Neutrino Experiment Starts Taking Data

A new experiment that will answer fundamental questions about neutrinos, aiming to solve some of the biggest mysteries about the universe—why there's so much more matter than antimatter, for example—is now open for business. About two weeks ago, the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment, lying underground in the mountains of southern China near Hong Kong, began taking data with its first set of twin detectors.

The start of the experiment is a culmination of six years of planning and construction, involving more than 200 scientists from around the world. "It's taken some time, but it's all coming together quite well," says Bob McKeown, professor of physics and the leader of the Caltech team involved in the project. "The detectors are performing extremely well. Everyone's very excited."

Neutrinos are uncharged particles, created in nuclear reactions such as those in the sun and in nuclear-power plants. Neutrinos zip through space at near the speed of light, hardly interacting with anything. In fact, billions of neutrinos are streaming through your body at this very second. About a dozen years ago, physicists discovered that neutrinos changed from one type, or "flavor," to another. Previously, physicists thought neutrinos are massless, but these transformations, called oscillations, mean that they actually do have a tiny amount of mass—they're about a million times less massive than an electron.

There are three flavors of neutrinos—muon, electron, and tau—and the way they transform into one another depends on three parameters called mixing angles. The Daya Neutrino Experiment will make the most precise measurement yet of the mixing angle called θ13, which describes how the electron neutrino transforms into the tau neutrino. The experiment will measure the electron antineutrinos—the antimatter counterpart of a neutrino—that are produced by the nuclear reactors in the nearby China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group.

Only two detectors are completed, but within the next year, McKeown says, the remaining six will be finished. Each detector is a 100-ton transparent cylinder filled with liquid, which will flash when antineutrinos strike and interact. Sitting below hundreds of feet of rock, the detectors are shielded from cosmic rays, which are a primary source of background noise. The detectors are also submerged in water in order to block out the radioactivity from the rock walls. Two miles of underground tunnels connect the detectors.

The Caltech team was in charge of designing and building the 24 calibration devices (three for each detector) that enable physicists to understand what the detectors will observe.

"Caltech has quite an important history working in this field," McKeown says. Nobel laureate Willy Fowler did some of the first calculations of solar neutrinos in the 1950s. In the 1980s, Felix Boehm studied antineutrinos produced in nuclear reactors. McKeown started his own research group after Boehm retired, working on the KamLAND experiment in Japan, which was one of the first experiments to conclusively observe neutrino oscillations. 

Read more about the startup of the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment here. Click through a slideshow of the facility here.

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
Writer: 

Caltech Astronomer Nominated to National Science Board

President Barack Obama has nominated Anneila Sargent, vice president for student affairs and the Rosen Professor of Astronomy, to the National Science Board, the governing body of the National Science Foundation.

As an astronomer, Sargent studies disks of gas and dust that form stars and planets. She first arrived at Caltech more than 40 years ago as a graduate student. Since then, she has worked as a research fellow, a member of the professional staff, a senior research fellow, and a senior research associate, becoming a professor in 1998. Sargent has served as the director of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory and the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy. She has also been president of the American Astronomical Society, chair of NASA's Space Science Advisory Committee, and chair of the National Research Council's Board of Physics and Astronomy. A former member of the National Science Foundation's Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The National Science Board consists of 25 members who serve six-year appointments. Eight members are nominated every two years and must be confirmed by the Senate. Previous members from Caltech include Barry Barish, the Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus; the late Lee DuBridge, physicist, former Caltech president, and science advisor to Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon; and the late William Fowler, astrophysicist and Nobel laureate.

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
Yes

Caltech-Led Astronomers Discover the Largest and Most Distant Reservoir of Water Yet

PASADENA, Calif.—Water really is everywhere. Two teams of astronomers, each led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. Looking from a distance of 30 billion trillion miles away into a quasar—one of the brightest and most violent objects in the cosmos—the researchers have found a mass of water vapor that's at least 140 trillion times that of all the water in the world's oceans combined, and 100,000 times more massive than the sun.

Because the quasar is so far away, its light has taken 12 billion years to reach Earth. The observations therefore reveal a time when the universe was just 1.6 billion years old. "The environment around this quasar is unique in that it's producing this huge mass of water," says Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and a visiting associate at Caltech. "It's another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times." Bradford leads one of two international teams of astronomers that have described their quasar findings in separate papers that have been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

A quasar is powered by an enormous black hole that is steadily consuming a surrounding disk of gas and dust; as it eats, the quasar spews out huge amounts of energy. Both groups of astronomers studied a particular quasar called APM 08279+5255, which harbors a black hole 20 billion times more massive than the sun and produces as much energy as a thousand trillion suns.

Since astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early universe, the discovery of water is not itself a surprise, Bradford says. There's water vapor in the Milky Way, although the total amount is 4,000 times less massive than in the quasar, as most of the Milky Way’s water is frozen in the form of ice.

Nevertheless, water vapor is an important trace gas that reveals the nature of the quasar. In this particular quasar, the water vapor is distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of light-years (a light-year is about six trillion miles), and its presence indicates that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is a chilly –53 degrees Celsius (–63 degrees Fahrenheit) and is 300 trillion times less dense than Earth's atmosphere, it's still five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than what's typical in galaxies like the Milky Way.

The water vapor is just one of many kinds of gas that surround the quasar, and its presence indicates that the quasar is bathing the gas in both X-rays and infrared radiation. The interaction between the radiation and water vapor reveals properties of the gas and how the quasar influences it. For example, analyzing the water vapor shows how the radiation heats the rest of the gas. Furthermore, measurements of the water vapor and of other molecules, such as carbon monoxide, suggest that there is enough gas to feed the black hole until it grows to about six times its size. Whether this will happen is not clear, the astronomers say, since some of the gas may end up condensing into stars or may be ejected from the quasar.

Bradford's team made their observations starting in 2008, using an instrument called Z-Spec at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO), a 10-meter telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Z-Spec is an extremely sensitive spectrograph, requiring temperatures cooled to within 0.06 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. The instrument measures light in a region of the electromagnetic spectrum called the millimeter band, which lies between infrared and microwave wavelengths. The researchers' discovery of water was possible only because Z-Spec’s spectral coverage is 10 times larger than that of previous spectrometers operating at these wavelengths. The astronomers made follow-up observations with the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA), an array of radio dishes in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California.

This discovery highlights the benefits of observing in the millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, the astronomers say. The field has developed rapidly over the last two to three decades, and to reach the full potential of this line of research, the astronomers—including the study authors—are now designing CCAT, a 25-meter telescope to be built in the Atacama Desert in Chile. CCAT will allow astronomers to discover some of the earliest galaxies in the universe. By measuring the presence of water and other important trace gases, astronomers can study the composition of these primordial galaxies.

The second group, led by Dariusz Lis, senior research associate in physics at Caltech and deputy director of the CSO, used the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps to find water. In 2010, Lis's team was looking for traces of hydrogen fluoride in the spectrum of APM 08279+5255, but serendipitously detected a signal in the quasar's spectrum that indicated the presence of water. The signal was at a frequency corresponding to radiation that is emitted when water transitions from a higher energy state to a lower one. While Lis's team found just one signal at a single frequency, the wide bandwidth of Z-Spec enabled Bradford and his colleagues to discover water emission at many frequencies. These multiple water transitions allowed Bradford's team to determine the physical characteristics of the quasar's gas and the water's mass.

The other authors on Lis's paper, "Discovery of water vapor in the high-redshift quasar APM 08279+5255 at Z=3.91," are Tom Phillips, Caltech's John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics and director of the CSO; David Neufeld of Johns Hopkins University; Maryvonne Gerin of the Paris Observatory and the French National Center for Scientific Research; and Roberto Neri of the Institute of Millimeter Radio Astronomy in France. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The authors on Bradford's paper, "The water vapor spectrum of APM 08279+5255: X-ray heating and infrared pumping over hundreds of parsecs," include Caltech's Hien Nguyen, a visiting associate and lecturer in physics; Jamie Bock, senior faculty associate in physics and scientist at JPL; and Jonas Zmuidzinas, the Merle Kingsley Professor of Physics and chief technologist at JPL. The other authors are Alberto Bolatto of the University of Maryland, College Park; Philip Maloney, Jason Glenn, and Julia Kamenetzky of the University of Colorado, Boulder; James Aguirre, Roxana Lupu, and Kimberly Scott of the University of Pennsylvania; Hideo Matsuhara of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Japan; Eric Murphy of the Carnegie Institution for Science; and Bret Naylor of JPL.

Funding for Z-Spec was provided by the NSF, NASA, the Research Corporation, and partner institutions. The CSO is operated by Caltech under contract from the NSF. CARMA was built and is operated by Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Maryland, College Park, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Chicago. CARMA is funded by a combination of state and private sources, as well as the NSF and its University Radio Observatories program.

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
Writer: 

Bring In the (Nano) Noise

At the forefront of nanotechnology, researchers design miniature machines to do big jobs, from treating diseases to harnessing sunlight for energy. But as they push the limits of this technology, devices are becoming so small and sensitive that the behavior of individual atoms starts to get in the way. Now Caltech researchers have, for the first time, measured and characterized these atomic fluctuations—which cause statistical noise—in a nanoscale device.

Physicist Michael Roukes and his colleagues specialize in building devices called nanoelectromechanical systems—NEMS for short—which have a myriad of applications. For example, by detecting the presence of proteins that are markers of disease, the devices can serve as cheap and portable diagnostic tools—useful for keeping people healthy in poor and rural parts of the world. Similar gadgets can measure toxic gases in an enclosed room, providing a warning for the inhabitants.

Two years ago, Roukes's group created the world's first nanomechanical mass spectrometer, enabling the researchers to measure the mass of a single biological molecule. The device, a resonator that resembles a tiny bridge, consists of a thin strip of material 2 microns long and 100 nanometers wide that vibrates at a resonant frequency of several hundred megahertz. When an atom is placed on the bridge, the frequency shifts in proportion to the atom's mass. 

But with increasingly sensitive devices, the random motions of the atoms come into play, generating statistical noise. "It's like fog or smoke that obscures what you're trying to measure," says Roukes, who's a professor of physics, applied physics, and bioengineering. In order to distinguish signal from noise, researchers have to understand what's causing the ruckus.

So Roukes—along with former graduate student and staff scientist Philip X. L. Feng, former graduate student Ya-Tang (Jack) Yang, and former postdoc Carlo Callegari—set out to measure this noise in a NEMS resonator. They described their results in the April issue of the journal Nano Letters.

In their experiment, the researchers sprayed xenon gas onto a bridgelike resonator that's similar to the one they used to weigh biological molecules. The xenon can accumulate in a one-atom-thick layer on the surface, like marbles covering a table. In such an arrangement—a so-called monolayer—the atoms are packed so tightly together that they don't have much room to move. But to study noise, the researchers created a submonolayer, which doesn't have enough atoms to completely cover the surface of the resonator. Because of the extra space, the atoms have more freedom to move around, which generates more noise in the system.

The atoms in the submonolayer do one of three things: they stick to the surface, become unstuck and fly off, or slide off. Or in physics speak, the atoms adsorb, desorb, or diffuse. Previous theories had predicted that the noise is most likely due to atoms sticking and unsticking. But now that the researchers were able to observe what actually happens in such a device, they discovered that diffusion dominates the noise. What's noteworthy, the researchers say, is that they found that when an atom slides along the surface of the resonator, it causes the device's vibrating frequency to fluctuate. This is the first time anyone has measured this effect, since previous devices were not sensitive to this sort of diffusion. They also found new power laws in the spectra of noise frequencies—quantitative descriptions of the frequencies at which the atoms vibrate.

There's still a lot more to learn about the physics of this noise, the researchers say. Ultimately, they will need to figure out how to get rid of it or suppress it to build better NEMS devices. But understanding this noise—by measuring the random movement of individual atoms—is itself fascinating science, Roukes says. "It's a new window into how things work in the nanoscale world."

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
Writer: 

Stone Awarded Goddard Astronautics Award

Ed Stone, the David Morrisroe Professor of Physics at Caltech and lead scientist on the Voyager 1 and Voyager deep-space probe missions since 1972, was awarded the Goddard Astronautics Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) at a gala ceremony on May 11 in Washington D.C.

The Goddard Award, which honors rocketry pioneer Robert H. Goddard, is the highest honor bestowed by the AIAA; previous winners include Theodore von Karman, James van Allen, Werner von Braun, and Charles Elachi.

Stone joined Caltech's faculty as a research fellow in 1964, the same year he received his PhD from the University of Chicago, and achieved the rank of full professor in 1976. A principal investigator on nine NASA spacecraft missions and coinvestigator on five others, he was formerly director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Writer: 
Kathy Svitil
Tags: 
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
News Type: 
In Our Community

Caltech Faculty Receive Early Career Grants

Four Caltech faculty members are among the 65 scientists from across the nation selected to receive five-year Early Career Research Awards from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The grant winners, who were selected from a pool of about 1,150 applicants, are:

  • Guillaume Blanquart, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who will develop a chemical model of the inner structure and of the formation of soot particles—black carbon particles formed during the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon fuels that can cause health problems and adverse effects on the environment—that will aid the development of models that predict emissions from car and truck engines, aircraft engines, fires, and more.

  • Julia R. Greer, assistant professor of materials science and mechanics, who will use nanomechanical experimental and computational tools to isolate and understand the role of specific tailored interfaces and deformation mechanisms on the degradation of properties of materials subjected to helium irradiation. Elucidating these mechanisms will provide insight into requirements for advanced materials for current and next-generation nuclear reactors.

  • Chris Hirata, assistant professor of astrophysics, who will be conducting theoretical studies of cosmological observables—such as galaxy clustering—that are being used to probe dark energy and dark matter and to search for gravitational waves from inflation.

  • Ryan Patterson, assistant professor of physics, who will develop new techniques for readout, calibration, and particle identification for the NOvA long-baseline neutrino experiment at Fermilab, which will investigate neutrino oscillations—the conversion of neutrinos of one type (or "flavor") into another.

The Early Career Research Program, which is funded by the DOE's Office of Science, is "designed to bolster the nation's scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work," according to the DOE announcement, and is intended to encourage scientists to focus on research areas that are considered high priorities for the Department of Energy.

To be eligible for an award, a researcher must have received a doctorate within the past 10 years and be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory.

Writer: 
Kathy Svitil
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
Yes

Caltech's Ed Stone Profiled in the LA Times

Zipping through the cosmos for 34 years and counting, the two Voyager spacecraft have been the quintessential mission of inspiration and discovery, having revealed new alien worlds and revolutionized our view of the solar system. As the mission's project scientist since 1972, Caltech's Ed Stone has been with Voyager since the beginning, and like the robot explorers, which are now venturing into interstellar space, he's still going and going.

In a front-page story that ran on April 14, The Los Angeles Times profiled Stone, who's the David Morrisroe Professor of Physics and was the director of JPL from 1991 to 2001. The article recounts Voyager's three-plus decades of exploration, returning dazzling, unprecedented images of Saturn's rings, Jupiter's swirling clouds, breathtaking moons, and the never-before-seen worlds of Neptune and Uranus (Voyager 2 is still the only spacecraft to have visited them):
 
"What a journey, what a thrill," Stone says, sitting at his spotless, unadorned desk. "It seemed like everywhere we looked, as we encountered those planets and their moons, we were surprised.

"We were finding things we never imagined, gaining a clearer understanding of the environment Earth was part of. I can close my eyes and still remember every part of it."

But of course, as the Voyagers will soon be the first to determine the outer boundary of the solar system and measure the conditions of interstellar space, the mission isn't finished yet. And neither is Stone.

Read the whole story here.

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
Tags: 
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
News Type: 
In Our Community

Physicists Discover New Way to Visualize Warped Space and Time

PASADENA, Calif.—When black holes slam into each other, the surrounding space and time surge and undulate like a heaving sea during a storm. This warping of space and time is so complicated that physicists haven't been able to understand the details of what goes on—until now.

"We've found ways to visualize warped space-time like never before," says Kip Thorne, Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

By combining theory with computer simulations, Thorne and his colleagues at Caltech, Cornell University, and the National Institute for Theoretical Physics in South Africa have developed conceptual tools they've dubbed tendex lines and vortex lines.

Using these tools, they have discovered that black-hole collisions can produce vortex lines that form a doughnut-shaped pattern, flying away from the merged black hole like smoke rings. The researchers also found that these bundles of vortex lines—called vortexes—can spiral out of the black hole like water from a rotating sprinkler.

The researchers explain tendex and vortex lines—and their implications for black holes—in a paper that's published online on April 11 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Tendex and vortex lines describe the gravitational forces caused by warped space-time. They are analogous to the electric and magnetic field lines that describe electric and magnetic forces.

Tendex lines describe the stretching force that warped space-time exerts on everything it encounters. "Tendex lines sticking out of the moon raise the tides on the earth's oceans," says David Nichols, the Caltech graduate student who coined the term "tendex." The stretching force of these lines would rip apart an astronaut who falls into a black hole.

Vortex lines, on the other hand, describe the twisting of space. If an astronaut’s body is aligned with a vortex line, she gets wrung like a wet towel.

When many tendex lines are bunched together, they create a region of strong stretching called a tendex. Similarly, a bundle of vortex lines creates a whirling region of space called a vortex. “Anything that falls into a vortex gets spun around and around,” says Dr. Robert Owen of Cornell University, the lead author of the paper. 

Tendex and vortex lines provide a powerful new way to understand black holes, gravity, and the nature of the universe. "Using these tools, we can now make much better sense of the tremendous amount of data that's produced in our computer simulations," says Dr. Mark Scheel, a senior researcher at Caltech and leader of the team's simulation work.

Two spiral-shaped vortexes of whirling space sticking out of a black hole, and the vortex lines (red curves) that form the vortexes.
Credit: The Caltech/Cornell SXS Collaboration

Using computer simulations, the researchers have discovered that two spinning black holes crashing into each other produce several vortexes and several tendexes. If the collision is head-on, the merged hole ejects vortexes as doughnut-shaped regions of whirling space, and it ejects tendexes as doughnut-shaped regions of stretching. But if the black holes spiral in toward each other before merging, their vortexes and tendexes spiral out of the merged hole. In either case—doughnut or spiral—the outward-moving vortexes and tendexes become gravitational waves—the kinds of waves that the Caltech-led Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) seeks to detect.

"With these tendexes and vortexes, we may be able to much more easily predict the waveforms of the gravitational waves that LIGO is searching for," says Yanbei Chen, associate professor of physics at Caltech and the leader of the team's theoretical efforts.

Additionally, tendexes and vortexes have allowed the researchers to solve the mystery behind the gravitational kick of a merged black hole at the center of a galaxy. In 2007, a team at the University of Texas in Brownsville, led by Professor Manuela Campanelli, used computer simulations to discover that colliding black holes can produce a directed burst of gravitational waves that causes the merged black hole to recoil—like a rifle firing a bullet. The recoil is so strong that it can throw the merged hole out of its galaxy. But nobody understood how this directed burst of gravitational waves is produced.

Now, equipped with their new tools, Thorne's team has found the answer. On one side of the black hole, the gravitational waves from the spiraling vortexes add together with the waves from the spiraling tendexes. On the other side, the vortex and tendex waves cancel each other out. The result is a burst of waves in one direction, causing the merged hole to recoil.

“Though we’ve developed these tools for black-hole collisions, they can be applied wherever space-time is warped,” says Dr. Geoffrey Lovelace, a member of the team from Cornell. “For instance, I expect that people will apply vortex and tendex lines to cosmology, to black holes ripping stars apart, and to the singularities that live inside black holes. They’ll become standard tools throughout general relativity.”

The team is already preparing multiple follow-up papers with new results. "I've never before coauthored a paper where essentially everything is new," says Thorne, who has authored hundreds of articles. "But that's the case here."

The other authors on the Physical Review Letters paper, "Frame-dragging vortexes and tidal tendexes attached to colliding black holes: Visualizing the curvature of spacetime," are Dr. Jeandrew Brink at the National Institute for Theoretical Physics in South Africa and Caltech graduate students Jeff Kaplan, Keith D. Matthews, Fan Zhang, and Aaron Zimmerman.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, the Brinson Foundation, NASA, and the David and Barbara Groce Fund.

Written by Marcus Woo

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
Writer: 

Caltech Math for the Win

March has been a good month for Caltech mathematics. For the first time since 1983, Caltech placed first in the Mathematical Association of America's William Lowell Putnam Competition, one of the premier undergraduate mathematics contests. Also this past month, Michael Aschbacher, the Shaler Arthur Hanisch Professor of Mathematics, was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Mathematics.

Caltech finished third and fifth in the Putnam Competition in the last two years, respectively. But this year, the team of senior Jason Bland, senior Yakov Berchenko-Kogan, and junior Brian Lawrence beat out perennial powerhouses MIT and Harvard for the win. Caltech's math department is awarded $25,000 for the top finish, and each team member receives $1,000. Lawrence finished in the top five, winning another $2,500, and was named a Putnam Fellow for a third time—one of only 19 three-time fellows. Bland was a fellow in 2007. Past Putnam Fellows include Richard Feynman (1939) and Caltech's IBM Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics Barry Simon (1965).

Berchenko-Kogan and Bland, as well as junior Zarathustra Brady, placed in the top 24, receiving $250. Senior Timothy Black, junior Sam Elder, junior Jeffrey Manning, and senior Gjergji Zaimi earned honorable mentions. About 40 Caltech students participated in the contest, which took place back in December. A total of 4,296 students from 546 colleges and universities from the United States and Canada competed.

Taking place every year since 1938, the Putnam Competition is a two-part written test in which participants have a total of six hours to tackle 12 problems. Caltech has won the competition 10 times, second only to Harvard (27). Caltech has also finished in the top five 31 times, behind MIT (41) and Harvard (56).

Aschbacher won the Rolf Schock Prize "for his fundamental contributions to one of the largest mathematical projects ever, the classification of finite simple groups, notably his contribution to the quasi-thin case," according to the award citation.

Groups are one of the most fundamental objects in mathematics. You can rotate an equilateral triangle once, twice, or three times, and the triangle still looks the same. Likewise, you can rotate a dodecahedron in 60 distinct ways, and it won't look different (see the shape on the right of the top image). These rotational symmetries for the triangle and dodecahedron both form simple groups, which contain three and 60 elements, respectively.

All groups can be built from so-called finite simple groups, and over the last few decades, Aschbacher has played a leading role in constructing and determining all of the finite simple groups—a daunting task to say the least. For example, proving that the list of finite simple groups was complete took over 5,000 pages, says Barry Simon. "Many people regard it as the most complicated single result in mathematics."

Most of the finite simple groups were classified by around 1980, but mathematicians realized that there was a gap in the list, called the "quasi-thin case." Finally, in 2004, Aschbacher and Stephen Smith of the University of Illinois at Chicago completed the proof in two books that span more than 1,200 pages.

The Schock mathematics prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and includes $75,000. Perhaps the most famous previous winner is Andrew Wiles, who proved Fermat's Last Theorem and won the prize in 1995. Founded in 1993, the Rolf Schock Prizes were awarded every two years until 2008, when they became triennial awards. The prizes are also given in the fields of logic and philosophy, visual arts, and music.

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
News Type: 
In Our Community

Ellis Awarded Gold Medal

Richard Ellis, the Steele Family Professor of Astronomy, has received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. Awarded annually since 1824, the Gold Medal is the society's highest honor and one of the premier prizes in astronomy. Ellis joins a long list of distinguished recipients, including several from Caltech: Don Anderson, Peter Goldreich, Gerald Wasserburg, Maarten Schmidt, Fritz Zwicky, Jesse Greenstein, Ira Bowen, and George Ellery Hale.

According to the London-based society's award citation, "[Ellis] has been one of the most influential British astronomers in the past thirty years," and the Gold Medal recognizes his "outstanding personal research achievements and his leadership in astronomy." Ellis's research focuses on the large-scale distribution of matter in the universe; the cosmic expansion history; and the evolution of galaxies, through detailed studies of nearby systems and the exploration of the very earliest objects. After Ellis joined Caltech's faculty in 1999, the latter observations were accomplished in large part at the Keck Observatory.

"We are very proud that Richard continues the long tradition of outstanding achievement in astronomy at Caltech," says Tom Soifer, professor of physics and chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy.

As a scientific mentor, Ellis has supervised 30 PhD students; 28 are still active in academic research. He served as director of the Palomar Observatory (now Caltech Optical Observatories) from 2000 to 2005 and has played an important role in building the science case and partnership for the upcoming Thirty Meter Telescope.

He has received several other honors, including sharing the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation's Cosmology Prize for his part in the discovery of the accelerating universe and the Royal Astronomical Society's Group Achievement Award for his leadership in the 2-degree-Field Galaxy Redshift Survey, one of the largest astronomical surveys ever performed. Ellis was made a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for services to international science, and he is a fellow of the Royal Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Physics.

Writer: 
Marcus Woo
Writer: 
Exclude from News Hub: 
No
News Type: 
In Our Community

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - PMA