Gift to Spark Powerful New Projects

Caltech leaders announced today two new funds that will provide flexible resources to support top priorities and launch bold academic endeavors.

These endowments—The Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for New Initiatives and the Ronald and Maxine Linde Leadership Chair in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS)—were created with money allocated from one of the largest single gifts ever pledged to Caltech, made public last year: the $50 million commitment by Ronald (MS '62, PhD '64) and Maxine Linde.

Read the full story at giving.caltech.edu.

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Glitz & Qubits

When the first email came, Alexei Kitaev ignored it. The subject heading said something about a physics award, but he thought it was just spam. "Then I received another email," says the Caltech physicist. "So I actually took a look and understood that it was real."

Real it was. Kitaev had won the first ever Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, established in 2012 by Russian billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Milner. And this new prize came with $3 million—three times what winners of the Nobel Prize get. Moreover, unlike the Nobel Prizes, the money is not shared among the winners, of which there were eight others. "I couldn't believe that each person received $3 million," Kitaev says.

Milner meant the award to come with a significant amount of money; his goal is not only to recognize scientists doing fundamental research, but also to raise their profiles among the general public to equal the likes of actors, sports stars, and other celebrities. "We have a disbalance in the world today that the best minds are not appreciated enough," Milner said at the 2013 prize ceremony.

A year later, theoretical physicist John Schwarz won the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Schwarz and his corecipient, Michael Green of the University of Cambridge, were recognized for their efforts to develop a unified theory that describes all the basic forces and particles of nature--a theory of everything.

For more on how this prize puts physics in the spotlight, read Glitz & Qubits on E&S+.

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The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics has put Caltech quantum computing and superstring theory experts in the spotlight.

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Elects Two from Caltech

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has elected two Caltech professors—Hirosi Ooguri and Rob Phillips—as fellows. The American Academy is one of the nation's oldest honorary societies; this class of members is its 236th, and it includes a total of 213 scholars and leaders representing such diverse fields as academia, business, public affairs, the humanities, and the arts.

Hirosi Ooguri is the director of the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Fred Kavli Professor of Theoretical Physics and Mathematics in the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. He works on quantum field theory and superstring theory, aiming to invent new theoretical tools to solve fundamental questions in physics.

Rob Phillips is the Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology and has appointments in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science and the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering. He focuses on the physical biology of the cell using biophysical theory as well as single-molecule and single-cell experiments.

Ooguri and Phillips join 86 current Caltech faculty as members of the American Academy. Also included in this year's list are two Caltech trustees, David Lee (PhD '74) and Ron Linde (MS '62, PhD '64); as well as three additional alumni: Gerard Fuller (MS '77, PhD '80), Melanie Sanford (PhD '01), and Robert Schoelkopf (PhD '95).

Founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, the academy aims to serve the nation by cultivating "every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people." The academy has elected as fellows and foreign honorary members "leading thinkers and doers" from each generation, including George Washington and Ben Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, and Albert Einstein and Woodrow Wilson in the 20th. This year's class of fellows includes novelist Colm Tóibín, La Opinión publisher and CEO Monica Lozano, jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, former Botswanan president Festus Mogae, and autism author and spokesperson Temple Grandin.

A full list of new members is available on the academy website at www.amacad.org/members.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on October 8, 2016, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Hirosi Ooguri and Rob Phillips have been elected as members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Probing the Transforming World of Neutrinos

Every second, trillions of neutrinos travel through your body unnoticed. Neutrinos are among the most abundant particles in the universe, but they are difficult to study because they very rarely interact with matter. To find traces of these elusive particles, researchers from Caltech have collaborated with 39 other institutions to build a 14,000-ton detector the size of two basketball courts called NuMI Off-Axis Electron Neutrino Appearance, or NOvA. The experiment, located in northern Minnesota, began full operation in November 2014 and published its first results in Physical Review Letters this month.

The experiment aims to observe neutrino oscillations—or the conversion of one type of neutrino into another—to learn about the subatomic composition of the universe. There are three different types, or "flavors," of neutrinos—muon-, tau-, and electron-type. The NOvA experiment has made successful detections of the transformation of muon-type neutrinos into electron-type neutrinos. Discovering more about the frequency and nature of neutrino oscillations is an important step to determining the masses of different types of neutrinos, a crucial unknown component in every cosmological model of the universe.

Though neutrinos rarely interact with matter, one in every 10 billion neutrinos that passes through the detector will interact with an atom in the detector. To observe these collisions, a beam of neutrinos 500 miles away at Fermilab in Chicago is fired every 1.3 seconds in a 10-microsecond burst at the detector. The detector is made up of 344,000 cells, each like a pixel in a camera and each filled with a liquid scintillator, a chemical that emits light when electrically charged particles pass through it. When a neutrino smashes into an atom of this liquid—an event estimated to happen once for every 10 billion neutrinos that pass through—it produces a distinctive spray of particles, such as electrons, muons, or protons. When these particles pass through a cell, fluorescent chemicals light up the cell, allowing scientists can track the paths of the particles from the collision.


A muon-type neutrino interaction in the NOvA detector, as viewed by the vertically oriented cells (top panel) and horizontally oriented cells (bottom panel). By using cells oriented both ways, researchers can build a three-dimensional version of the event. The neutrino entered from the left in this image, from the direction of Fermilab. Each colored pixel represents an individual detector cell, with warmer colors corresponding to more observed light and thus more energy deposited by traversing particles. The muon produced in this collision left the long, tell-tale line of active cells along its path. Other particles emanating from the interaction point are also visible. Credit: NOvA Collaboration

"Each type of neutrino leaves a particular signature when it interacts in the detector," says Ryan Patterson (BS '00), an assistant professor of physics and the leader of NOvA's data-analysis team. "Fermilab makes a stream of almost exclusively muon-type neutrinos. If one of these hits something in our detector, we will see the signatures of a particle called a muon. However, if an electron-type neutrino interacts in our detector, we see the signatures of an electron."

Because the beam of neutrinos coming from Fermilab is designed to produce almost entirely muon-type neutrinos, there is a high probability that any signatures of electron-type neutrinos come from a muon-type neutrino that has undergone a transforming oscillation.

Researchers estimated that if oscillations were not occurring, 201 muon-type neutrinos would have been measured over the initial data-taking period, which ended in May 2015. But during this first data-collection run, NOvA saw the signatures of only 33 muon-type neutrinos—suggesting that muon-type neutrinos were disappearing because some had changed type. The detector also measured six electron-type neutrinos, when only one of this type would be expected if oscillations were not occurring.

"We see a large rate for this transition, much higher than it needed to be, given our current knowledge," Patterson says. "These initial data are giving us exciting clues already about the spectrum of neutrino masses."

The Caltech NOvA team led the research and development on the detector elements.  The goal was to make each detector cell sensitive enough to identify the faint particle signals over background noise. The team designed the individual detector elements to operate at -15 degrees Celsius to keep noise—aberrant vibrations and other signals in the data—at a minimum, and also built structures to remove the condensation that can occur at such low temperatures. By the end of construction in 2014, all 12,000 detector arrays, each serving 32 cells, had been built at Caltech.

"The spatial resolution on a detector of this size is unprecedented," Patterson says. "The whole detector is highly 'active'—which means that most of it is actually capable of detecting particles. We have tried to minimize the amount of 'dead' material, like support structures. Additionally, although the different types of neutrinos leave different signatures, these signatures can look similar—so we need as much discrimination power as we can get."

Discovering more about the nature of neutrino oscillations gives important insights into the subatomic world and the evolution of the universe.

"We know that two of the neutrinos are similar in mass, and that a third has a rather different mass from the other two. But we still do not know whether this separated mass is larger or smaller than the other two," Patterson says. Through precise study of neutrino oscillations with NOvA, researchers hope to solve this mass-ordering mystery. "The neutrino mass ordering has connections throughout physics, from the growth of structure in the universe to the behavior of particles at inaccessibly high energies," he says, with NOvA unique among operating experiments because of its sensitivity to this mass ordering.

In the future, researchers at NOvA plan to determine if antineutrinos oscillate at the same rate as neutrinos—that is, to see if neutrinos and antineutrinos behave symmetrically. If NOvA finds that they do not, this discovery could, in turn, help reveal why today the amount of matter in the universe is so much greater than the amount of antimatter, whereas in the early universe, the proportions of the two were balanced.

"These first results demonstrate that NOvA is operating beautifully and that we have a rich physics program ahead of us," Patterson says.

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Monday, May 23, 2016
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Animal magnetism

Monday, February 29, 2016
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Animal magnetism

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Avery House – Avery House

The Mentoring Effect: Conference on Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

TA Workshop: Getting the Biggest ‘Bang for Your Buck’ - Teaching strategies for busy TAs

JPL News: Investigating the Mystery of Migrating '"Hot Jupiters"

The last decade has seen a bonanza of exoplanet discoveries. Nearly 2,000 exoplanets -- planets outside our solar system -- have been confirmed so far, and more than 5,000 candidate exoplanets have been identified. Many of these exotic worlds belong to a class known as "hot Jupiters." These are gas giants like Jupiter but much hotter, with orbits that take them feverishly close to their stars.

At first, hot Jupiters were considered oddballs, since we don't have anything like them in our own solar system. But as more were found, in addition to many other smaller planets that orbit very closely to their stars, our solar system started to seem like the real misfit.

Read the full story from JPL News

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How do some gas giant planets end up so feverishly close to their stars? NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope finds new clues.
Monday, March 28, 2016 to Friday, April 15, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Spring TA Training -- 2016

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