John A. Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech, received the 2012 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), in Long Beach, California.
Heather A. Knutson, an assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech, is the 2012 recipient of the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy. Knutson received the award at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), in Long Beach, California.
By squeezing tiny samples of iron to reproduce the extreme pressures felt at Earth's core, a Caltech team was able to get a closer estimate of the melting point of iron. Now, they have taken that research one step further by adding infrared laser beams to the mix.
Look up at the night sky and you'll see stars, sure. But you're also seeing planets—billions and billions of them. At least. That's the conclusion of a new study by Caltech astronomers that provides yet more evidence that planetary systems are the cosmic norm.
By studying jets of plasma in the lab, Caltech researchers discovered a surprising phenomenon that may be important for understanding how solar flares occur and for developing nuclear fusion as an energy source. Solar flares are bursts of energy from the sun that launch chunks of plasma that can damage orbiting satellites and cause the northern and southern lights on Earth.
Caltech planetary scientists provided a new explanation for why the "man in the moon" faces Earth. Their research indicates that the "man"—an illusion caused by dark-colored volcanic plains—faces us because of the rate at which the moon's spin rate slowed before becoming locked in its current orientation, even though the odds favored the moon's other, more mountainous side.
NASA's NuSTAR telescope, a Caltech-led and -designed mission to explore the high-energy X-ray universe and to uncover the secrets of black holes, of remnants of dead stars, of energetic cosmic explosions, and even of the sun, was launched on June 13. The instrument is the most powerful high-energy X-ray telescope ever developed and will produce images that are 10 times sharper than any that have been taken before at these energies.
Uncovering the Higgs Boson
This summer's likely discovery of the long-sought and highly elusive Higgs boson, the fundamental particle that is thought to endow elementary particles with mass, was made possible in part by contributions from a large contingent of Caltech researchers. They have worked on this problem with colleagues around the globe for decades, building experiments, designing detectors to measure particles ever more precisely, and inventing communication systems and data storage and transfer networks to share information among thousands of physicists worldwide.
Credit: Peter Day
Researchers at Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed a new kind of amplifier that can be used for everything from exploring the cosmos to examining the quantum world. This new device operates at a frequency range more than 10 times wider than that of other similar kinds of devices, can amplify strong signals without distortion, and introduces the lowest amount of unavoidable noise.
Swims like a jellyfish
Caltech bioengineers partnered with researchers at Harvard University to build a freely moving artificial jellyfish from scratch. The researchers fashioned the jellyfish from silicon and muscle cells into what they've dubbed Medusoid; in the lab, the scientists were able to replicate some of the jellyfish's key mechanical functions, such as swimming and creating feeding currents. The work will help improve researchers' understanding of tissues and how they work, and may inform future efforts in tissue engineering and the design of pumps for the human heart.
After more than eight years of planning, about 354 million miles of space travel, and seven minutes of terror, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory successfully landed on the Red Planet on August 5. The roving analytical laboratory, named Curiosity, is now using its 10 scientific instruments and 17 cameras to search Mars for environments that either were once—or are now—habitable.
Credit: Caltech/Michael Hoffmann
Powering toilets for the developing world
Caltech engineers built a solar-powered toilet that can safely dispose of human waste for just five cents per use per day. The toilet design, which won the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Reinventing the Toilet Challenge, uses the sun to power a reactor that breaks down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen. The hydrogen can be stored as energy in hydrogen fuel cells.
Credit: Caltech / Scott Kelberg and Michael Roukes
This year, two separate Caltech research groups made key advances in the quest to extract hydrogen from water for energy use. In June, a team of chemical engineers devised a nontoxic, noncorrosive way to split water molecules at relatively low temperatures; this method may prove useful in the application of waste heat to hydrogen production. Then, in September, a group of Caltech chemists identified the mechanism by which some water-splitting catalysts work; their findings should light the way toward the development of cheaper and better catalysts.
In 2012, Caltech faculty and students pursued research into just about every aspect of our world and beyond—from understanding human behavior, to exploring other planets, to developing sustainable waste solutions for the developing world.
In other words, 2012 was another year of discovery at Caltech. Here are a dozen research stories, which were among the most widely read and shared articles from Caltech.edu.
One of the most powerful computer clusters available to a single department in the academic world just got stronger. Caltech'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.
For over 150 years, geologists have debated how and when the Grand Canyon was formed. New data unearthed by Caltech researchers builds support for the idea that conventional models, which say the enormous ravine is 5 to 6 million years old, are way off.