New Dean of Graduate Studies Named

On July 1, 2015, Doug Rees, the Roscoe Gilkey Dickinson Professor of Chemistry, will begin serving as the new dean of graduate studies at Caltech.

"Doug's experience and concern with graduate education make him an ideal choice for dean of graduate studies. I am very pleased that he is willing to make this commitment to the Institute and its students," says Anneila Sargent, vice president for student affairs and the Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy.

As the new dean, Rees will be the principal administrator and representative of Caltech's graduate education program, responsible for attending to concerns regarding the welfare of graduate students as well as for upholding the Institute's rules and policies.

"There are many groups essential to the effective operation of our graduate program that I want to get to know better, starting with the graduate students, the Graduate Office staff, and the option administrators and option reps," says Rees. "In my 26 years at Caltech, I've gained an appreciation for how the graduate programs in biochemistry and molecular biophysics and in chemistry operate, but the cultures in different options across campus can vary significantly, and I look forward to better understanding these distinctions."

Rees says that he is also very much looking forward to working directly with graduate students, staff, and faculty on behalf of the graduate program. Of particular interest during his tenure will be issues relating to the well-being and professional development of graduate students.

"I find research to be an adventure that, while exhilarating, is also challenging, frustrating, and even stressful; those aspects, however, are not incompatible with having a positive student experience and a supportive environment," Rees says. He adds that his priorities will be to raise fellowship support, increase the diversity of the graduate student body, and ensure that students have access to appropriate support services such as health care, counseling, and day care. "In addition, I also hope to be able to explore mechanisms to better prepare students for life after Caltech, including both academic and nonacademic career options," he says.

In his new post, Rees will take the place of C. L. "Kelly" Johnson Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering Joseph Shepherd, who has served as the dean of graduate studies since 2009. "Joe leaves big shoes to fill and the campus owes him a huge debt of gratitude for all he has accomplished as dean of graduate studies. What I have learned from watching him in action over the past six years, and more recently as he has been helping me during this transition period, is that the most important quality for the dean is to care about the students—and I will definitely be working to follow his example," Rees says.

Rees received his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1974 and his PhD from Harvard in 1980, becoming a professor at Caltech in 1989. An investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Rees also served as the executive officer for chemistry from 2002 to 2006 and the executive officer for biochemistry and molecular biophysics from 2007 to 2015.

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Students in Bioengineering Course Take Inspiration from Nature

A new class in bioengineering debuted this term at Caltech: "Exploring Biological Principles Through Bio-Inspired Design" (BE 107). The class was the brainchild of Michael Dickinson, the Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering, and Richard Murray, the Thomas E. and Doris Everhart Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems and Bioengineering, who are hoping to make this a regular part of the curriculum at Caltech to create more opportunities for interdisciplinary work in biology.

"Design courses in which students actually build something are not uncommon in some academic disciplines—such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial design, and so forth—but are quite rare in biology," Dickinson says. BE 107 was designed to redress this lack. In the course, students were required to either build a new instrument that could derive information from a biological system or create a hardware platform, such as a robot, that successfully mimics a given biological behavior.

On June 4, teams of two to three students presented their bioinspired creations to each other and to the professors, postdocs, and TAs who worked with them over the course of the term.

One student group pursued the first design option and developed a new instrument to track animal behavior—specifically, the rhythmic motions of jellyfish. The group's camera array and image processing and data analysis system observed jellyfish motion and output data that could then be analyzed and interpreted to reveal the frequency and size of jellyfish contractions, even in a tank with several jellyfish of different sizes and species.

Two other groups opted to create robots that mimicked an animal behavior. One such robot was designed to navigate through space via the "cast and surge" technique used by Drosophila, the common fruit fly, to detect and track an odor plume to its source, such as a tasty (to a fruit fly) piece of rotting fruit. The robot did not fly, nor did it smell, but it was engineered to roll along on four wheels in pursuit of a computer-generated spatial pattern that mimicked an odor plume.

The third team's robot was also a four-wheeled vehicle, but one designed to navigate through a lane marked out on a patch of campus concrete using patterns of polarized light in the sky created by the passage of sunlight and moonlight through the atmosphere. In nature, dung beetles, among other animals, use this type of navigation. The students tested their robot in the late afternoon, when the sun produces a polarization pattern that can be more easily tracked, and were able to get it to swing about in the sunshine in a not-quite-random dance.

Creating a bioinspired design is far from trivial. "Biological systems are much more complicated than engineered systems," Murray says, using a wide variety of sensory inputs to yield behavioral outputs. But this, says Dickinson, is one of the best aspects of the course: the opportunity "to make explicit comparisons between how nature constructs devices via evolution and how engineers design comparable machines."

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Caltech, JPL Team Up to Take On Big-Data Projects

Acknowledging not only the growing need among scientists and engineers for resources that can help them handle, explore, and analyze big data, but also the complementary strengths of Caltech's Center for Data-Driven Discovery (CD3) and JPL's Center for Data Science and Technology (CDST), the two centers have formally joined forces, creating the Joint Initiative on Data Science and Technology.

A kickoff event for the collaboration was held at the end of April at Caltech's Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"This is a wonderful example of a deep cooperation between Caltech and JPL that we think will serve to strengthen connections between the campus and the lab," says George Djorgovski, professor of astronomy and director of CD3. "We believe the joint venture will enable and stimulate new projects and give both campus and JPL researchers a new competitive advantage."

Individually, each center strives to provide the intellectual infrastructure, including expertise and advanced computational tools, to help researchers and companies from around the world analyze and interpret the massive amounts of information they now collect using computer technologies, in order to make data-driven discoveries more efficient and timely.

"We've found a lot of synergy across disciplines and an opportunity to apply emerging capabilities in data science to more effectively capture, process, manage, integrate, and analyze data," says Daniel Crichton, manager of the CDST. " JPL's work in building observational systems can be applied to several disciplines from planetary science and Earth science to biological research."

The Caltech center is also interested in this kind of methodology transfer—the application of data tools and techniques developed for one field to another. The CD3 recently collaborated on one such project with Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and professor of biology at Caltech. They used tools based on machine learning that were originally developed to analyze data from astronomical sky surveys to process neurobiological data from a study of autism.

"We're getting some promising results," says Djorgovski. "We think this kind of work will help researchers not only publish important papers but also create tools to be used across disciplines. They will be able to say, 'We've got these powerful new tools for knowledge discovery in large and complex data sets. With a combination of big data and novel methodologies, we can do things that we never could before.'"

Both the CD3 and the CDST began operations last fall. The Joint Initiative already has a few projects under way in the areas of Earth science, cancer research, health care informatics, and data visualization.

"Working together, we believe we are strengthening both of our centers," says Djorgovski. "The hope is that we can accumulate experience and solutions and that we will see more and more ways in which we can reuse them to help people make new discoveries. We really do feel like we're one big family, and we are trying to help each other however we can."

Kimm Fesenmaier
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Senior Spotlight: Justin Koch

Caltech's class of 2015 is group of smart, creative, and curious individuals. They are analytical thinkers, performers, researchers, engineers, athletes, and leaders who are ready to apply the lessons they have learned from Caltech's rigorous academic environment and the unique experiences they had as part of this close-knit community to pursue future challenges. 

We talked to two of these graduates, Justin Koch and Phoebe Ann, about their years at Caltech and what will come next.

Other graduates share their stories in videos posted on Caltech's Facebook page.

Watch as they and their peers are honored at Caltech's 121st commencement on June 12 at 10 a.m. If you can't be in Pasadena, the ceremony will be live-streamed at You may also follow the action and share your favorite commencement moments on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by using #Caltech2015 in your tweets and postings.


Justin Koch

Major: Mechanical Engineering
House: Blacker
Hometown: Townsend, Delaware

Why did you originally decide to come to Caltech?

The rigorous academic environment was certainly a consideration in choosing Caltech. However, I really made my decision after visiting the campus for Prefrosh Weekend. I found the housing system to be a unique experience that was something I had not seen at other schools.

Were you involved in extracurricular activities at Caltech?

The main extracurricular activity I'm involved with is the Caltech Robotics Team. I was part of the group that founded the club my freshmen year, and for the past two years I've led the team through my role as project manager. I've been interested in robotics since middle school and have been involved with robotics teams since sixth grade. We are currently building an underwater autonomous vehicle for a competition called RoboSub.

This past year I've also served as president of Blacker House. I've enjoyed the opportunity to give back to my house, which has definitely helped me enjoy my experience at Caltech.

What was your most memorable experience?

One of my most memorable experiences at Caltech was participating in the ME 72 competition my junior year. We spent two terms designing and building robots to compete in a competition involving head-to-head battle between robots trying to get a soup can to the top of a raised platform. Our hard work paid off and we ended up winning the competition. Though the competition was memorable, I'll never forget all the long hours we spent building the robots.

What did you not know about Caltech that you learned after being here?

I did not fully understand quite how focused Caltech is on theory and research until after arriving here. The rigor of the classes was definitely much harder than anything I had ever done before. However, through my involvement with the Caltech Robotics Team I've been able to balance my knowledge of theory through classes with the applied technical skills I learn through the team.

What will you be doing after Caltech?

After Caltech I will be working as a robotics engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. I'll be working in section 347 on robotic systems for a variety of environments, including land, space, and ocean applications.

Throughout my career I hope to work on the cutting edge of robotics. Although I am a mechanical engineer, I enjoy working on systems that require skills in not only mechanical engineering but electrical engineering and computer science as well.

Any words of advice to incoming students?

My advice to incoming students is to find an activity besides classwork that you're passionate about. Caltech can be a very intense place, so it's important to find another outlet besides classes. If a club that you want to be a part of doesn't exist, then take the initiative to start one. At Caltech it's very easy to start a club and there are a lot of resources out there to help.

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Diversity Retreat at Caltech

In September 2013, Caltech, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and Stanford University founded a new consortium—the California Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP)—to support underrepresented minority graduate students in the STEM fields of mathematics, the physical sciences, computer science, and engineering. The Alliance, launched through a grant from the National Science Foundation, was created to address the fact that minority students enter STEM fields in disproportionately low numbers and that, as a group, their progress slows at each step in their academic careers.

This April, Caltech was host to "The Next Generation of Researchers," the Alliance's second annual retreat. The retreats are designed to bring together graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research scientists, and faculty from the four institutions and national labs in California for mentoring and network-building opportunities.

We recently spoke with Joseph E. Shepherd (PhD '81), dean of graduate studies and the C. L. "Kelly" Johnson Professor of Aeronautics and professor of mechanical engineering, about AGEP, the recent retreat, and Caltech's diversity initiatives.


What was Caltech's motivation for entering into the California Alliance, and what has the program accomplished so far?

Caltech joined the Alliance to encourage underrepresented minorities to pursue academic careers in mathematics, physical science, computer science, and engineering fields. We seek to not only diversify our own campuses (Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA) but also contribute to diversity throughout the nation.

During the first year, the Alliance members identified participants at the four campuses. We have conducted two retreats—the first at Stanford University in 2014 and the second at Caltech. Graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty gathered at these retreats and learned about opportunities and challenges for underrepresented minority students transitioning from graduate studies to a career as a faculty member.

In 2014, the Alliance established a postdoctoral scholar fellowship program, accepted applications in the fall, and is in the process of finalizing awards for this coming academic year (2015–16). The Alliance has also accepted applications for the mentor-matching program through which graduate students can visit faculty at Alliance institutions to learn about opportunities and faculty careers in specific research areas.


AGEP programs are funded by the NSF. What are they hoping to achieve through these programs?

The AGEP programs were originated at NSF as a response to the recognition of the obstacles that underrepresented minority students faced in graduate education and advancing to faculty careers. These issues are highlighted in "Losing Ground," a 1998 report of a study led by Dr. Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources Programs of the American Association for the Advancement Science. Dr. Malcolm is a Caltech trustee and was a featured speaker at our 2015 retreat.


What are we doing at Caltech to support underrepresented minority students in the graduate sciences, and has anything at Caltech changed as a result of our involvement in this consortium?

The Caltech Center for Diversity has a number of programs that support various segments of our student population, and we are increasing the number of underrepresented minority postdoctoral scholars at Caltech.

In collaboration with several offices across the campus, we are developing and maintaining a strong network focused on outreach, recruitment, matriculation, and the eventual awarding of degrees to underrepresented minorities in the campus' graduate programs.  

Specifically, the Office of Graduate Studies, the Center for Diversity, and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach focus on programming that creates access to resources, builds community, and leverages relationships to help to address the challenges highlighted in the AGEP program, including facilitated discussion groups that address issues of inclusion and equality, various graduate student clubs that promote cultural awareness and community education, and an annual "Celebration of Excellence" reception to recognize student successes and the efforts of staff, faculty, and students who promote equity and inclusion on campus.

In addition, the graduate recruitment initiative coordinated by the Office of Graduate Studies works to ensure that the campus is able to recruit at underrepresented minority STEM-focused conferences and research meetings around the United States, and encourages graduate student ambassadorship and provides opportunities for underrepresented minority graduate students to network across national professional communities with similar research and academic interests.


What can we do better?

Encourage greater diversity in graduate admissions by identifying and recruiting underrepresented minority graduate students and ensuring that every student thrives at Caltech. Encourage more of the current underrepresented minority students and postdoctoral scholars at Caltech to take advantage of the professional development opportunities in the Alliance and facilitate their transition to the next stage of their academic careers. Provide more professional development opportunities for all Caltech students and postdoctoral scholars to learn about academic careers.


What was the goal of this year's annual retreat?

One goal was to promote introductions and discussion among students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty at the Alliance schools. In addition to informal meetings between participants, we held a number of roundtables and panel discussions on topics such as knowing what to expect of grad school, the postdoctoral experience, and, in general, life as a researcher and faculty member. Our retreat highlighted the research between done by faculty, students, and postdoctoral scholars in the Alliance by holding a poster session that enabled the participants to learn about each other's research activity. The retreat participants learned about some of the exciting research being done in protein design at Caltech from the other featured speaker, Steve Mayo (PhD '88), Caltech's William K. Bowes Jr. Leadership Chair of the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering and Bren Professor of Biology and Chemistry.


Who were participants in this year's retreat, and what do you think they gained from the program?

There were a total of 111 attendees: 40 percent were faculty, 42 percent were graduate students, 8 percent postdoctoral scholars, and the remainder were staff members, including some from JPL and Sandia National Laboratory.

The participants were recruited by the Alliance leadership at each university. The student participants gained the opportunity to network with scientists and faculty at other Alliance institutions, learned about academic careers and postdoctoral scholar opportunities, and were able engage in wide-ranging discussions about careers in science. The faculty and staff participants were able to provide information and advice to students as well as learn about prospective postdoctoral scholars and faculty members.

In addition, a total of 18 faculty from Caltech participated out of a total of 43 faculty members who attended from all four Alliance universities. The faculty at Caltech are very positive about this program, and we are encouraged by the high level of participation.


Were the sessions specifically focused on the particular needs of underrepresented groups?

The focus of the Alliance is on helping young people from diverse backgrounds to consider and succeed in academic careers in science. Many of the issues that contribute to success or failure in academic science careers do not depend on the particular perspective or background of a prospective postdoctoral scholar or professor. The pathway to the professoriate and the mechanics of succeeding in an academic career are far from obvious, particularly for students with disadvantaged backgrounds as well as those who are the first in their family to obtain a college degree or consider a career in science. One of the important roles of the Alliance retreat is in providing information about the many career aspects to which our student participants are exposed early enough in their careers so that it may make a difference. 

Kathy Svitil
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Students Try Their Hand at Programming DNA

In a new class called Design and Construction of Programmable Molecular Systems (BE/CS 196a), taught this term by Assistant Professor of Bioengineering Lulu Qian, undergraduate and graduate students in computer science, computation and neural systems, and bioengineering came together to study a new intersection of their fields: biomolecular computation. "Molecular programming is a really young research field that only has a couple of decades of history," said Qian, introducing the class's final project presentations on Friday, June 5. "But it offers a huge potential for transforming all molecular sciences into information technology."

In recent years, in order to "program" synthetic DNA sequences to accomplish a diverse range of functions, bioengineers have begun to take advantage of their ability to predict how DNA strands interact, exchange their binding partners, and fold.

Over the course of 10 weeks, three student teams in BE/CS 196a had the chance to specialize in one of the possibilities afforded by this technology. Working in the wet lab—a lab where biochemical materials can be handled in test tubes of liquids—one group attempted to simulate rudimentary neural networks that recognize the presence or absence of DNA strands, each representing information about four Caltech undergrad houses. Another designed molecules to compute multistep logic functions that implement two particular "transition rules" involved in a famous conjecture concerning a theoretical model of computation called "cellular automata."

Students in the third group designed DNA "origami." In DNA origami, a technique first developed at Caltech, DNA molecules automatically fold into prescribed shapes that may contain patterns of attachment sites—like a smiley face or a miniature circuit board—based on the molecules' designated sequence.

As used by Qian's students, junior Aditya Karan, a computer science major, and first-year bioengineering graduate student James Parkin, the process begins with a single-strand loop of DNA—the genome of virus M13, which has over 7,000 nucleotides. "Staples" made of matching sequences are used to connect specific points on the loop, so that these points are pulled together, causing the loop to fold into the desired shape. The team focused their efforts on manipulating a set of microscopic square tiles of DNA. In one experiment they created complex patterns on the surface of the squares; in another they designed the tiles to form heart-shaped arrays consisting of 11 tiles of four distinct types.

Although complete control of molecular systems is a long way off, these technologies offer what is essentially a programming language capable of interfacing with a biochemical environment. DNA folding, for example, could be used to design microscopic "boxes" that open and release a therapeutic drug only under certain chemical conditions on the surface of or inside specific type of cells. "What has kind of amazed us is how much we can get done with just DNA," says Parkin. "With DNA, we can design complicated things from scratch. We can't do that with proteins yet."

As Qian notes, programming molecular systems is an area "full of imagination and creativity."

"That's why I want to share these adventures with Caltech students," she says.

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JPL News: RoboSimian Displays Rescue Skills at Robotics Challenge

RoboSimian—an ape-like robot developed by researchers at Caltech, JPL, and UC Santa Barbara—grabbed a fifth-place finish at last weekend's DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. The 23 teams in the competition were challenged to design a robot that could perform a series of tasks that would be necessary for response during a natural or man-made disaster—tasks such as opening a door, cutting through walls, closing valves, moving debris, and even driving a vehicle.

Although the tasks were performed by the robot's hardware—designed at JPL—the robot was operated by software that included algorithms, or mathematical principles, contributed by Caltech's Joel Burdick, the Richard L. and Dorothy M. Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering; current Caltech graduate student Krishna Shankar; and Burdick's former students Jeremy Ma (MS '05, PhD '10), Nick Hudson (MS '05 PhD '09), and Paul Hebert (MS '07, PhD '13) at JPL.

Read the full story from JPL News

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Screening Cells for a Cure

A powerful partnership leads to advances in islet-cell transplants to treat diabetes

Living with type 1 diabetes today is typically manageable thanks to advancements in medical technology. However, some patients still confront severe complications, from extreme hypoglycemia that can lead to diabetic coma to long-term effects, such as blindness, nerve damage, and kidney failure. In some cases, type 1 diabetes can be life-threatening, and in all cases, it is currently incurable.

But there is hope, fostered by a collaboration between Caltech and its neighbor in Duarte, City of Hope. Established in 2008 with a $6 million gift from an anonymous donor, the Caltech-City of Hope Biomedical Research Initiative provides seed grants to accelerate the development of basic scientific research and its translation into applications ranging from new pharmaceuticals to medical devices to treatment methods. The partnership was formalized—and further strengthened—in 2014, when the two institutions signed a memorandum of understanding, encouraging researchers to collaborate and share resources.

Leadership from Caltech and City of Hope and members of the public celebrated the partnership at a special event on May 13. More than 70 attendees gathered in Caltech's Beckman Institute Auditorium to learn about progress in fighting diabetes.

"The benefits of the deepening relationship between our two institutions emerged clearly in the evening's events," says Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum, holder of the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. "Our increasing set of research interactions is making great strides in translating fundamental science to advance human health."

To date, the initiative has funded 28 endeavors led by teams of Caltech and City of Hope investigators—early-stage research projects that might not have moved forward if they had had to rely on traditional funding sources.

"The more we work together, the more we enable discovery," says City of Hope president and CEO Robert Stone. "Saving lives today and tomorrow—that's what this collaboration is about."

One encouraging development for people facing uncontrolled type 1 diabetes comes in the form of a simple surgery. The procedure takes healthy, functioning pancreatic islets—clusters of cells that contain insulin-producing beta cells—from an organ donor and transplants them into a patient's liver. Doctors at City of Hope have already performed the surgery on a limited number of patients and have seen promising results.

While islet transplantation eventually may lead to a cure for diabetes, challenges remain in making it practical. Once islets have been donated, for example, how can they be isolated and kept functional? How do researchers distinguish good islets from bad without wasting the good ones during testing?

Through the Caltech-City of Hope Biomedical Research Initiative, researchers and clinicians are working hand-in-hand to answer these important questions.

At the event, researchers told the story and explained the science behind their project. Fouad Kandeel, chair and professor in the Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism at City of Hope, and his colleague, Kevin Ferreri, associate research professor in the Division of Developmental and Translational Diabetes and Endocrine Research, have been working on islet cell transplantation as a treatment for their patients with type 1 diabetes. Yet existing methods of selecting islets took too much time, involved too much labor, and used up too many islets.

That is where the Caltech partners came in. Yu-Chong Tai, the Anna L. Rosen Professor of Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, and Hyuck Choo, assistant professor of electrical engineering and medical engineering, invented a novel device that can screen individual islets. The microfluidic platform accurately determines the health of an islet sample by applying glucose and measuring the sample's reaction. In less than a year, the team has designed a proof-of-concept platform.

Once the device is perfected, Choo believes the team will be able to easily scale it up and even use its technology to help overcome other clinical challenges.

"This is the perfect opportunity for medical engineering at Caltech," says Choo. "We want to create technology-based solutions to large-scale societal health issues, like diabetes."

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Modernized "Open" Space for MCE

The Charles C. Gates Jr.–Franklin Thomas Laboratory, a building that will house Caltech's Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering and the administrative offices for the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS), was officially dedicated with an opening ceremony on Monday, June 1. Mechanical and Civil Engineering is one of seven departments in EAS.

The celebration, open to all members of the Caltech community, included tours of the reimagined space, laboratory demonstrations, and research poster presentations, as well as remarks from key administrative leaders and donors who were instrumental in transforming the Gates-Thomas Laboratory from the mid-twentieth century to the present.

Over the last year, the building—formerly known as the Franklin Thomas Laboratory of Engineering—was modernized with both the lab's history and the future in mind. With a nod to the past, the renovation includes the building's original iron railings as well as artistic etchings and imagery that reference prior research in earthquake engineering and hydrodynamics. Looking to the future, the energy-efficient, renovated building features state-of-the-art laboratories and experimental and computational facilities, along with open spaces where faculty, scholars, and students—including the department's roughly 70 graduate students and 100 undergraduates—can share ideas across disciplines. The upgrades, which were conducted using sustainable building practices and make Gates-Thomas Laboratory eligible for LEED Gold certification, include LED lighting, smart occupancy controls, the use of low-flow fixtures, and, in the public spaces outside, the installation of a drip-irrigation system with landscaping featuring native plants adapted to the local climate.

"These beautiful public spaces . . . the amphitheater directly behind me, which connects the Gates-Thomas Laboratory to the Sherman Fairchild Library, and the Housner Lounge at the heart of the second floor of the building . . . are hubs of activity not only for one department, but across our division and across the Institute," said Ares Rosakis, the Otis Booth Leadership Chair of EAS and the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, in remarks prior to the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"Caltech is a destination for people who want to fulfill their dreams—their dreams of discovery in science and engineering," President Thomas F. Rosenbaum said. "It is as Ares pointed out: Our shared culture, our belief in excellence, our belief in focus, our belief in ambition; the intimacy and intensity of work that gives us the leg up where people can see—whether they are students, faculty, or staff, trustees, friends of the Institute—can see that this is the place where those dreams can be realized.

"When we attract people here, and we tell them about this culture, when they hear and know about this culture, it goes a long way, but it's not enough," Rosenbaum added. "We also need the tools that allow them to succeed; that allow them to make those discoveries that will transform the world. And it is buildings like Gates-Thomas—the environment that has been created this way—that gives them the confidence, that gives them the ability to be able to make those discoveries."

The laboratory is named after two stewards of the Institute: Charles C. Gates Jr. (1921–2005), a businessman, philanthropist, and longtime Caltech trustee; and Franklin Thomas (1885–1952), first chair of the division that became EAS, as well as a civil engineering professor and the dean of students. The renovation was supported by the Gates Frontiers Fund through the guidance of Diane G. Wallach and John S. Gates; the Fred L. Hartley Family Foundation; James E. Hall (BS '57) and his wife, Sandy; and Li-San Hwang (PhD '65) and his wife, Anne.

"We are here today, giving to this project, because it's got a future," said Wallach, Gates's daughter. She noted how proud her father would be today to see the building and the work it will enable. "Charlie would be the first to applaud working together in hopes of reducing our dependence on shrinking public funding, innovating in the classroom, finding ways to leverage great learning and brain power, engaging industry and local communities in our efforts, and streamlining how we move ideas from labs into the marketplace. Certainly this facility behind us came together in this spirit, and I think that is what he would have been so excited to celebrate today."

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Spotlight on Graduate Research

It is no secret that Caltech's graduate students have unparalleled research opportunities. Working closely with faculty advisers and colleagues in diverse fields across campus, their contributions are essential to the Institute's advances in science, engineering, and technology. For nearly two decades, the Everhart Lecture Series has provided a venue to highlight graduate student research at Caltech.

The annual series, named after Caltech president emeritus Tom Everhart, provides three carefully selected graduate students with an opportunity to present their work to an Institute-wide audience. The series was established with the goal of "encouraging interdisciplinary interaction and helping faculty and graduate students across campus to share ideas about recent research developments, problems and controversies, and to recognize the exemplary presentation and research abilities of Caltech's graduate students."

"Having the ability to demonstrate your work to the broader community—those outside of your own scientific area—is extremely important, and too often graduate students have very little experience with this," says graduate student Constantine Sideris, the 2014–15 chair of the Everhart Lecture Series committee, an interdisciplinary committee of graduate students that selects the three graduate student lecturers from a pool of more than a dozen applicants each fall.

"This series allows them to hone their presentation and dynamic speaking skills, and also their ability to explain difficult, technical concepts to a diverse audience," Sideris says.

This year's lecturers—Carissa Eisler (chemistry and chemical engineering), Roarke Horstmeyer (electrical engineering), and Peter Rapp (chemistry and chemical engineering)—gave talks on campus earlier this spring, and all three were invited to share their work with members of the Caltech community during the Institute's annual Seminar Day event in May. This year's lectures span a range of topics, from enhancing solar-cell efficiency, to improving microscope imaging, to understanding polymers. (Complete lecture descriptions from the students as well as links to podcasts of the recorded talks on iTunes U can be found below.)

"Research is only getting more interdisciplinary, so effectively communicating your work is an essential skill," says Eisler. "The lecture was really challenging, and I was very nervous, but it was incredibly rewarding, and I'm so glad that I did it."

Eisler and her colleagues noted that participating in the lectures provided valuable learning opportunities—by forcing them to synthesize and explain their work to individuals outside of their respective fields—and helped to build campus awareness for the breadth of research that's being done by graduate students.

"I work with a team of remarkable people, and I hope the lecture communicated that my project is just one among many exciting projects in our lab," Rapp says.  


Lecture Descriptions:

Building a Brighter Future: Spectrum-Splitting as a Pathway for 50% Efficiency Solar Cells
By Carissa Eisler
Lab: Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science and director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute

Although possible, ultra-high solar-cell efficiencies (>50 percent) have not been achieved because of limitations by current fabrication methods. Spectrum-splitting modules, or architectures that employ optical elements to divide the incident spectrum into different color bands, are promising because they can convert each photon more efficiently than traditional methods. This talk discusses our design and prototyping efforts to create such a spectrum-splitting module. We explore the spectrum-splitting optics and geometric optimizations in the context of high-efficiency designs. We show a design that achieves 50 percent efficiency with realistic device losses and geometric constraints. 

Listen to the lecture on iTunesU:


Computational Microscopy: Turning Megapixels into Gigapixels
By Roarke Horstmeyer
Lab: Changhuei Yang, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Bioengineering, and Medical Engineering

Optical aberrations limit the size of current microscope images to tens of megapixels. This talk will present a method to boost a microscope's resolving power to one gigapixel using a technique termed Fourier ptychography. No moving parts or precision controls are needed for this resolution enhancement. The only required hardware is a standard microscope, which we outfit with a digital detector and an array of LEDs. An optimization algorithm does the rest of the work. Example applications of our new microscope include full-slide digital pathology imaging, wide-scale surface profile mapping of human blood, and achieving sub-wavelength resolution without needing oil immersion.

Listen to the lecture on iTunesU:


Shaking Hands in a Crowded Room: How Sticky Polymers Travel through Viscoelastic Gels
By Peter Rapp
Lab: David Tirrell, Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering; Director, Beckman Institute

What if you could give a polymer hands and feet and watch it move? We have developed biological approaches to synthesizing functional materials made from proteins, nature's flagship polymers. These approaches provide a set of tools for answering fundamental questions in polymer physics and for synthesizing dynamic materials that find applications in soft-tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. This talk will explore the dynamics of a model "sticky" polymer: an artificial protein engineered with associative endblocks that self-assembles into viscoelastic hydrogels. Fluorescence relaxation studies have demonstrated that polymer diffusion in these gels is controlled by endblock exchange, a process akin to a molecular handshake. Genetic approaches to modifying the endblock architecture enable tuning of polymer mobility over a wide range.

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