Calculated Science

A new supercomputer helps Caltech researchers tackle more complicated problems

One of the most powerful computer clusters available to a single department in the academic world just got stronger.

The California Institute of Technology's CITerra supercomputer, a high-performance computing cluster of the type popularly known as a Beowulf cluster, was replaced this year with a faster and more efficient system. The new cluster capitalizes on improvements in fiber-optic cables and video chips—the kind found in many gaming devices and mobile phones—to increase processing capacity and calculation speeds. With access to this improved supercomputer, Caltech's researchers are able to use advanced algorithms to analyze and simulate everything from earthquakes to global climate and weather to the atmospheres of other planets.

The new $2 million supercomputer, which is administered by the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, performs with five times the computational power of the previous cluster while using roughly half the energy.  It has 150 teraflops of computing capacity, meaning it can perform 150 trillion calculations per second. The upgrade was made possible in part with the private support of many individuals, including members of GPS's chair's council, a volunteer leadership board.

So what does a faster, more energy-efficient supercomputer mean for Caltech's geoscientists and geophysicists?

"There is a whole new class of problems that we can now address," says Professor of Geophysics Mark Simons, who oversees the cluster. "We can not only solve a given problem faster, but because it takes less time to solve those problems, we can choose to work on harder problems."

Simons, for instance, is working to develop models to understand what happens underground after an earthquake—and what is likely to occur in the months and years after—by analyzing ground motion observed on the surface. In 2011, for instance, a Caltech research team led by Simons used data from GPS satellites and broadband seismographic networks to develop a comprehensive mechanical model for how the ground moved after Japan's 9.0 earthquake.

"Mark's team developed the framework allowing them to do millions of computations where seismologists had only been able to do hundreds before," says Michael Gurnis, the John E. and Hazel S. Smits Professor of Geophysics and director of the Seismological Laboratory. "The ability to routinely compute at a level that is so much higher than anyone else had previously done—to have the computational resources immediately available during the hectic days after a devastating earthquake—was an amazing advance for geophysics."

Simons is not alone in using advanced computation to unlock Earth's greatest mysteries. He and Gurnis—who studies the forces driving Earth's tectonic plates—are among a group of 15 GPS faculty members who, with their students, routinely use the cluster. The division is unique among universities in that it provides its faculty with access to such a large computational facility, giving almost any of its researchers the ability to number crunch when they need to—and for extended periods of time.

Research done using computations from the previous cluster led to more than 140 published papers, which crossed the fields of atmospheric science, planetary science, Earth science, seismology, and earthquake engineering.

One of the biggest users of the new cluster is Andrew Thompson, an assistant professor of environmental science and engineering, who uses it to simulate complex ocean currents and ocean eddies. Capturing the dynamics of these small ocean storms requires large simulations that need to run for weeks.

Thanks to the size of Caltech's cluster, Thompson has been able to simulate large regions of the ocean, in particular the ocean currents around Antarctica, at high resolution. These models have led to a better understanding of how changes in off-shore currents, related to changing climate conditions, affect ocean-heat transport toward and under the ice shelves. Ocean-driven warming is believed to be critical in the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

"Oceanography without modeling and simulations would be really challenging science," says Thompson, who arrived at Caltech in the fall of last year. "These models indicate where we need improved or more frequent observations and help us to understand how the ice sheets might respond to future ocean circulation variability. It is remarkable to have these resources at Caltech. Access to the Caltech cluster eliminates some of the need to apply for time on federal computing facilities, and has allowed my research group to hit the ground running."

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Bottling Liquid Gold

Caltech Olive Harvest Festival to be held Friday

If you happen to see groups of people perched in the trees along Caltech's famed Olive Walk and Beckman Mall on Friday, whacking at the branches with rakes and PVC pipes—rest assured there's nothing unusual going on. They are participants in this year's Olive Harvest Festival, just trying to gather as many pounds of olives as possible in a day's time.

Friday's event, the fourth festival of its kind, kicks off at 8:30 a.m. and runs until 2:30 p.m., bringing together students, faculty, staff, and Caltech community members. The day's activities include the olive harvest—where undergraduate- and graduate-student teams compete to pick the most olives—as well as olive-oil tasting and olive-products sampling, a Mediterranean-themed lunch available for purchase, and student games (olive-related, of course, such as a tug-of-war with an olive-oil-coated rope).

"It's a good way to share a lot of community without spending a lot of money," says Tom Mannion, Caltech's senior director of student activities and programs.

The festival will wrap up with a raffle drawing and prize giveaway and the announcement of the student competition winners. Winners at the undergrad and graduate levels will be determined not only by the weight of their crops, but also by their degree of participation and spirit.

Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau and first lady Carol Carmichael will host an upcoming lunch for the undergraduate house that picks the most olives per resident, and Mannion will prepare a gourmet feast for the winning graduate team. Drs. Chameau and Carmichael are passionate about the campus's olive trees and have been strong supporters of the harvest since its inception in 2007.

Olives picked tomorrow during the festival will be shipped to Regalo Extra Virgin Olive Oil Inc., a nonprofit organization, for pressing, and the resulting oil will be processed and bottled by the Santa Barbara Olive Company. Depending on the harvest, anywhere from 50 to 150 gallons of oil will be produced. Previous years have yielded as much as 6,000 pounds of olives and 127 gallons of oil.

Caltech olive oil will be available for sale at the Caltech Bookstore in about a month—just in time for the holidays—and proceeds from the sales will benefit the student activities fund. For more information on the Olive Harvest Festival, please visit http://www.olives.caltech.edu/.

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Andrew Allan
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Caltech Mourns the Passing of David G. Goodwin

1957–2012

David G. Goodwin, professor of mechanical engineering and applied physics, emeritus, passed away at his home in Pasadena on Sunday, November 11, after a five-year battle with brain cancer and a struggle with Parkinson's disease that began in 1998. He was 55 years old. Born on October 15, 1957, Goodwin grew up in Rancho Cordova, a suburb of Sacramento, near the Aerojet plant where his father worked as an engineer. He came to Caltech in 1988 as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, was promoted to associate professor of mechanical engineering and applied physics in 1993 and professor in 2000, and retired in 2011.

Goodwin was best known for developing ways to grow thin films of high-purity diamond. Diamond films—transparent, scratch-resistant, and efficient dissipaters of the heat generated by high-powered computer chips—are now routinely used to protect electronic and optical components, and diamond-coated drill bits can be found at any hardware store.

But the diamond work was just one facet of Goodwin's research. According to longtime collaborator David Boyd, once a postdoc of Goodwin's and now a Caltech staff member, "Dave's real passion was modeling. He felt that he never fully understood something unless he could model it. He had a keen insight into how things work. He would proffer an oftentimes very simple explanation that captured the essential physics, and was able to see how that applied in engineering terms. It's really unusual for an engineer to know that much physics, or a physicist to have that much engineering."

The Mideast oil crises of Goodwin's teenage years sparked a lifelong interest in energy issues, and much of his work revolved around the intricacies of combustion. He fluently translated the complex interplay of heat flow and atomic behavior within swirling mixtures of turbulent gases into detailed mathematical models that accurately predicted how real-world, industrial-scale chemical processors would operate.

After earning his BS in engineering from Harvey Mudd College in 1979, Goodwin joined the Stanford University High Temperature Gasdynamics Laboratory, which was working on an ultraefficient method for generating electricity by burning coal at very high temperatures to create an electrically charged plasma. The process proved too expensive to be practical, but the mastery Goodwin acquired of chemical kinetics—the mathematical descriptions of how reactions proceed—set the course of his career. He earned his MS and PhD in 1980 and 1986 respectively, both in mechanical engineering.

Goodwin arrived at Caltech amid an explosion of interest in growing diamond coatings via chemical vapor deposition. The process is high-tech, but the basic idea is simple. Playing a methane flame over an object deposits carbon atoms on its surface, and under the right conditions these atoms will organize themselves into a sheen of high-purity diamond instead of the usual smudge of soot. "People had found a process that worked," says Boyd, "but really did not know how or why it did." Goodwin's models explained it all, and the set of papers he published beginning in 1990 "really turned artificial diamond into an engineering material," says Harry Atwater, the Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science, and director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute.

But far beyond that, "Dave was one of these people whose impact you measure by the codes he wrote for others to use," Atwater says. Goodwin began writing code in earnest in the 1990s, when he led the Virtual Integrated Prototyping project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This sprawling endeavor, on which Atwater was a collaborator, created a set of simulations that began at the atomic level and went up to encompass an entire chemical reactor in order to figure out how to grow superconducting metal oxides and other thin films with demanding atomic arrangements. Atwater and Goodwin then built the reactor, which is still in use at Caltech and whose design has been widely copied.

Along the way, Goodwin wrote an extensive overhaul of CHEMKIN (for "chemical kinetics"), a collection of programs that had been developed at Sandia National Laboratories in the 1970s and had quickly gone into worldwide use. He then wrote—from scratch—his own software toolkit for modeling basic thermodynamics and chemical kinetics, which he dubbed Cantera. Breaking with the usual practice of creating a convoluted descriptor to yield a clever acronym, Cantera doesn't stand for anything, says Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tim Colonius. "He just wanted to give it a nice soothing, relaxing name, like pharmaceutical companies do. That was typical of his sense of humor." The open-source code is available pro bono and has been downloaded 120,000 times since 2004, according to Sandia's Harry Moffat, one of Cantera's current developers and the manager of the website. Says Moffat, "We have ventured into areas that CHEMKIN cannot go, including liquid-solid interactions and electrochemical applications such as batteries."

Goodwin also found time to court Frances Teng, an obstetrician-gynecologist at nearby Huntington Hospital, whose own parents had gotten married while postdocs at Caltech in the 1960s. Dave and Frances were married at the Athenaeum, Caltech's faculty club, in April 1993.

Goodwin eventually returned to the energy issues that had motivated him to become an engineer in the first place. "He really pushed us to start teaching some energy-related courses in the early 2000s," says Vice Provost Melany Hunt, the Kenan Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and the executive officer for mechanical engineering at the time. This led to ME 122, Sustainable Energy Engineering, which Goodwin inaugurated in 2008. ME 122 lives on as the centerpiece of the Energy Science and Technology option, now renumbered EST/EE/ME 109 and renamed Energy: Supply and Demand.

During that time Goodwin also collaborated on three major fuel-cell projects with Sossina Haile, professor of materials science and chemical engineering, in which he modeled the processes by which fuel molecules reacted with oxygen ions to produce electricity. "Dave was looking at it from a computational perspective, and we were looking at it from an experimental perspective," says Haile. "He pulled together all that we know from fundamental physics and chemistry to say, 'This is how the fuel cell works, and this is how to configure it so that it will actually deliver the power that you want.' Most people do a lot of parameter fitting and approximations, but he treated the problem in a very physics-based, solid way."

Goodwin was as active in the greater life of the Institute as he was in his lab. He served on the faculty board from 1996 to 1999 and from 2001 to 2005, the last two years as faculty chair. During that time, he successfully lobbied to extend the timetable for granting junior faculty tenure in cases of childbirth or adoption, Hunt says. "Dave was always concerned about diversity issues. He would say, 'Are there women coming in? Are there minority students coming in? We should make sure that we are doing things to ensure that we have a diverse group coming in to Caltech.'" Hunt recalls that when two young women wanted to take a class that wasn't offered that year, "Dave met with them in his office three times a week. He wanted to be helpful. He just felt a responsibility to do it."

"The thing that was remarkable about David Goodwin," says Haile, "was that when he was diagnosed with this rare form of cancer for which there is no rhyme or reason, he said, 'I'm so glad that I lived my life in a healthy way and that I didn't do anything that caused this,' not 'I can't believe I lived my life in such a healthy way, and it's so unfair that I got struck by this.' It was stunning. He had an incredibly optimistic view."

"Dave made you happy whenever you ran into him," says Kaushik Bhattacharya, the Howell N. Tyson, Sr., Professor of Mechanics and professor of materials science, and executive officer for mechanical and civil engineering. "You could go into his office and have a wonderful conversation about any topic in the world. He had an easy smile and a wicked sense of humor."

Goodwin's honors include five years as a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator and two NASA Certificates of Recognition for his diamond-film work. He was a member of the Electrochemical Society, the American Chemical Society, the Combustion Institute, the American Physical Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Materials Research Society. He wrote or coauthored more than 60 papers.

In his spare time, Goodwin was an accomplished guitarist, a skilled woodworker who made several pieces of furniture for the family's Craftsman house, and a prolific painter in oils.

Goodwin is survived by his parents, George and Verma Goodwin, of Cameron Park, California; his sisters, Ellen Goodwin Levy of Sacramento and Jennifer Goodwin Smith of Elk Grove; his wife, Frances Teng; and his children, Tim, 18, and Erica, 15.

A memorial service will be held on January 12, 2013, at 1:00 p.m. at the Caltech Athenaeum, and an annual speakership in mechanical engineering is being established in his honor; contributions to the David Goodwin Memorial Lectureship can be made here

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How to Grow an Entrepreneur

Many new college graduates worry about getting jobs. Recent Caltech grads Cole Hershkowitz (BS '11) and Ka Suen (BS '12) don't—because they're trying a different route, working overtime as the cofounders and sole full-time staffers of Chai, a start-up marketing a mobile app that people can use to track and reduce their energy use at home. The two are among many students and young alumni taking advantage of opportunities at Caltech that prepare young entrepreneurs to succeed.

Hershkowitz and Suen first teamed up in a Caltech class in which they helped build a house—specifically, the Caltech–SCI-Arc entry in the U.S. Department of Energy's September 2011 Solar Decathlon (see "Houses That Build People"). They created an iPad-based home-energy-control app that was popular with the thousands of visitors who toured the Decathlon house. What stuck with Hershkowitz and Suen was that people wanted something like it in their own homes.

"Through the Decathlon, we saw things from the homeowner's perspective," says Hershkowitz. He and Suen looked for products homeowners could buy to manage their own energy use and what they found failed to impress them. Even though about a quarter of U.S. electricity customers have smart meters, which can transmit information about household energy use in real time, that information doesn't do homeowners and renters as much good as it could, because it doesn't show which appliances are using the energy. This kind of knowledge is power—literally. Hershkowitz and Suen cite a study from the Electric Power Research Institute showing that by actively monitoring their home energy use, residents can reduce it by 20 percent.

Hershkowitz, primed by a stream of talks and mixers he had attended over the prior year as president of Caltech's entrepreneurship club, immediately saw this gap in the market as an opportunity to start a business. He and Suen formed Chai, building a team with three Decathlon collaborators and using Hershkowitz's apartment as an office. They created an app that communicates information from a homeowner's or renter's smart meter to their iPhone or iPad and uses an algorithm to find patterns in energy use by appliances. Users tag the appliances they want to track—Hershkowitz, for example, has tagged his washer, dryer, refrigerator, TV, air conditioner, and even his teakettle—and then the app details how much energy each tagged appliance consumes, and sends alerts about things like the AC running on a 70-degree day, the TV drawing power when it's off, or the refrigerator doubling its energy use ("Did you leave the refrigerator door open?" the app will ask).

This past May, the Chai team competed against more than 30 others in the DOE First Look West (FLoW) clean-energy business-plan competition run by Caltech. The team didn't win, but the five-month judging process flooded them with feedback from experts in industry and tech transfer, including ways to improve their business model. Stephanie Yanchinski, the FLoW consortium program executive director, says, "FLoW targets a very early stage in the entrepreneurial process, dealing with people like Cole who are starting their first company. We are able to surround them with mentors who understand what it takes to set up a new venture. These advisors often help connect teams to potential partners and sources of funding." The mentorship also benefited Greenbotics, a Caltech-UCLA effort that won second place for its solar-panel-cleaning robots. All in all, a third of the FLoW finalists are now thriving start-ups.

In September, Hershkowitz and Suen attended Lean LaunchPad—an entrepreneurial boot camp hosted by Caltech visiting professor Ken Pickar and by Mani Chandy, Simon Ramo Professor and professor of computer science, and taught by Silicon Valley veterans Steve Blank and Jon Feiber. At the five-day workshop, Hershkowitz and Suen and nine other teams of Caltech students and postdocs talked with potential customers each day, making quick changes to their products and pitches between conversations. "The process is kind of painful, but it keeps you from developing products no one wants," says Hershkowitz. He found the customer feedback at the workshop so valuable that he is extending it by working with Caltech professors who have pitched in to further perfect the app, testing it in their own homes.

In one year, Hershkowitz and Suen—and peers who took advantage of the same opportunities—have learned more about commercializing an idea than most people could in 20 years without such mentorship.

This October, the Los Angeles CleanTech Incubator accepted Chai into its portfolio, offering Hershkowitz and Suen office space, wireless, coaching, and more. "Now we have a place to work," says Suen, anticipating the transition out of Hershkowitz's apartment. "We'll have good company—10 cleantech start-ups. It's a good atmosphere with lots of others around and plenty of support." Hershkowitz adds, "Plus, they have someone to clean the place."

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Clean-Energy Research Accelerates

Caltech clean-energy research is accelerating thanks to the renovation of the Earle M. Jorgensen Laboratory. Transformed into a cutting-edge facility for energy science, the lab unites two powerhouse programs: the Resnick Sustainability Institute and the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP).

At the lab's dedication on Friday, October 19, the public and the campus community toured the building and learned about the research happening there. "It is easy to grow cynical in the face of the challenges that humanity faces when we think about transitioning towards a sustainable energy future," said Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau at the event. "Caltech is uniquely positioned to address such a global challenge."

Inside the newly renovated lab, teams of students, postdoctoral scholars, staff researchers, and faculty are working to invent revolutionary, clean, inexpensive methods for the generation of fuels and power. Through the Jorgensen renovation, researchers have gained new prototyping facilities for turning lab breakthroughs into market-ready inventions and experimental systems that are helping speed work on some of the toughest problems in energy science. These facilities include an advanced and customized ink-jet printer with which researchers can fabricate more than 100,000 sample materials per day. Each day, thousands of these materials can be tested for their ability to absorb light or to serve as catalysts for water-splitting—crucial steps in generating fuel from sunlight.

The Jorgensen Laboratory brings together researchers from Caltech's nationally top-ranked divisions of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) and Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (CCE).

"Our researchers are working with Caltech's chemists and chemical engineers to challenge the status quo and translate scientific discovery into clean-energy innovations that will directly benefit society for generations to come," says Ares Rosakis, EAS division chair and the Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and professor of mechanical engineering.

"This facility capitalizes on Caltech's extraordinarily collaborative culture. It equips our students and faculty to come together across fields to develop novel and viable approaches to renewable energy technologies," adds Jackie Barton, CCE division chair and the Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor and professor of chemistry.

JCAP, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Innovation Hub, is the nation's largest research effort focused on artificial photosynthesis. Its researchers aim to create a low-cost generator that uses sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to make fuels—after which they hope to hand that prototype off to private-sector companies to launch a new solar-fuels industry.

"We would think about our energy problem so differently if we could get this card on the table," says Nate Lewis, JCAP director and Caltech's George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry.

The Resnick Institute, for its part, is set up to foster Caltech-based research collaborations that have the potential to develop renewable-energy technologies that can be scaled up to power the planet.

Research supported by the Resnick Institute will yield tangible benefits even faster thanks to the new facilities, says Harry Atwater, the institute's director and Caltech's Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science. He predicts, "Caltech will do for energy in the twenty-first century what it did for physics in the twentieth: reinvent it."

"We are passionately committed to finding alternative and sustainable energy solutions, and developing the breakthrough technologies we need to address the daunting challenges of energy security, rapidly accelerating energy demand, and climate change," said founding donors Lynda and Stewart Resnick in a statement. "We can think of no better partner in these efforts than Caltech."

The renovation walks its sustainability talk, even beyond its reuse of a midcentury laboratory. Project managers used sustainable materials, kept 82 percent of construction waste out of landfills, and donated the lab's old furniture. The lab now has high-efficiency lighting and HVAC systems, a living roof featuring evergreen and drought-tolerant grasses, and water-saving plumbing and landscaping. "The goal is LEED Platinum certification," says Ken Hargreaves, Caltech's senior director of facilities design and construction.

Support from the Resnicks, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Moores themselves, the Department of Energy, The Ahmanson Foundation, and others made this renovation—and its corresponding acceleration of science—possible.

"To move from petroleum and fossil-fuel dependence to a renewable, sustainable energy economy will require new discoveries across a wide range of disciplines," said W. F. Brinkman, director of the Department of Energy Office of Science, in a letter shared at the building dedication. "There is no doubt that the California Institute of Technology is in the very forefront of this research effort, mobilizing a formidable array of talent and resources in the quest for the energy technologies of the future."

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Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

Caltech to participate in the Great California ShakeOut

Get ready to drop, cover, and hold on! On Thursday, October 18, Caltech will once again participate in the Great California ShakeOut, the annual statewide earthquake-preparedness drill. Caltech students, faculty, staff, and visitors are encouraged to join the more than 8 million Californians who will have the opportunity to practice how to protect themselves during an earthquake.

At 10:18 a.m., an alert will be sent via Caltech's emergency notification system to signify the start of the one-minute drill. The Institute will join businesses, nonprofits, government organizations, schools, neighborhoods, families, and others throughout the state in performing three vital action steps: drop, cover, and hold on. The recommended protocol is as follows:

  • DROP to the ground
  • Take COVER by getting underneath a sturdy desk or table
  • HOLD ON until the shaking stops

Additionally, throughout the day, the campus will be engaged in emergency-response and recovery activities as the Institute activates its Emergency Response Plan.

"Building a disaster-resilient institute begins with everyone taking the time to learn what to do in emergency situations," says Jim Cowell, Caltech's associate vice president for facilities. "Participating in the annual ShakeOut exercise is a great opportunity for everyone on campus to practice their earthquake procedures and review their personal and departmental emergency plans."

Here are additional ways you can participate in this year's ShakeOut:

  • Take a photo of your colleagues or students participating in the ShakeOut drill and submit it to www.emergencypreparedness.caltech.edu by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 18, 2012, for the chance to win a prize.
  • Send a test communication to an out-of-state emergency contact via amateur radio. From 9:00 a.m. until noon on Thursday, October 18, on the second floor of Winnett Student Center, members of Caltech's Amateur Radio Club will send a test message on your behalf to a friend or family member located in the United States or Canada.
  • Bookmark Caltech's Emergency Management webpage in your browser to learn about upcoming events and trainings and to stay informed of the latest campus emergency-preparedness news.

For earthquake safety tips and additional information on the Great California ShakeOut, visit www.shakeout.org.

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Andrew Allan
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Houses that Build People

Around this time next year, several students from Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) will be having what seems to be an average day in their shared house: they'll be doing laundry, inviting neighbors over for dinner, watching TV, playing video games, doing homework. But monitors will stop by to weigh the towels the students launder. The neighbors will judge the dinner party. Every kilowatt that passes through the TV and computers will be noted. And all of this will happen in a house that has yet to exist.

For the second time, a SCI-Arc–Caltech­ team has won a spot in the Solar Decathlon, a biennial Department of Energy–sponsored competition to design and build a solar-powered house with the ideal blend of affordability, market appeal, design excellence, energy production, and efficiency. Twenty student teams from around the United States and the world will open the doors of 20 new houses in the Orange County Great Park, in Irvine, California, on October 3, 2013. During the 10-day competition, each team will put its house through the paces of normal life to simulate a real homeowner's experience—although most homeowners don't have hundreds of visitors tromping through daily. (All Decathlon homes will welcome visitors from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Sunday both weeks of the event.)

After the Decathlon, the SCI-Arc–Caltech house will make an encore appearance at the California Science Center, which exhibited the team's inaugural entry, nicknamed CHIP for Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype. CHIP actually produced more energy than it consumed, sharing first place in the contest for both energy balance and water heating, winning second in both engineering and home entertainment, and—though its architecture and advanced features suggested a luxury home—garnering third place for affordability.

Melany Hunt, an advisor for the 2013 project and Caltech's William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Mechanical Engineering, uses the Solar Decathlon project as teaching lab. She mentored several students this spring and summer as they brainstormed engineering concepts for the 2013 house's solar panels, the HVAC system, the radiant floor heating, and a unique phase-changing insulation. The insulation—something like bubble wrap filled with a wax-like material instead of air—will help keep heat in or out, as needed, as its filling melts and solidifies. The SCI-Arc architects are being equally innovative, envisioning a house that opens up in fine weather and actually moves so that its solar cells can catch more rays. Their Caltech counterparts—for their part—are engineering ways for the house to sense whether the cat is asleep in the path of the living room.

This summer, electrical engineering sophomores Brynan Qiu and Do Hee Kim optimized concepts for the house's solar panels. As part of their project, they looked at how dirt reduces power production for panels mounted at different angles. They used solar panels that had been exposed to L.A.'s dusty air for seven months on CHIP's roof, retrieving the panels from both flat and angled parts of the roof. "They were really disgusting," says Qiu. "We measured energy production and then cleaned the panels and measured again." They found that the dirty flat-mounted panels lost 20 percent of their power production—more than twice as much as those mounted at a 15-degree angle. With data in hand, they went to the architects . . . and the debate began.

"It's interesting working with the architects," Qiu says. "Engineers and architects have different modes of thought and tastes. While we might want to have our array tilted at the optimal angle for energy production, a large tilted roof may not be part of their vision." So Qiu and Kim are working to see through their partners' eyes, designing novel solar-panel configurations that will produce plenty of power while permitting a graceful and striking roofline. "Interacting with the architects helps me think more creatively and generate more ideas," Qiu says.

This academic year, Qiu and some 20 other students in Introduction to Multidisciplinary Systems Engineering will take the solar house from concept through construction with their SCI-Arc partners, while earning computer science, mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering credits. Hunt, who is leading the class, says the project itself is entirely student led. "I see my role as a supporter," she says. "I love the ideas the students come up with, and want to put them in the position of making all the decisions, thinking about things that are clever and unusual and inexpensive that we can put into this house."

The Decathlon gives Caltech's engineering students an opportunity to extend themselves as they learn to interact with their architect partners and with the media, corporate partners, and the public, says Elisabeth Neigert, a 2010 SCI-Arc graduate and a project manager for the 2011 team. (Neigert is the external relations program manager for the 2013 team, supported by Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute.) One key asset helps Caltech students stretch, she says: "They are incredible at collaboration. They're selfless. They are used to thinking about what's best for the team. It's always about the vision."

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Princeton Review Recognizes Caltech's Commitment to Sustainability

The Princeton Review has named Caltech to its "2013 Green Honor Roll." Caltech is among 21 schools that received the highest possible score—99—in an analysis that looked at 806 institutions and rated them on environmentally related practices, policies, and academic offerings. These "Green Rating" scores will be published on each school's profile in the new 2013 Princeton Review guidebooks.

Citing Caltech as "a giant in sustainability," a write-up on the review's website noted the pioneering use of self-managed green revolving funds, energy-efficiency projects, and contributions to cleaner air as highlights of the Institute's devotion to the green movement. The commendation also called attention to the campus's environmentally friendly buildings—such as the Annenberg Center and the Schlinger Laboratory—and the sustainability-focused classes and research opportunities available through the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, the Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, and the Resnick Sustainability Institute.

"This honor is exciting because it's not only a recognition of everyone's hard work across the campus, but also—and perhaps most importantly—it's encouragement to keep striving, each in our own individual ways, to be more effective stewards of Caltech," says John Onderdonk, director of sustainability programs at Caltech.

The Princeton Review's Green Rating measures a school's performance as an environmentally aware and responsible institution using criteria and questions developed in conjunction with ecoAmerica, a research- and partnership-based environmental nonprofit organization. The ratings consider, among other things, whether students have a healthy and sustainable campus quality of life; how well students are prepared for employment and citizenship in a world now defined by environmental challenges; and a school's environmental policies. More information can be found in the Princeton Review's press release

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Caltech Wins Toilet Challenge

Caltech's solar-powered toilet has won the Reinventing the Toilet Challenge issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Caltech engineer Michael Hoffmann and his colleagues were awarded $100,000 for their design, which they demonstrated at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, a two-day event held August 14–15 in Seattle.

Last summer, Hoffmann, the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science at Caltech, and his team were awarded a $400,000 grant to create a toilet that can safely dispose of human waste for just five cents per user per day. The lavatory can't use a septic system or an outside water source, or produce pollutants.

The challenge is part of a $40 million program initiated by the Gates Foundation to tackle the problems of water, sanitation, and hygiene throughout the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, 2.5 billion people around the globe are without access to sanitary toilets, which results in the spread of deadly diseases. Every year, 1.5 million people—mostly those under the age of five—die from diarrhea.

Hoffmann's proposal—which won one of the eight grants given—was to build a toilet that uses the sun to power an electrochemical reactor. The reactor breaks down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy. The treated water can then be reused to flush the toilet or for irrigation.

The team built a prototype inside the solar dome on the roof of Caltech's Linde + Robinson Laboratory, and after a year of designing and testing, they—along with the other grantees—showed off their creation. The Gates Foundation brought in 50 gallons of fake feces made from soybeans and rice for the demonstrations.

The $60,000 second-place prize went to Loughborough University in the United Kingdom—whose toilet produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water—and the $40,000 third-place award went to the University of Toronto's design, which sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS won $40,000 as a special recognition for their toilet interface design.

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
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Anchors Aweigh

At Caltech, hydrophilic researchers in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences take to the salty seas to gather data, explore the deep, and get a firsthand view of the beasts at the bottom. The briny treasures they collect along the way are helping them learn more about past, present, and future environmental conditions and hazards. Read about their ocean adventures in a feature-length story in the Summer 2012 issue of E&S magazine.

Writer: 
Katie Neith
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Ocean-based Researchers Take to the Sea
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