has supported Candes's work since 2002.

"It promises to take the field to a whole new level and have many applications in everyday technologies, especially in medical imaging," Cozzens said.

At age 35, Candes is a leader in the field of "harmonic analysis," a branch of mathematics that teases apart signal waves for analysis and processing. The term comes from the observation that multiple waves in a complex system--whether from outer space, a cell phone, the Internet, or a DNA molecule--make up a chorus of individual "songs" singing in harmony with the others. Candes worked out the mathematics of wave snippets known as ridgelets, curvelets, chirplets and noiselets--small templates that provide powerful systems for processing and analyzing complex waves. The work allows researchers to listen more closely to the unique songs and understand and enhance the information they contain. By sharpening the details, harmonic analysis bestows order on the cacophony of complex systems and drowns out unwanted noise.

"My work is focused on finding good representations. We use representations all the time, and good ones make common tasks more simple," said Candes. For example, it is easier to perform additions or multiplications with the Arabic numbering system rather than with Roman numerals, he says, and easier still with the binary system a digital computer uses. "Harmonic analysis searches for convenient representations of more complicated objects to make tasks such as compressing image data, performing large calculations rapidly, and enhancing biomedical images much simpler."

We benefit from advances in signal processing and harmonic analysis in electronic devices, medical technology, aircraft safety, DNA analysis, knowledge about the universe, and even in finding oil. Wavelets, for example, form the basis of the JPEG image compression technology and high-end computer graphics.

With the advent of digital technologies, translating analog information faithfully into digital representations has been a major challenge. The translating method, called sampling, requires that enough information is selected from the analog object to adequately reproduce it in digital form. If the wrong amount is selected, key information may be lost.

Recently, Candes developed a new sampling mechanism that allows the faithful recovery of signals and images from far fewer data bits than traditional methods use. This new sampling theory may come to underlie procedures for sampling and compressing data simultaneously and much faster. "In practice," Candes said, "this means one could obtain super-resolved signals from just a few sensors."

A professor of applied and computational mathematics at Caltech, Candes studied in his native France before receiving a doctorate in statistics at Stanford University in 1998. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Vasil Popov Prize in approximation theory, the Department of Energy Young Investigator Award, the James H. Wilkinson Prize in numerical analysis and scientific computing, and the Best Paper Award of the European Association for Signal, Speech and Image Processing. He was selected as an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in 2001. He has also been invited to give plenary addresses at major international conferences. ### Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226

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Fluid Mechanics Experts Come Up with New Test for Heart Disease

PASADENA, Calif.—Building on years of research on the way that blood flows through the heart valves, researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Oregon Health Science University have devised a new index for cardiac health based on a simple ultrasound test. The index is now ready for use, and provides a new diagnostic tool for cardiologists in searching for the very early signs of certain heart diseases.

In the April 18 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers show how ultrasound imaging can be used to create an extremely detailed picture of the jet of blood as it squirts through the cardiac left ventricle. Previous work by the Caltech team members has shown that there is an ideal length-to-diameter ratio for jets of fluid passing through valves, which means that any variation from this ratio is indicative of a heart that pumping in an abnormal manner.

According to Mory Gharib, Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering at Caltech, the ideal stroke ratio for cardiac function is four. This means that the length of a jet of fluid is ideal in power efficiency if it is four times the diameter of the valve it is traveling through. Since pioneering the study of vortices in biological fluid transport, Gharib has worked at applying it to biomedical applications. The PNAS article presents the latest breakthrough.

"Vortex formation defines the optimal output of the heart," says Gharib. "The size and shape of the vortex is a diagnostic tool because the information can reveal whether a patient's heart is healthy or if there are problems that will lead to enlargement."

In vivo and in vitro images taken by the Caltech team and Oregon collaborators show that a healthy heart tends to form vortex rings in the blood as it passes through the left ventricle. If the valve is too large in diameter, the blood tends not to form strong vortices, and if it is too narrow, the heart has much less energy efficiency and must work harder in order to produce the effect of a healthy heart. In either case, the result of a non-optimal vortex formation is indicative of a malfunctioning heart.

The index that the researchers have created is a guide for cardiologists, who will be able to use a noninvasive ultrasound machine to image the heart, just as obstetricians use ultrasound devices to image developing fetuses. Thus, the technique can be used when the patient is at rest, unlike treadmill tests that can themselves pose a certain danger because they require patients to exert themselves.

"We're not saying that this technique replaces traditional diagnostic tools, but that it is another way of confirming if something is wrong," Gharib adds.

"We want to give people an earlier warning of disease with a new method that is non-invasive and relatively inexpensive," says John Dabiri, an assistant professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech and coauthor of the paper.

Continuing in vitro studies led by Arash Kheradvar, a medical doctor and graduate student in bioengineering at Caltech, are focused on correlating the new diagnostic index with specific symptoms of heart failure.

In addition to Gharib, the lead author, and Dabiri and Kheradvar, the authors are Edmond Rambod, a former postdoctoral researcher at Caltech, and David J. Sahn, a cardiologist at Oregon Health Science University.

The title of the PNAS paper is "Optimal vortex formation as an index of cardiac health."


Robert Tindol

Murray Awarded Feynman Teaching Prize

PASADENA, Calif.-Richard M. Murray was a freshman attending frosh camp at Camp Fox on Catalina Island when he first encountered famed physicist Richard Feynman. "I was sitting down, looking across a field, and a professor sat down next to me and started talking about some shells he had found while he was swimming. Lo and behold, it was Richard Feynman-although I was an engineering student and not in physics, and I'm not sure I knew who he was at the time. That willingness to talk to a student typified his approach to teaching."

Such willingness to engage and encourage students also typifies Murray's own approach, and now Murray, recently named the Thomas E. and Doris Everhart Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems at the California Institute of Technology, has been awarded the Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching. The prize, handed out annually, is Caltech's most prestigious teaching honor. With it comes a $3,500 cash award, plus an equivalent raise in annual salary.

The Feynman Prize Selection Committee singled out Murray for his "enthusiasm, responsiveness, and innovation" in the classroom and for his "contribution to the undergraduate experience through teaching outside the conventional classroom."

"I think the field I do research in is very exciting, so I try to teach in a way that conveys the flavor of why I find it exciting," says Murray, whose work includes high-confidence control of cooperative systems and nonlinear control theory.

Murray was also commended for his determination to make sure his students understand the material he teaches. For example, he encourages students to anonymously fill out index cards, dubbed "Mud" cards, at the end of each class, asking questions about anything they found confusing (or 'muddy '). Answers to the students' questions are posted on the class website the same day.

"You have to be willing to take questions, because you know you are going to miss the mark sometimes," Murray says. This commitment to learning is not lost on Murray's students. "In all my classes I have never before had a professor that was so dedicated to answering students' questions and making sure that students understood the material," wrote one undergraduate in nominating Murray for the award. The student, who also praised Murray's "special creativity, innovation, and dedication to the classroom," added, "I can think of no other professor more deserving of this award."

Another student praised Murray for his "infectious and boundless enthusiasm and perseverance for everything he is involved in and an exceptional talent for leadership." Yet another said that Murray is "without a doubt one of the most talented teachers I have ever met."

Murray also served as leader of Team Caltech, the group of about 50 undergraduate students who created "Alice," Caltech's entry in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge autonomous robot race through the southern California desert. In a letter recommending Murray to the prize selection committee, Antony Fender, a lecturer in engineering and also a member of Team Caltech, said, "The students involved in this project received an education unlike anything I've ever seen before," adding that they would "carry this experience with them for their entire lives."

Murray says that he was surprised and "very honored" to receive the Feynman award. "I've known many faculty who received it and always looked up to them as being great teachers. It's a big honor to be among them."

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Caltech Scientist Creates New Method for Folding Strands of DNA to Make Microscopic Structures

PASADENA, Calif.—In a new development in nanotechnology, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology has devised a way of weaving DNA strands into any desired two-dimensional shape or figure, which he calls "DNA origami."

According to Paul Rothemund, a senior research fellow in computer science and computation and neural systems, the new technique could be an important tool in the creation of new nanodevices, that is, devices whose measurements are a few billionths of a meter in size.

"The construction of custom DNA origami is so simple that the method should make it much easier for scientists from diverse fields to create and study the complex nanostructures they might want," Rothemund explains.

"A physicist, for example, might attach nano-sized semiconductor 'quantum dots' in a pattern that creates a quantum computer. A biologist might use DNA origami to take proteins which normally occur separately in nature, and organize them into a multi-enzyme factory that hands a chemical product from one enzyme machine to the next in the manner of an assembly line."

Reporting in the March 16th issue of Nature, Rothemund describes how long single strands of DNA can be folded back and forth, tracing a mazelike path, to form a scaffold that fills up the outline of any desired shape. To hold the scaffold in place, 200 or more DNA strands are designed to bind the scaffold and staple it together.

Each of the short DNA strands can act something like a pixel in a computer image, resulting in a shape that can bear a complex pattern, such as words or images. The resulting shapes and patterns are each about 100 nanometers in diameter-or about a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The dots themselves are six nanometers in diameter. While the folding of DNA into shapes that have nothing to do with the molecule's genetic information is not a new idea, Rothemund's efforts provide a general way to quickly and easily create any shape. In the last year, Rothemund has created half a dozen shapes, including a square, a triangle, a five-pointed star, and a smiley face-each one several times more complex than any previously constructed DNA objects. "At this point, high-school students could use the design program to create whatever shape they desired,'' he says.

Once a shape has been created, adding a pattern to it is particularly easy, taking just a couple of hours for any desired pattern. As a demonstration, Rothemund has spelled out the letters "DNA," and has drawn a rough picture of a double helix, as well as a map of the western hemisphere in which one nanometer represents 200 kilometers.

Although Rothemund has hitherto worked on two-dimensional shapes and structures, he says that 3-D assemblies should be no problem. In fact, researchers at other institutions are already using his method to attempt the building of 3-D cages. One biomedical application that Rothemund says could come of this particular effort is the construction of cages that would sequester enzymes until they were ready for use in turning other proteins on or off.

The original idea for using DNA to create shapes and structures came from Nadrian Seeman of New York University. Another pioneer in the field is Caltech's Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Computation and Neural Systems Erik Winfree, in whose group Rothemund works.

"In this research, Paul has scored a few unusual `firsts' for humanity," Winfree says. "In a typical reaction, he can make about 50 billion 'smiley-faces.' I think this is the most concentrated happiness ever created.

"But the applications of this technology are likely to be less whimsical," Winfree adds. "For example, it can be used as a 'nanobreadboard' for attaching almost arbitrary nanometer-scale components. There are few other ways to obtain such precise control over the arrangement of components at this scale."

The title of the Nature paper is "Folding DNA to create nanoscale shapes and patterns."

Robert Tindol

Students Square Off in Engineering Contest

PASADENA, Calif.-Fire up the griddle! It's time for the 20th installment of the California Institute of Technology's ME 72 Engineering Design Contest, which will be held at 2 p.m. on December 1 outside Caltech's Chandler Dining Hall. This year's theme: an "energy cook-off."

The 10 pairs of student contestants won't actually be cooking energy, of course--or even cooking with energy. Over the past 10 weeks, their challenge has been to design and manufacture a small Stirling engine--an engine that uses an externally applied fuel or heat source to drive pistons that generate power (as opposed to the internal combustion engine that propels your car). In this case, the one-foot-tall engines will suck up the heat thrown off a 300-degree Fahrenheit propane-powered portable pancake griddle wheeled out of the dining hall for the competition.

If the engines work, they'll pump out about one watt of power that will then juice up gadgets ranging from a fan to a low-wattage laser to a small light-up Christmas tree.

The students will be judged on the efficiency and speed of their engine, the creativity of its design, and its overall cost. They will also be evaluated on how well they predicted the performance of their engines.

Preparing for the contest, says ME 72 instructor Melany Hunt, a professor of mechanical engineering at Caltech, has given the students a firsthand taste of engineering in the real world. "The students have had to take their ideas from conception to completion, while taking into account all aspects of the process, including the cost and materials," Hunt says. "Plus," she adds, "they have had to adhere to a fixed timetable, which is not something Caltech students are usually very good at."

Members of the media are welcome to attend the competition. For more information, including contest rules, visit the ME 72 website at

### Contact: Kathy Svitil (626) 395-8022 Visit the Caltech Media Relations Web site at:


NSF Awards $11.16 Million to Caltech's Center for the Science and Engineering of Materials

PASADENA--The National Science Foundation today awarded $11.16 million to the Center for the Science and Engineering of Materials (CSEM) at the California Institute of Technology. The renewal funding will allow the center to continue its work in exotic and futuristic materials applications, such as macromolecular materials, ferroelectric photonics, novel composites of glass and metals, spintronic devices, and fuel cells.

According to Harry Atwater, director of the center and an engineering professor at Caltech, the new funding will allow 18 Caltech faculty members and numerous graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to pursue novel research programs that appear to be especially promising.

"The center has been operating since September of 2000, but the renewal procedure was highly competitive," Atwater said. 'We're delighted to receive the NSF funding."

According to Atwater, the center will focus on three major interdisciplinary areas of materials research, and will also devote resources to two "seed" projects, albeit on a smaller scale. The major interdisciplinary areas are the following:

-Macromolecular materials. One of the principal goals is to produce tailored responses to cell adhesion so that artificial implants and transplants will work better. A longstanding problem with tissue transplants is rejection by the patient's own immune system, and evidence shows that novel ways of attending to the microscopic details of cellular response could trick the immune system into thinking that the foreign body "looks" like the rest of the body at the microscopic level. Led by David Tirrell, chair of Caltech's Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the effort in cell adhesion also demonstrates the highly interdisciplinary nature of the center, because chemists, chemical engineers, biologists, engineers, and others will all be involved in the work.

-A new research emphasis for the center will be ferroelectric photonic materials. This research involves the changing of optical properties of materials used to modulate light from lasers. Normally, the optical properties of a material, such as the refractive index, cannot be tuned after fabrication-which explains why eyeglass wearers must each have their own individual prescriptions. But there are situations in which engineers would like to tune the transparency or frequency response of optical devices after fabrication by simply applying a voltage-and ferroelectric materials let you do just that. This ability to harness and tune optical properties after fabrication will open up such applications as tunable microdevices for "photonic integrated circuits" that would lead to much greater compactness, lower power demands, and lower costs. This area of the center is led by Kaushik Bhattacharya, professor of mechanics and materials science.

-The third area, bulk materials and composites, is carried over from the center's beginnings in 2000. Led by Bill Johnson, the Mettler Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, the effort will focus on the fabrication processes that could combine liquid and glassy metals (i.e., materials with no crystalline structure) with nanoscale crystals to exploit the unique mechanical attributes of each. The researchers think they may succeed in creating a tough and ductile structural metal which has two to three times the strength of steel or titanium. If cost-effective, such a material could conceivably replace steel in many types of structures.

The center will also provide funding for the following two seed projects, which are of limited duration and smaller scope:

-Research on spintronic materials will be led by Caltech physics professor Nai-Chang Yeh. A promising new research avenue in the physics of composite materials, spintronics seeks to exploit the quantum spin characteristics of electrons to operate electronic devices, rather than the moving of current through wires.

-New materials for the storage and conversions of methanol will be the focus of a group led by Associate Professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering Sossina Haile. The goal is to identify materials that are good at the conversion of hydrogen and carbon dioxide to methanol, and conversely, the materials that can best convert methanol to hydrogen for use as a fuel in fuel cells.

According to Atwater, the center will continue to be highly interdisciplinary, not only because researchers from four Caltech divisions will work on the projects, but also because the very nature of the projects draws upon expertise in several branches of science and engineering.

The center will also continue its ongoing efforts in education and public outreach. Current projects include a television series that will be titled Material World, and a materials partnership with Cal State Los Angeles. The latter program has been especially noteworthy in its ongoing efforts to foster materials research and curriculum on the CSULA campus.

The center will continue to build its already extensive network of research collaborations in the private sector with various companies, government laboratories, and other research institutions.

Atwater is the Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science.

Robert Tindol

Alice Gets Ready to Roll

PASADENA, Calif.-The intrepid Alice will soon take center stage at the California Speedway in Fontana. Alice is no diva, but the California Institute of Technology's entrant in this year's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge race, a take-no-prisoners field test of autonomously driven robotic vehicles organized by DARPA to speed the development of battlefield-ready robotic tanks, trucks, and other all-terrain vehicles.

Before reaching the race, Alice--a Ford E-350 van modified for off-roading and packed with tons of sophisticated computer servers and sensors--and a field of 42 other entrants will be put through their paces at the National Qualification Event (NQE) which will run from September 28 to October 6 in Fontana. Because of the large number of entrants and the difficulty of the test, the exact time of Alice's qualification run won't be determined until after the start of the NQE.

During the NQE, each vehicle will navigate itself--with no human intervention--through a course of sharp turns, rough roads, power poles, foliage, and other obstacles. The top 20 teams will move on to compete on October 8 in the Grand Challenge finals, a wild ride through the Mojave Desert, over unpaved roads, down trails, and around ditches and sand dunes. The first vehicle to complete the almost 175-mile trek, which will start and end just outside Primm, Nevada, at the California-Nevada state line (the exact course won't be revealed until two hours before start time), in less than 10 hours will receive a $2 million prize.

"I think we'll do great at the NQE," says Richard Murray, professor of control and dynamical systems and leader of Team Caltech. Team Caltech consists of over 50 undergraduates from Caltech, Princeton, Virginia Tech, and Lund University in Sweden, plus high school volunteers, Caltech faculty participants, and engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Sportsmobile, Northrop Grumman, and Systems Technology Incorporated. Over the past year, the student team members have combined to put in over 45,000 hours developing Alice.

"The race is going to be tough, although we were farther along with Alice at the beginning of the summer than we were with Bob for the final challenge last year. A lot will depend on how our work over the next two weeks goes," Murray adds, when Alice will continue to be put through her paces in desert test runs and through courses in the parking lots of the Rose Bowl, Santa Anita race track, and the former St. Luke Medical Center. "We are optimizing and tuning our software, trying to get it to respond intelligently to the many types of conditions it might see during the race."

In last year's Grand Challenge, Team Caltech's Bob, a '96 Chevy Tahoe, didn't respond so intelligently to a swath of barbed wire. Bob plowed headlong into it and got hung up, ending his race at mile 1.3. This year, drawing on lessons from Bob's mistakes (Alice's license plate, in fact, reads "I 8 BOB"), the members of Team Caltech have perfected their sensors and software, and their game plan.

"We want Alice to 'see' what is going on around it and drive based on that knowledge," Murray says. "This is much harder than making use of maps and satellite data to locate the roads ahead of time. With five cameras and five laser ranging devices (LADARs), we have a lot more sensors and computers than many of the other teams. This should give us an advantage if the course turns out to be something that is not just running along dirt roads and trails."

Team Caltech has already decided what it will do with the cash prize if Alice wins: $1 million will endow a fund to support CS/EE/ME 75, the class in multidisciplinary project design taken by Team Caltech's students; $500,000 will be divided equally among four student engineering chapters, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Association for Computing Machinery, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Society of Women Engineers. The other $500,000 will be divvied up among Team Caltech's student members.

The public is invited to attend the NQE, which will kick off with a 9:00 a.m. opening ceremony on September 28, and the Grand Challenge finals. Admission for both is free, with grandstand seating available. Spectator information is available at the DARPA Grand Challenge website: For the latest information on Team Caltech's NQE start time, visit Team Caltech's website:


Contact: Kathy Svitil (626) 395-8022

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