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. ###

MEDIA CONTACT: Katherine Poulin, volunteer Caltech Media Relations (626) 395-3226

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Environmental sustainability in Los Angeles to be focus of two-day conference at Caltech

As Los Angeles continues to grow, the issue of how to keep the environment healthy and sustainable will become increasingly important for policy planners, environmentalists, and developers alike.

To address these matters, a two-day conference titled "A Sustainable Future? Environmental Patterns and the Los Angeles Past" will be held on the California Institute of Technology campus September 19-20. The conference, sponsored by the Haynes Foundation of Los Angeles, is free and open to the general public, and all interested parties are encouraged to attend.

According to William Deverell, who organized the conference as the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation Fellow, the presenters will represent a wide variety of perspectives, including those of scientific researchers in seismology, air quality, water management, and weather. Other presenters will discuss the history of land and resource use in the Los Angeles basin, and still others will address issues that can be taken up by policymakers and legislators.

"We're not necessarily trying to have an immediate impact on public policy, but are mainly interested in getting a lot of people into the room who may have common interests but have never had the opportunity to talk to one another," says Deverell, an associate professor of history at Caltech and authority on the rise and development of Los Angeles.

All lectures will take place in Ramo Auditorium on the Caltech campus, beginning with coffee and registration on the Ramo Auditorium Mall at 8:30 a.m., Friday, September 19. At 9:30 a.m., the participants will be welcomed by Donn Miller, president of the Haynes Foundation, followed by Miriam Feldblum, special assistant to the president at Caltech; and Deverell.

The first session, beginning at 10 a.m., will focus on metropolitan nature and will feature a talk by Professor Greg Hise of USC, with commentary provided by Andy Lipkis, founder and president of the organization TreePeople. The second session, beginning at 11:30 a.m., will involve issues of sustainability and will include presentations by Andrew Roth of Pomona College concerning the Taylor Yard complex adjacent to the Los Angeles River; Janet Fireman, editor of California History, on the current status of the Cornfield park in downtown Los Angeles, and Marcus Renner of Occidental College, speaking on the Arroyo Seco, which runs from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Los Angeles River.

Following the 12:30 p.m. lunch, which is free to all those who register, the afternoon session will continue with a series of presentations on issues involving the Los Angeles basin. Presenters will include Caltech professors Janet Hering, on water quality in the Los Angeles basin; Kerry Sieh, on seismic history and contemporary earthquake concerns; and Andrew Ingersoll, on changing weather patterns in the basin.

The 3:30 p.m. session is titled "Prehistoric Landscapes and Finite Resources" and includes presenters Paula Schiffman and Mark Raab, both of Cal State Northridge; and Terry Young of Cal Poly Pomona. A reception will follow at 5 p.m., hosted by the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Caltech.

The Saturday, September 20, sessions begin with coffee at 8:30 a.m., followed by a session on sustainability at 9:30 a.m. featuring presenters Robert Garcia of the Center for Law in the Public Interest and Tom Sitton of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

The 10:15 a.m. session on politics and economics will be a panel discussion involving Robert Gottlieb of Occidental College; Deborah Weintraub, the city architect of Los Angeles; David Abel of the Planning Report; Doug Gardner of Catellus Development Corp.; and Jennifer Wolch of USC.

The final session begins at 11:30 a.m. with a talk entitled "What Now? What Next?" to be given by writer D. J. Waldie.

All sessions are free and open to the public, but Deverell urges those interested in attending to send an e-mail in advance to


Robert Tindol

Caltech Installs Environmentally Friendly Power Generation SystemAnticipates Major Cost Savings

PASADENA, Calif.—The California Institute of Technology will begin start-up tests on a new $10 million cogeneration facility in July of this year. When fully operational, the new facility will save an additional $2.5 million per year in avoided energy costs above the savings of its predecessor and will reduce overall emissions by 66 percent.

The combined-cycle facility, which includes a 10-megawatt natural-gas turbine, a steam generator, and a 2.5-megawatt steam turbine, will provide electrical power and steam. The steam will be used for heating and air conditioning of campus buildings. The old gas/steam turbines produced 5.5-megawatts of power.

With this system the Institute will be able to produce power at a much lower cost. "We expect payback on our investment in roughly four to five years," says Reza Ohadi, director of campus operations.

By acting as the general contractor, Caltech is saving several million dollars in avoided management costs and fees on the project.

Art Elbert, associate vice president for campus planning, says a bond measure made the $10 million project possible for the 2,000-student campus.

Caltech is one of only a handful of universities nationwide to operate its own power plant. "The vast majority of college campuses buy their power from an external provider," says Ben Smith, facilities improvement program manager. "They don't have the facilities or personnel to run their own cogeneration plant."

The cogeneration team includes mechanics, engineers, electricians, system analysts, and other tradespeople, including subcontractors.

The new cogeneration facility is one of several ambitious projects designed to cut Caltech's energy costs and to ensure reliable power to the campus. Since last November, workers have gutted Central Plant of its old cogeneration system, the large jet aircraft engine that provided the campus with about 40 percent of its electrical power. The new facility will constitute Caltech's third-generation cogeneration plant—the first was built in 1968 and the second in 1982.

In July, when the project is completed, the new turbines will be capable of generating between 10 and 12 megawatts for a campus that requires up to 15 megawatts of power at the height of the summer; it will be providing approximately 80 to 90 percent of the power the Institute uses.

The Institute worked closely with the Southern California Air Quality Management Board when it selected its new equipment. The new facility will reduce its nitrous oxide emissions from 9 parts per million to 2.5 parts per million. "This will be the most efficient and cleanest burning engine that we've ever had," says Dan Buckelew, central utility plant supervisor.

Another major project will take advantage of the way the price of electricity varies during a 24-hour period. Power is more expensive during peak daytime hours and is cheaper at night. By constructing a thermal-energy storage facility, Caltech will be able to take advantage of off-peak hours to run its chillers and produce large quantities of chilled water, which will be stored under the north athletic field. During the day, the chillers will be turned off, and the chilled water will be routed throughout the campus, providing relief from high daytime temperatures. The cost of construction for the thermal-energy storage facility is estimated at about $6 million.

Elbert, who oversees all the construction, renovations, operations, and maintenance for Caltech, states that "any institution could take advantage of these kinds of savings. The payback is less than five years and the savings could be realized for a generation, making this a very attractive investment.

Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226

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Fuel Cells: Powering Progress in the 21st Century

PASADENA, Calif. – Continuing tensions in the Middle East make it clear that we face long-term challenges in meeting our ever increasing energy demands, while still maintaining the quality of our natural environment and ensuring our national security. Fuel cells offer a possible solution, but, before they meet their potential, many technical hurdles remain.

On Wednesday, January 29, Dr. Sossina M. Haile, an associate professor of materials science at the California Institute of Technology, will provide a brief overview of current fuel cell technology, then discuss her own work in this promising area. Whereas the most common type of fuel cell--the kind that powers prototype cars--is a polymer electrolyte fuel cell, Haile is taking a different tack, developing an alternative type of fuel cell based on a so-called solid acid.

Haile will describe the recent breakthroughs in this new technology and the challenges that remain. The ultimate goal, of course, is that such engineering in materials science may someday mean a fuel cell in your automobile, your laptop, or your home.

Caltech has offered the Watson Lecture Series for almost 80 years, since it was conceived by the late Caltech physicist Earnest Watson as a way to explain science to the local community. The lecture will take place at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, which is located 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, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Parking is available in the lots south of Del Mar Boulevard between Wilson and Chester Avenues, and in the parking structures at 341 and 405 South Wilson and 370 South Holliston Avenue.

For more information, call 1(888) 2CALTECH (1-888-222-5832) or (626) 395-4652. Persons with disabilities: (626)-395-4688 (voice) or (626)-395-3700 (TDD).

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Caltech Professor to Explore Abrupt Climate Changes

PASADENA, Calif.—By analyzing stalagmites from caves in Sarawak, which is the Malaysian section of Borneo and the location of one of the world's oldest rain forests, and by studying deep-sea corals from the North Atlantic Ocean, California Institute of Technology researcher Jess Adkins will explore the vital link between the deep ocean, the atmosphere, and abrupt changes in global climates.

The project, "Linking the Atmosphere and the Deep Ocean during Abrupt Climate Changes," is funded by the Comer Science and Educational Foundation.

Because the Sarawak stalagmites and the deep-sea corals are uranium rich and can be dated precisely, and because they both accumulate continuously, uninterrupted by "bioturbation," the biological process that mixes the upper several centimeters of ocean sediments, they provide unique archives of climate history. By utilizing these archives, Adkins and his research group will be able to chart and link major climate variables, and thereby provide critical insight into understanding rapid climate changes that could impact the earth.

Adkins, an assistant professor of geochemistry and global environmental science, joined Caltech in 2000. He received his PhD in 1998 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

The Comer Science and Education Foundation was established to promote education and discovery through scientific exploration.

Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges (626) 395-3227

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New study describes workings of deep oceanduring the Last Glacial Maximum

Scientists know quite a bit about surface conditions during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), a period that peaked about 18,000 years ago, when ice covered significant portions of Canada and northern Europe.

But to really understand the mechanisms involved in climate change, scientists need to have detailed knowledge of the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere. And until now, a key component of that knowledge has been lacking for the LGM because of limited understanding of the glacial deep ocean.

In a paper published in the November 29 issue of the journal Science, researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Harvard University report the first measurements for the temperature-salinity distribution of the glacial deep ocean. The results show unexpectedly that the basic mechanism of the distribution was different during icy times.

"You can think of the global ocean as a big bathtub, with the densest water at bottom and the lightest at top," explains Jess Adkins, an assistant professor of geochemistry and global environmental science at Caltech and lead author of the paper. Because water that is cold or salty--or both--is dense, it tends to flow downward in a vertical circulation pattern, much like water falling down the sides of the bathtub, until it finds its correct density level. In the ocean today, this circulation mechanism tends to be dominated by the temperature of the water.

In studying chlorine data from four ocean drilling program sites, the researchers found that the glacial deep ocean's circulation was set by the salinity of the water. In addition, a person walking on the ocean bottom from north to south, 18,000 years ago, would have found that the water tended to get saltier as he proceeded (within an acceptable margin of error, both north and south waters were the same temperature). Taking that into account, the water in the north would have been less dense. The exact reverse is true today, with the waters at low southern latitudes being very cold and relatively fresh, while those in the high northern latitudes being warmer and saltier.

Adkins says there is a good explanation for the change. The seawater "equation of state" dictates that the density of water near the freezing point is about two-to-three times more sensitive to changes in salinity relative to changes in temperature, as compared to today's warmer deep waters.

So, the equation demands that the density-layering of the ocean "bathtub" be set by the water's salt content at the last glacial maximum. Temperature is still crucial, in that colder waters are more sensitive to salinity changes than warmer water, but Adkin's results show that the deep water circulation mechanism must have operated in a fundamentally different manner in the past.

"This observation of the deep ocean seems like a strange place to go to study Earth's climate, but this is where you find most of the mass and thermal inertia of the climate system," Adkins says.

The ocean's water temperature enters into the complex mechanism affecting the climate, with water moving about in order for the ocean to equalize its temperature. Too, the water and air interact to further complicate the weather equation.

Thus, the results from the glacial deep ocean shows that the climate in those days was operating in a very different way, Adkins says. "Basically, the purpose of this study is to understand the mechanisms of climate change."

In addition to Adkins, the other authors are Katherine McIntyre, a postdoctoral scholar in geochemistry at Caltech; and Daniel P. Schrag of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University.

Contact: Robert Tindol (626) 395-3631


New Recycling Center Opens at Caltech

PASADENA, Calif.— The California Institute of Technology's long-awaited recycling center will open on Thursday, June 6. The grand opening celebration, complete with giveaways, will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Located at the former fire station site on Del Mar Boulevard between Michigan and Wilson Avenues, the center will be for use by the campus community and the public.

The center's hours of operation will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. As previously, the center will accept a wide variety of recyclables, including office paper, mixed paper, cardboard, glass, and plastic. Recyclers must sort their items carefully before depositing them into bins.

According to Delmy Emerson, Physical Plant's associate director of buildings and grounds, "Our Caltech recycling program has served as a model for other local schools in their implementation of recycling efforts. We work closely with the city and have partnerships in other recycling projects, like the Electronics Round-up."

Access to the recycling center will be through the parking lot south of the center; lot entrances are located on Wilson and Michigan Avenues. As part of the new construction, a number of additional parking spaces have also been added behind the center.

For more information on the Caltech Recycling Center, visit our Web site at

Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges (626) 395-3227

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JPL, Caltech, Smithsonian scientists improve methodology for monitoring HOx radicals

PASADENA, Calif.—Scientists have unraveled a mystery about hydrogen peroxide that may lead to a more accurate way of measuring a gas that contributes to depletion of Earth's ozone layer.

Scientists have long known that the HOx radicals -- comprising hydroxyl (OH) and hydroperoxyl (HO2) – destroy stratospheric ozone. Too little ozone may lead to unwelcome changes in the climate and to more ultraviolet radiation reaching Earth's surface. The HOx radicals cannot be easily measured in the atmosphere, but a product of their reaction with each other, hydrogen peroxide, is detectable.

The issue is important because atmospheric scientists would like to make global maps of HOx distributions to better understand the health of the atmosphere, and knowing how much peroxide is in the atmosphere is helpful in doing so.

However, there has always been a large, nagging discrepancy between the distribution of hydrogen peroxide as it is modeled and as it is observed. This suggests that complete understanding of the chemistry has been lacking. Now scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the California Institute of Technology, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have resolved much of the disparity.

In an upcoming issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists report a collaborative laboratory study performed at JPL and funded by NASA that revealed an error in the calculation of the rate that hydrogen peroxide is formed. They showed that improved knowledge of the reaction mechanism largely reconciles measurements of HOx radicals and hydrogen peroxide in the upper atmosphere. Moreover, these results could ultimately allow HOx concentrations to be inferred by monitoring hydrogen peroxide from space or the ground, assuming all the other photochemical reactions involving peroxide are well characterized.

"The importance is not so much the hydrogen peroxide itself, but the fact that it opens the possibility for remotely measuring hydrogen peroxide to infer the HOx radicals," says Mitchio Okumura, an associate professor of chemistry at Caltech and one of the authors of the study.

"The HOx radicals are central to the chemistry of the stratosphere and upper troposphere in understanding ozone depletion," he adds. Atmospheric chemists had puzzled over why models could not correctly predict hydrogen peroxide concentrations. However, they had not suspected that the rate for forming hydrogen peroxide from two hydroperoxyl radicals (HO2), the calculation of which was thought to be well known, could be in error.

Lance Christensen, a Caltech graduate student in chemistry working at JPL, and lead author of the paper, showed that at low temperatures relevant to the stratosphere, the actual reaction rate is slower than had been previously measured. The researchers found that earlier studies had neglected taking into account competing processes that could obscure the results, such as clustering and aggregation of the cold reactants.

"We're trying to improve our understanding of the atmosphere well enough to be able to model ozone depletion and climate change in general," says JPL researcher Stan Sander, one of the authors of the paper. "This work provides a tool for better understanding what's going on in the climate."

In addition to Okumura, Sander, Christensen, and Salawitch, the other authors are Geoffrey Toon, Bhaswar Sen, and Jean-Francois Blavier, all of JPL; and K.W. Jucks of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Robert Tindol

New Marine Science Program Will Use the World as Its Lab

PASADENA, Ca.— Students at the California Institute of Technology with an interest in marine science will soon be conducting research aboard the roiling deck of a Boston Whaler at sea, or while kneeling in the wet sand of a Southern California estuary. Such real-world learning will be part of a new Environmental Science and Engineering program funded by a five-year, $700,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Intended for both graduate and undergraduate students, the ESE program will be interdisciplinary in its approach, spanning the fields of geology, engineering, and chemistry. For the graduate students, the goal is to unify and enlarge environmental teaching and research at Caltech. Undergraduates will have the opportunity to take a lab class in environmental analysis. "The students here have a ton of skills in mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics," says Jess Adkins, a Caltech assistant professor of geochemistry and global environmental science, "and a number are interested in the environment, but don't quite know what direction to go in with that interest." The ESE program will help provide that direction, he says.

The laboratory class will immerse undergraduates in field-based research. Typically, Adkins says, the lab experience in many classes is limited to textbook problems and off-the-shelf samples that are manipulated at a lab bench. Now, students will leave campus and head out into the field, where they'll learn how to properly take scientifically clean samples under varying environmental conditions. Then, back in the lab, they'll be taught the current methodologies in metal, organic, and isotopic analysis.

Besides teaching, the Luce grant has two other equally important components. One is the establishment of a high-quality research platform for Caltech environmental scientists. Home for this part of the program will be the Kerckhoff Marine Biological Laboratory in Corona del Mar, at the mouth of Newport Bay. The lab has been maintained by the Division of Biology since 1930 and provides access to Southern California's estuarine, coastal, and open-ocean waters. It will be modernized and upgraded for environmental science research with the latest standard and specialized analytical tools.

The other component of the program is research. Given its location, the Kerckhoff lab is ideally located to study a variety of research questions that pertain to the transformation from fresh-water to ocean, to so-called "blue water" conditions further offshore, or to the specific differences between polluted and natural waters. Each undergraduate class will also take samples of local water conditions that will, over time, establish a permanent, baseline measurement to evaluate subtle changes in the Southern California marine environment.

Various research projects will be conducted at Kerckhoff as well with the help of students. Adkins, for example, wants to examine the supply of iron to the surface waters. It's thought that, once absorbed, iron may limit the growth of plankton and therefore play an important role in the regulation of marine productivity. To study this, other researchers have had to artificially "fertilize" ocean waters with iron. But Southern California, says Adkins, has a natural experiment going on. "When the Santa Ana winds blow through the L.A. basin," he says, "they carry iron-rich dust that falls into the ocean, especially in the San Pedro Basin. With Kerckhoff as our base, we'll be able to measure the chemistry and the trace metals that fall before, during, and after a Santa Ana event. So we will have a natural, in situ experiment taking place on an ongoing basis."

The Henry Luce Foundation was established in 1936 by the late Henry R. Luce, the cofounder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc. With assets of about $1.1 billion, higher education has been a persistent theme for most of the foundation's programs, with an emphasis on innovation and scholarship. Henry Luce III, son of Henry R. Luce, is the Luce Foundation's chairman and C.E.O.

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Environmental Study of Local Area Conducted by Caltech Team

PASADENA, Calif.— California Institute of Technology researchers have received a $100,000 grant from the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust to study the human impact on land and water in the San Gabriel Valley and San Gabriel River watershed. Ecosystems bordering major metropolitan areas are subject to intense pressures from pollutants produced by transportation, industrial activities, power generation, and recreational activities. This project will measure and document these environmental changes in order to predict future impacts.

The research project, "Environmental Quality Near Large Urban Areas," is being coordinated by Janet Hering, associate professor of environmental engineering science at Caltech. Other members of the group include Michael Hoffmann, the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science; James Randerson, assistant professor of global environmental science; and Paul Wennberg, professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering science.

The project will also teach Caltech undergraduate students fundamental concepts in environmental chemistry, providing them with practical training and field experience in the collection, measurement, and analysis of human-induced changes on air quality, plants, soil, and water. The training program will allow undergraduates to gain a perspective on the impact of human activities on the atmosphere and biosphere.

The Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust was established to contribute to the improvement of the world's environment, including the preservation of all living things, the land, the waters, and the atmosphere.

Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges (626) 395-3227

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