New Director of the Linde Institute: A Conversation with Jaksa Cvitanic

Jaksa Cvitanic, the Richard N. Merkin Professor of Mathematical Finance at Caltech, has been appointed director of The Ronald and Maxine Linde Institute of Economic and Management Sciences. An expert in financial economics, Cvitanic has interest in the Linde Institute's three core research areas: namely finance, entrepreneurship, and the interaction between computer science and economics. His goal in the role is to help the Institute continue to create an environment for interdisciplinary and creative research and education in business and economics.

Cvitanic grew up in Croatia and earned his BS and MS, both in mathematics, from the University of Zagreb. He came to the United States in 1988 and completed his MPhil and PhD in statistics at Columbia University. Later, he held faculty positions at Columbia University and at the University of Southern California (USC) before coming to Caltech in 2005. He was named the Merkin Professor in 2013.

We recently sat down with Cvitanic to talk about his work and his new position with the Linde Institute.

What would you say that you bring to the Linde Institute as its new director?

My primary field of research is finance and financial economics, so I bring experience in that regard. If you consider the Linde Institute's main topics of interest, I have done research in two of them—finance and the intersection between computer science and economics. And while I don't actually conduct research in entrepreneurship, I am involved in a start-up company that gives advice on how to allocate your money across different asset classes, so I am certainly interested in entrepreneurship from that point of view.

Also regarding the educational goals of the Linde Institute—to give students the opportunity to learn the skills they would need for careers in business and economics—I have been the adviser for the business, economics, and management (BEM) major at Caltech for 10 years. Many BEM students go on to work in finance, so I have a good perspective on the undergraduates' interest in these fields.

Can you tell us about the work you have been doing at the intersection between computer science and economics?

I have been looking at the question of how to design surveys and survey questionnaires to incentivize respondents to provide careful and truthful responses. In economics, people think of this as mechanism design, but it's also related to what computer science researchers call proper scoring rules, which involves assigning scores to survey respondents computed from their responses and rewarding them based on those scores.

Can you give us an example of how this works?

We are now working with a company that conducts market research surveys. They find that when respondents are asked to rate a retailer on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best) most people naturally choose 10—just kind of being nice. Well, that doesn't provide much information.

We suggest asking respondents a second question that is related to the opinion of others—basically, "What do you think other people would choose?" There are algorithms that allow us to combine these two responses—what is your rating and what do you think other people think—in such a way that a respondent's score will be higher if he or she responds truthfully. If you reward them based on this score, they have an incentive to be more truthful in their responses.

How do you reward someone based on truthfulness?

Traditionally in these surveys, you pay all of the participants the same amount. But we tell participants from the outset that they will be paid according to their score and that their score is likely to be higher if they respond carefully and truthfully. This gives them an incentive to essentially compete against one another by being more careful in their responses.

What projects in finance are you currently working on?

One project has to do with optimal compensation of managers, whether they are portfolio managers or high-level executives. The existing theory assumes that a manager affects only the mean return of a project he is in charge of—not the risk. And in many cases, that's simply not true. For example, a CEO might decide to finance her company by issuing a certain amount of debt versus stocks or to hedge risks by using financial instruments. A portfolio manager or high-level executive whose actions result in lower risk and higher returns should be compensated differently than one whose actions result in higher risk and lower returns. We developed a new method for determining how best to compensate these managers.

In related but separate work, I am working with Lawrence Jin, a new faculty member in social sciences. We are looking at these problems in the case in which the manager or shareholders might have some behavioral preferences.

What types of preferences are those?

There is a whole field of behavioral finance and economics that studies how people make decisions. The classical theory before behavioral assumed that everyone was just super rational. Behavioral economics and finance realized, through experiments mostly, that people don't behave that way. There are many ways in which people depart from rational actions. So we're saying that you have to model the preferences of the manager to know the best way to provide incentives and compensate him—whether it's better to give him stocks in the company or cash, or a bonus or options. It depends really on how he values those things, and his preferences may be behavioral.

We are curious how you transitioned from originally studying mathematics and statistics to becoming an expert in finance?

When I came to the U.S. from the former Yugoslavia, the latter was a communist country, and I didn't know what a stock or a bond was, not to mention financial derivatives. But my PhD adviser was one of the fathers of financial mathematics, and he asked if I would mind working on a problem in finance. Today, finance is popular in applied mathematics, but at that time it wasn't considered real mathematics. I was fascinated by the subject and was happy to work on a mathematical problem that had finance applications.

At that time, not many people knew the techniques and the models that were being used for this type of finance, so I started receiving articles from top finance journals to referee. I kind of learned finance by refereeing papers for top journals, which is not a bad way to learn things.

Then, when I came to USC, I was in the math and economics departments, but I found out that a friend of mine from Columbia was teaching in the business school at USC. We started working together, and I learned a lot working with him. So it was partly my PhD thesis, partly refereeing people's papers, and partly doing joint research with a coauthor from a finance department.

What is your vision for the Linde Institute going forward?

One thing that I think has been very successful and that I would like to see us expand are the career panels. We bring Caltech alumni back to talk to students about their experiences working in a particular field. We've done this for finance, and we're thinking about doing this for the consulting industry and entrepreneurship. It works very well. The students are interested in seeing what types of careers former Caltech students have, and the alumni enjoy interacting with the students. We plan to host more of these events.

The Linde Institute has also been sponsoring graduate students and postdocs, as well as workshops in the fields of interest, and will continue doing that. Moreover, we have started the Summer Undergraduate Startup Internship (SUSI) program for Caltech undergraduate students under the supervision of Associate Professor of Finance and Entrepreneurship Michael Ewens. The program places Caltech students in high-quality startup companies for 10-week paid internships during which they gain exposure to the unique start-up environment and have the opportunity to develop their skills in a real-world business setting.

In the future, we would also like to help fund particularly original and creative faculty projects for which it would otherwise be hard to find funds. These would be projects in the social sciences crossed with engineering and computer science. Interdisciplinarity would definitely be an important component.

To summarize, it's about creating an environment in which interdisciplinary, original research involving the social sciences and quantitative fields can thrive. It boils down to two things, which are education and research. There are not many places like Caltech where students can learn from experts from so many different fields in a natural way. They don't have to put in a lot of effort to be interdisciplinary. It's just already there. The Linde Institute is emphasizing that even more and providing infrastructure for it.

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Jaksa Cvitanic will continue to nurture an environment for interdisciplinary, creative research and education in business and economics.

Hard Work Meets Hard Knocks: Caltech's SUSI Program

Caltech's students are familiar with hard work. Mastering the intricacies of quantum physics, biochemistry, and other demanding fields of study can be difficult. Being able to apply this hard-won education to make an impact in the business environment outside of academia can be equally challenging—and is not a lesson typically taught inside an academic environment. The Summer Undergraduate Startup Internship program (SUSI) is designed to bridge this gap by placing talented undergraduates in their first or second summer at Caltech into 10-week internships in real-world entrepreneurial environments.

The board of Caltech's Ronald and Maxine Linde Institute of Economic and Management Sciences worked with Caltech professors and internal departments such as the Career Development Center (CDC) to develop SUSI. The goal was to identify small startup companies that could offer undergraduates the opportunity to see firsthand how bold ideas can be translated into successful businesses or products.

"This was an experiment that has been very successful," says Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, the Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics and chair of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). "Startups, as an idea, are glamorous, but they are also a lot of work. Failure rates are high, and it is a very demanding environment in which you might want some experience before deciding that it's right for you."

"Caltech undergraduates have an excellent range of summer internship opportunities outside of traditional research labs, and many of these positions pay well and come with housing subsidies," says Michael Ewens, an associate professor of finance and entrepreneurship and one of SUSI's creators. "Startups that want to hire our undergraduates as interns often cannot compete with those offerings. The SUSI program steps in to provide a salary and housing supplement to make startup internships a possibility. This allows students to learn about startups while working inside them wearing a variety of hats."

Ewens recruited firms like Idealab, a local tech incubator, and other Pasadena-based startups to participate in the program. "We identified local startups that were associated with faculty and also through contacts at local small-business incubators and the board members of the Linde Institute," he says. "Next, we screened the potential internships to insure that students would be given substantive challenges rather than narrow tasks such as programming and created a website to advertise the positions to Caltech undergraduates. Finally, we placed those students who were selected with companies that were a good fit for their skills and potential."

For this year's inaugural round of SUSI internships, five undergraduates were placed with local companies. Mentors—Caltech faculty or staff—were assigned to each student.

"It was a great experience," says Phillip An, a sophomore majoring in computer science and economics, of his SUSI placement in Idealab, started by Caltech alumnus and current trustee Bill Gross (BS '81). Idealab typically includes about 20 startups working in a supportive and structured environment conducive to success for new small companies.

"In a previous internship, I headed U.S. business development at a startup cofounded by a Caltech alum," An says. "At Idealab, I had the opportunity to start and run a real company. In this experience, I was able to rotate through a variety of functions including product design, project management, raising venture capital funding, and actually reaching out to and interacting with our customers. My tenure at Idealab seemed like a whirlwind, engendering opportunities to get my hands dirty in product management, software engineering, and mobile app creation, to name just a few. I believe this program has given me opportunities few undergraduate students can experience."

SUSI combines the strengths of HSS, the Linde Institute, Caltech's Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships, the CDC, and the Entrepreneurship Club. The Linde Institute provides conduits to startup businesses through its board members. The institute, a hub for interdisciplinary research in business and economics, provided the funding to support the students during their internships.

Ewens is still evaluating the results of the first year of SUSI internships. Tracking the progress of the participants post-graduation helps refine future efforts. But it is clear, he says, that the program worked as planned. "It's still early in the process, but I think the students were provided a unique opportunity to explore the activity of an entrepreneurial firm," he says.

Ewens notes that placing students in the real-world environment of a startup helps them appreciate the broad number of options that they have as Caltech graduates. "I often tell students that a big part of college is simply figuring out what they do not want to do in life," he says. "They can only achieve this goal by trying out as many opportunities as possible while still in school. My hope is that SUSI can enable this for a select group of entrepreneurially inclined students each year."

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Dabney Hall, Lounge – Dabney Hall

An Evening of Poetry and Music: Ciaran and Deirdre Carson

15 for 2015: The Year in Research News at Caltech

The year 2015 proved to be another groundbreaking year for research at Caltech. From seeing quantum motion, to reconfiguring jellyfish limbs, to measuring stellar magnetic fields, researchers continued to ask and answer the deepest scientific questions.

In case you missed any of them, here are 15 stories highlighting a few of the discoveries, methods, and technologies that came to life at Caltech in 2015.

 

 

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Credit: K.Batygin/Caltech

New Research Suggests Solar System May Have Once Harbored Super-Earths

Thanks to recent surveys of exoplanets—planets in solar systems other than our own—we know that most planetary systems typically have one or more super-Earths (planets that are substantially more massive than Earth but less massive than Neptune) orbiting closer to their suns than Mercury does. In March, researchers showed that our own solar system may have once had these super-Earths, but they were destroyed by Jupiter's inward and outward migration through the solar system. This migration would have gravitationally flung small planetesimals through the solar system, setting off chains of collisions that would push any interior planets into the sun.
Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech and the Hoelz Laboratory/Caltech

Caltech Biochemists Shed Light on Cellular Mystery

The nuclear pore complex (NPC) is an intricate portal linking the cytoplasm of a cell to its nucleus. It is made up of many copies of about 34 different proteins. Around 2,000 NPCs are embedded in the nuclear envelope of a single human cell and each NPC shuttles hundreds of macromolecules of different shapes and sizes between the cytoplasm and nucleus. In February, Caltech biochemists determined the structure of a significant portion of the NPC called the outer rings; in August, the same group solved the structure of the pore's inner ring. Understanding the structure of the NPC could lead to new classes of cancer drugs as well as antiviral medicines.
Credit: iStockphoto

Research Suggests Brain's Melatonin May Trigger Sleep

For decades, supplemental melatonin has been sold over the counter as a sleep aid despite the absence of scientific evidence proving its effectiveness. Few studies have investigated melatonin produced naturally in the human body. This March, Caltech researchers studying zebrafish—animals that, like humans, are awake during the day and asleep at night—determined that the melatonin hormone does help the body fall asleep and stay asleep. Specifically, they found that zebrafish larvae that could not produce melatonin slept for only half as long as normal larvae.
Credit: Gregg Hallinan/Caltech

Advances in Radio Astronomy

In May, a new radio telescope array called the Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array (OV-LWA) saw its first light. Developed by a consortium led by Caltech, the OV-LWA has the ability to image simultaneously the entire sky at radio wavelengths with unmatched speed, helping astronomers to search for objects and phenomena that pulse, flicker, flare, or explode.

In July, Caltech researchers used both radio and optical telescopes to observe a brown dwarf located 20 light-years away and found that these so-called failed stars host powerful auroras near their magnetic poles.
Credit: Michael Abrams and Ty Basinger

Injured Jellyfish Seek to Regain Symmetry

Some kinds of animals can regrow lost limbs and body parts, but moon jellyfish have a different strategy. In June, Caltech researchers reported that the star-shaped eight-armed moon jellyfish rearranges itself when injured to maintain symmetry. It is hypothesized that the rearrangement helps to preserve the jellyfish's propulsion mechanism.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Geologists Characterize Nepal Earthquake

In April, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked Nepal. While the damage was extensive, it was not as severe as many geologists predicted. This year, a Caltech team of geologists used satellite radar imaging data and measurements from seismic instruments in Nepal to create models of fault rupture and ground movement. They found that the quake ruptured only a small fraction of the "locked" tectonic plate and that there is still the potential for the locked portion to produce a large earthquake.
Credit: Caltech/JPL

New Polymer Creates Safer Fuels

Plane crashes cause devastating damage, but this damage is often exacerbated by the highly explosive nature of jet fuel. This October, researchers at Caltech and JPL discovered a polymeric fuel additive that can reduce the intensity of postimpact explosions that occur during accidents and crashes. Preliminary results show that the additive can provide this benefit without adversely affecting fuel performance. The polymer works by inhibiting "misting"—the process that causes fuel to rapidly disperse and easily catch fire—under crash conditions.
Credit: Spencer Kellis/Caltech

Controlling a Robotic Arm with a Patient's Intentions

When you reach for a glass of water, you do not consciously think about moving your arm muscles or grasping with your fingers—you think about the goal of the movement. This May, by implanting neural prosthetic devices into the posterior parietal cortex (PCC)—the region of the brain that governs intentions for movement—rather than the motor cortex, which controls movement, Caltech researchers enabled a paralyzed patient to more smoothly and naturally control a prosthetic limb. In November, the researchers showed that there are individual neurons in the PPC that encode for entire hand shapes, such as those used for grasping or gesturing.

 

Caltech Scientists Develop Cool Process to Make Better Graphene

Graphene is an ultrastrong and conductive material made of a single layer of carbon atoms. While it is a promising material for scientific and engineering advances, manufacturing it on an industrially relevant scale has proven to be impractical, requiring temperatures of around 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and long periods of time. A new technique invented at Caltech allows the speedy production of graphene—in just a few minutes—at room temperatures. The technique also produces graphene that is stronger, smoother, and more electrically conductive than normally produced synthetic graphene.
Credit: Rafael A. García (SAp CEA), Kyle Augustson (HAO), Jim Fuller (Caltech) & Gabriel Pérez (SMM, IAC), Photograph from AIA/SDO

Astronomers Peer Inside Stars, Finding Giant Magnets

Before this October, astronomers have only been able to study the magnetic fields of stars on the stellar surfaces. Now, using a technique called asteroseismology, scientists were able to probe the fusion-powered hearts of dozens of red giants (stars that are evolved versions of our sun) to calculate the magnetic field strengths inside those stars. They found that the internal magnetic fields of the red giants were as much as 10 million times stronger than Earth's magnetic field. Magnetic fields play a key role in the interior rotation rate of stars, which has a dramatic effect on how the stars evolve.
Credit: Chan Lei and Keith Schwab/Caltech

Seeing Quantum Motion

To the casual observer, an object at rest is just that—at rest, motionless. But on the subatomic scale, the object is most certainly in motion—quantum mechanical motion. Quantum motion, or noise, is ever-present in nature, and in August, Caltech researchers discovered how to observe and manipulate that motion in a small device. By creating what they called a "quantum squeezed state," they were able to periodically reduce the quantum fluctuations of the device. The ability to control quantum noise could one day be used to improve the precision of very sensitive measurements.
Credit: Ali Hajimiri/Caltech

New Camera Chip Provides Superfine 3-D Resolution

3-D printing can produce a wide array of objects in relatively little time, but first the printer needs to have a blueprint of what to print. The blueprints are provided by 3-D cameras, which scan objects and create models for the printer. Caltech researchers have now developed a 3-D camera that produces the highest depth-measurement accuracy of any similar device, allowing it to deliver replicas of an object to be 3-D printed within microns of similarity to the original object. In addition, the camera, known as a nanophotonic coherent imager, is inexpensive and small.
Credit: Image provided courtesy of Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis; artwork by Darius Siwek.

One Step Closer to Artificial Photosynthesis and 'Solar Fuels'

Plants are masters of photosynthesis—the process of turning carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water into oxygen and sugar. Inspired by this natural and energy-efficient process, Caltech researchers have created an "artificial leaf" that takes in CO2, sunlight, and water to produce hydrogen fuels. This solar-powered system, one researcher says, shatters all of the combined safety, performance, and stability records for artificial leaf technology by factors of 5 to 10 or more.
Credit: Santiago Lombeyda and Robin Betz

Potassium Salt Outperforms Precious Metals As a Catalyst

Rare precious metals have been the standard catalyst for the formation of carbon-silicon bonds, a process crucial to the synthesis of a host of products from new medicines to advanced materials. However, they are expensive, inefficient, and produce toxic waste byproducts. This February, Caltech researchers discovered a much more sustainable catalyst in the form of a simple potassium salt that is one of the most abundant metals on Earth and thousands of times less expensive than other commonly used catalysts. In addition, the potassium salt is much more effective at running challenging chemical reactions than state-of-the-art precious metal complexes.
Credit: Qi Zhao/National University of Singapore

Probing the Mysterious Perceptual World of Autism

The way in which people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) perceive the world is unique. It has been a long-standing belief that people with ASD often miss facial cues, contributing to impaired social interaction. In a study published in October, Caltech researchers showed 700 images to 39 subjects and found that people with ASD pay closer attention to simple edges and patterns in images than to the faces of people. The study also found that subjects were strongly attracted to the center of images—regardless of what was placed there—and to differences in color and contrast rather than facial features. These findings may help doctors diagnose and more effectively treat the different forms of autism.
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The year 2015 proved to be another groundbreaking year for research at Caltech. From seeing quantum motion, to reconfiguring jellyfish limbs, to measuring stellar magnetic fields, researchers continued to ask and answer the deepest scientific questions.

In case you missed any of them, here are 15 stories highlighting a few of the discoveries, methods, and technologies that came to life at Caltech in 2015.

Written by Lori Dajose

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Now and Then in American Literature

It has been more than a decade since a few curious clocks and strange verbs in an Edgar Allan Poe novel piqued Cindy Weinstein's interest. In the years since, Weinstein, professor of English and a vice provost at Caltech, examined and analyzed novels spanning three centuries of American literature, looking for instances of inconsistent references to time and tense, a kind of temporal uncertainty. She combined her findings into her newest book, Time, Tense, and American Literature: When Is Now?

What got you interested in this particular theme of time in American literature?

It started 14 years ago. I was reading Edgar Allan Poe's only novel—The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket—and I noticed many odd references to clocks and time. Poe's story kept bringing up this broken watch and a chronometer that eventually gets thrown into the ocean; the narrator can't seem to keep track of what time it is. I became really interested in what Poe was trying to do with these clocks and with grammatical tense—he kept vacillating between the past and present. Why was he doing that?

My curiosity about this temporal phenomenon took me through many rereadings of books throughout American literature, paying attention to words and their meanings, repetitions, and echoes. It resulted in my book.

Tell us about your book.

My book examines five novels—which span from a precursor to Poe in Charles Brockden Brown's 18th-century Edgar Huntly to Edward P. Jones's 21st-century novel The Known World—that create and develop what I'm calling "tempo(e)rality"—it's a play on "temporality" and "Poe." Tempo(e)rality is the term I use to describe novels whose hold on sequence is wobbly. I explain it like this in the book: What happens first, what happens second, what is before and what is after are often difficult to discern, and, as a consequence, tense, particularly the past tense, loses its position as a temporal anchor.

Where does tempo(e)rality manifest in these novels?

I found that the concept of tempo(e)rality is embedded both at the level of the sentence, in using words like "when," "now," "first," "latter," and "before," and within a larger, historical context—many of the stories take place during the cultural and political upheaval surrounding events like the founding of the nation and the Civil War.

Each novel is located in a certain time period that is often registered by a date or dates, and yet the language used in the story is all over the place with respect to time. Their narratives cascade from past to present to future to conditional. I'm demonstrating that this is a thread that runs throughout three centuries of American literature—each of the books I discuss are anchored in a particular time and yet are temporally afloat.

Can you give an example of tempo(e)rality?

In Edgar Huntly, the main character, Edgar, is telling a story. He's constantly using phrases such as "at length," "once more," or "in a moment" and words such as "now," "presently," "before," "former," or "meanwhile"—announcing to the reader that he's got control over time. He appears to know what has happened before and what has happened after. But that temporal certainty vanishes as his retrospective narration of past events gets confused with his telling of them. He can't keep track of the difference between events in the past and those in the present, and that gets registered in inconsistencies of tense.

Was there anything that surprised you in the course of developing your interpretation?

Yes. On one level, there was the fact that the characters in individual texts were making remarks about tense to each other. For example, there's a moment in The Gates Ajar by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, a popular 19th-century writer, where one character is talking about a character that is dead, and she remarks to her friend, "I wonder what he would have thought?" And her friend says, "Why put any 'would' in that sentence?"

But the thing that really shocked me—I had to put the book down and go take a walk—was when I was reading Henry James's The Golden Bowl. The book could not be more different from a Poe novel, thematically and stylistically. And yet, in the first few pages, the exact Poe novel that I had been studying, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, is referenced! I just thought, "What the heck is Poe doing in this James novel? Why is this character thinking about him?" Suddenly these books were referring to each other. I knew then that this would be the center of my analysis.

Your specialization is in 19th-century literature—what was it like reading novels from before and after that time period?

Well, it was definitely outside of my comfort zone—both scary and liberating! But I just did what I always do—I read and reread each novel so many times, sticky-noting and underlining like crazy. In this way I was able to get a kind of microscale reading that allowed me to examine the minutiae of each novel. And I read a lot of literary criticism in order to clarify my intervention and the stakes of the argument.

So, did you ever find an answer to your question—when is now?

Now is all over the place. Now is gone—the minute I say "now," it's then. The "now" of a narrative can and does, in the novels I discuss, move all over the place. It's relative.

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The Science of Economics

John Ledyard is an economist, but when he talks about the work that he and his colleagues who study socioeconomic systems at Caltech have completed over the last decade with the support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, he looks to astronomy for an appropriate metaphor. He's trying to find a way to explain the importance and utility of a suite of software they have developed.

"It's kind of like building a new, powerful telescope," Ledyard says. "It's not that all of the astronomers using that telescope are working on the same thing, but because of the larger telescope, they can all do a lot more, different work. What the Moore Foundation grant enabled us to do was to build a bigger measurement device."

Read more on the E&S website

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A newly developed suite of software helps researchers analyze some of the most complex markets ever studied in the lab.
Monday, November 30, 2015

Microbial diners, drive-ins, and dives: deep-sea edition

Elachi to Retire as JPL Director

Charles Elachi (MS '69, PhD '71) has announced his intention to retire as director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on June 30, 2016, and move to campus as professor emeritus. A national search is underway to identify his successor.

"A frequently consulted national and international expert on space science, Charles is known for his broad expertise, boundless energy, conceptual acuity, and deep devotion to JPL, campus, and NASA," said Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum in a statement to the Caltech community. "Over the course of his 45-year career at JPL, Charles has tirelessly pursued new opportunities, enhanced the Laboratory, and demonstrated expert and nimble leadership. Under Charles' leadership over the last 15 years, JPL has become a prized performer in the NASA system and is widely regarded as a model for conceiving and implementing robotic space science missions."

With Elachi at JPL's helm, an array of missions has provided new understanding of our planet, our moon, our sun, our solar system, and the larger universe. The GRAIL mission mapped the moon's gravity; the Genesis space probe returned to Earth samples of the solar wind; Deep Impact intentionally collided with a comet; Dawn pioneered the use of ion propulsion to visit the asteroids Ceres and Vesta; and Voyager became the first human-made object to reach interstellar space. A suite of missions to Mars, from orbiters to the rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, has provided exquisite detail of the red planet; Cassini continues its exploration of Saturn and its moons; and the Juno spacecraft, en route to a July 2016 rendezvous, promises to provide new insights about Jupiter. Missions such as the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, the Spitzer Space Telescope, Kepler, WISE, and NuSTAR have revolutionized our understanding of our place in the universe.

Future JPL missions developed under Elachi's guidance include Mars 2020, Europa Clipper, the Asteroid Redirect Mission, Jason 3, Aquarius, OCO-2, SWOT, and NISAR.

Elachi joined JPL in 1970 as a student intern and was appointed director and Caltech vice president in 2001. During his more than four decades at JPL, he led a team that pioneered the use of space-based radar imaging of the Earth and the planets, served as principal investigator on a number of NASA-sponsored studies and flight projects, authored more than 230 publications in the fields of active microwave remote sensing and electromagnetic theory, received several patents, and became the director for space and earth science missions and instruments. At Caltech, he taught a course on the physics of remote sensing for nearly 20 years

Born in Lebanon, Elachi received his B.Sc. ('68) in physics from University of Grenoble, France and the Dipl. Ing. ('68) in engineering from the Polytechnic Institute, Grenoble. In addition to his MS and PhD degrees in electrical science from Caltech, he also holds an MBA from the University of Southern California and a master's degree in geology from UCLA.

Elachi was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1989 and is the recipient of numerous other awards including an honorary doctorate from the American University of Beirut (2013), the National Academy of Engineering Arthur M. Bueche Award (2011), the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur from the French Republic (2011), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Carl Sagan Award (2011), the Royal Society of London Massey Award (2006), the Lebanon Order of Cedars (2006 and 2012), the International von Kármán Wings Award (2007), the American Astronautical Society Space Flight Award (2005), the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal (2004, 2002, 1994), and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal (1999).

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Probing the Mysterious Perceptual World of Autism

New research looks at what people with Autism Spectrum Disorder pay attention to in the real world.

The perceptual world of a person with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is unique. Beginning in infancy, people who have ASD observe and interpret images and social cues differently than others. Caltech researchers now have new insight into just how this occurs, research that eventually may help doctors diagnose, and more effectively treat, the various forms of the disorder. The work is detailed in a study published in the October 22 issue of the journal Neuron.

Symptoms of ASD include impaired social interaction, compromised communication skills, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. Research suggests that some of these behaviors are influenced by how an individual with ASD senses, attends to, and perceives the world.

The new study investigated how visual input is interpreted in the brain of someone with ASD. In particular, it examined the validity of long-standing assumptions about the condition, including the belief that those with ASD often miss facial cues, contributing to their inability to respond appropriately in social situations.

"Among other findings, our work shows that the story is not as simple as saying 'people with ASD don't look normally at faces.' They don't look at most things in a typical way," says Ralph Adolphs, the Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and professor of biology, in whose lab the study was done. Indeed, the researchers found that people with ASD attend more to nonsocial images, to simple edges and patterns in those images, than to the faces of people.

To reach these determinations, Adolphs and his lab teamed up with Qi Zhao, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the National University of Singapore, the senior author on the paper, who had developed a detailed method. The researchers showed 700 images to 39 subjects. Twenty of the subjects were high-functioning individuals with ASD, and 19 were control, or "neurotypical," subjects without ASD. The two groups were matched for age, race, gender, educational level, and IQ. Each subject viewed each image for three seconds while an eye-tracking device recorded their attention patterns on objects depicted in the images.

Unlike the abstract representations of single objects or faces that have been commonly used in such studies, the images that Adolphs and his team presented contained combinations of more than 5,500 real-world elements—common objects like people, trees, and furniture as well as less common items like knives and flames—in natural settings, mimicking the scenes that a person might observe in day-to-day life.

"Complex images of natural scenes were a big part of this unique approach," says first-author Shuo Wang (PhD '14), a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech. The images were shown to subjects in a rich semantic context, "which simply means showing a scene that makes sense," he explains. "I could make an equally complex scene with Photoshop by combining some random objects such as a beach ball, a hamburger, a Frisbee, a forest, and a plane, but that grouping of objects doesn't have a meaning—there is no story demonstrated. Having objects that are related in a natural way and that show something meaningful provides the semantic context. It is a real-world approach."

In addition to validating previous studies that showed, for example, that individuals with ASD are less drawn to faces than control subjects, the new study found that these subjects were strongly attracted to the center of images, regardless of the content placed there. Similarly, they tended to focus their gaze on objects that stood out—for example, due to differences in color and contrast—rather than on faces. Take, for example, one image from the study showing two people talking with one facing the camera and the other facing away so that only the back of their head is visible. Control subjects concentrated on the visible face, whereas ASD subjects attended equally to the face and the back of the other person's head.

"The study is probably most useful for informing diagnosis," Adolphs says. "Autism is many things. Our study is one initial step in trying to discover what kinds of different autisms there actually are. The next step is to see if all people with ASD show the kind of pattern we found. There are probably differences between individual people with ASD, and those differences could relate to differences in diagnosis, for instance, revealing subtypes of autism. Once we have identified those subtypes, we can begin to ask if different kinds of treatment might be best for each kind of subtype."

Adolphs plans to continue this type of research using functional magnetic resonance imaging scans to track the brain activity of people with ASD while they are viewing images in laboratory settings similar to what was used in this study.

The paper, "Atypical Visual Saliency in Autism Spectrum Disorder Quantified through Model-Based Eye Tracking," was coauthored by Shuo Wang and Ralph Adolphs at Caltech; Ming Jiang and Qi Zhao from the National University of Singapore; Xavier Morin Duchesne and Daniel P. Kennedy of Indiana University, Bloomington; and Elizabeth A. Laugeson from UCLA.

The research was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Autism Science Foundation, a Fonds de Recherche du Québec en Nature et Technologies predoctoral fellowship, a National Institutes of Health Grant and National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression Young Investigator Grant, a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to the Caltech Conte Center for the Neurobiology of Social Decision Making, a grant from the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, and Singapore's Defense Innovative Research Program and the Singapore Ministry of Education's Academic Research Fund Tier 2.

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Patterns of Attention
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Patterns of Attention of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
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New research into autism, utilizing complex real-world images, provides enhanced understanding of how people with autism attend to visual cues.

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