Caltech Professor Receives German Award for Laser Innovations

PASADENA, Calif.-H. Jeff Kimble, Valentine Professor and professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, has been chosen by the German foundation Berthold Leibinger Stiftung as the initial recipient of its new Berthold Leibinger Zukunftspreis ("Future Prize").

To be awarded every two years, this prize is intended to honor "outstanding milestones in research" related to laser light and carries a prize of 20,000 euros (approximately $25,000). The jury recognized Kimble "for his groundbreaking experiments in the field of cavity quantum electrodynamics," which form "an essential foundation for quantum information technology . . . a key technology of the 21st century."

Kimble's group studies the quantum mechanics of open systems. While his experiments are basic investigations of the nature of the interaction of light and matter, Kimble takes particular interest in transforming fundamental physical processes into scientific tools for advancing quantum information science, with applications ranging from quantum metrology to the processing and distribution of quantum information.

An example is research related to the realization of complex quantum networks, which would be composed of nodes capable of storing and manipulating quantum mechanical states and channels for linking the nodes together in a fully coherent fashion. The network could have nodes consisting of atoms trapped in optical cavities and channels formed by fiber-optic links carrying single-photon states. Such a "quantum internet" was proposed and analyzed by Kimble and his colleagues in 1997.

In 1995 Kimble's group demonstrated a quantum phase gate for two beams of light, which he described as "a quantum transistor with single photons, which had properties suitable for the implementation of quantum logic and perhaps ultimately for the construction of quantum computers."

More recently his research group has built a single-atom laser and observed photon blockade, where a first photon in an atom-cavity system blocks the passage of a second photon.

Kimble chose cavity quantum electrodynamics as one of the few experimentally viable systems in which "the intrinsic quantum mechanical coupling dominates losses due to dissipation."

Berthold Leibinger Stiftung is a private nonprofit foundation. The science and research portion of its mandate focuses on honoring and promoting innovation in laser technology.


Written by: John Avery

Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226

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Caltech Physicist Goes Postal with Four Images of Snowflakes for Commemorative Stamps

PASADENA, Calif.—Anyone looking for a seasonal postage stamp whose beauty just can't be licked should check out Ken Libbrecht's new Holiday Snowflakes stamps.

This month, the U.S. Postal Service is issuing a set of four commemorative stamps featuring images of snowflakes based on photographs taken by Libbrecht, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology. Libbrecht will attend a special dedication ceremony for the new stamps to be held at noon Thursday, October 5, at Madison Square Garden in New York, and the stamps will be available for purchase on Friday. Libbrecht is also the author of a new book, Ken Libbrecht's Field Guide to Snowflakes, a 112-page guide for anyone who wants to know more about the many different types of snow crystals and how to find them.

For several years Libbrecht has been investigating the basic physics of how patterns are created during crystal growth and other simple physical processes. He has delved particularly deeply into a case study of the formation of snowflakes. His research is aimed at better understanding how structures arise in material systems, but it is also visually compelling and, from the start, has been a hit with the public.

"My snowflake website,, is getting about two million hits a year," Libbrecht said last December when the snowflake issue was initially announced.

Libbrecht attributes the site's popularity to its discussion of some very accessible science. "Snowflake patterns are well known. The snowflakes fall right out of the sky, and you don't necessarily need a science background to appreciate the science behind how these ice structures form. It's an especially good introduction to science for younger kids," he says.

Libbrecht began his research by growing synthetic snowflakes in his lab, where they can be created and studied under well-controlled conditions. Precision micro-photography was necessary for this work, and over several years Libbrecht developed some specialized techniques for capturing images of snow crystals. Starting in 2001, he expanded his range to photographing natural snowflakes as well. "A few years ago I mounted my microscope in a suitcase, so I now can take it out into the field," says Libbrecht. "Sometimes I arrange trips to visit colleagues in the frozen north, and other times I arrange extended ski vacations with my family. The most difficult part these days is getting this complex-looking instrument through airport security."

Libbrecht's camera rig is essentially a microscope with a camera attached. The entire apparatus was built on campus and designed specifically for snowflake photography. "Snowflakes are made of ice, which is mostly completely clear, so lighting is an important consideration in this whole business," he says. "I use different types of colored lights shining through the crystals, so the ice structures act like complex lenses to refract the light in different ways. The better the lighting, the more interesting is the final photograph." The structures of snowflakes are ephemeral, so speed is needed to get good photographs. Within minutes after falling, a snowflake will begin to degrade as its sharper features evaporate away. The complex structures are created as the crystals grow, and when they stop growing, the crystals soon become rounded and more blocky in appearance. "When photographing in the field, I first let the crystals fall onto a piece of cardboard," says Libbrecht. "Then I find one I like, pick it up using a small paintbrush, and place it on a microscope slide. I then put it under the microscope, adjust the focus and lighting, and take the shot. You need to search through a lot of snowflakes to find the most beautiful specimens." Libbrecht finds that observing natural snowflakes in the field is an important part of his research, and nicely complements his laboratory work. "I've learned a great deal about crystal growth by studying ice, and have gotten many insights from looking at natural crystals. Nature provides a wonderful variety of snow crystal types to look at, and the crystals that fall great distances are larger than what we can easily grow in the lab." So where does one find really nice snowflakes? Certainly not in Pasadena, where Caltech is located, but Libbrecht says that certain snowy places are better than others. The snowflakes chosen for the stamps were photographed in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and in Libbrecht's favorite spot-Cochrane, Northern Ontario. "Northern Ontario provides some really excellent specimens to photograph," says Libbrecht. "The temperature is cold, but not too cold, and the weather brings light snow frequently.

"Fairbanks sometimes offers some unusual crystal types, because it's so cold. Warmer climates, for example, in New York State and the vicinity, tend to produce less spectacular crystals." As for the nitty-gritty of snowflake research, probably the question Libbrecht is asked the most is whether the old story about no two snowflakes being exactly alike is really true.

"The answer is basically yes, because there is such an incredibly large number of possible ways to make a complex snowflake," he says. "In many cases, there are very clear differences between snow crystals, but of course there are many similar crystals as well. In the lab we often produce very simple, hexagonal crystals, and these all look very similar."

Libbrecht can grow many different snowflake forms at will in his lab, but says there are still many subtle mysteries in crystal growth that are of interest to physicists who are trying to understand and control the formation of various materials. A real-world application of research on crystals is the growth of semiconductors for our electronic gadgets. These semiconductors are made possible in part by painstakingly controlling how certain substances condense into solid structures.

Lest anyone thinks that Libbrecht limits his life as a physicist to snowflakes, he is also involved in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), an NSF-funded project that seeks to confirm the existence of gravitational waves from exotic cosmic sources such as colliding black holes.

In LIGO, Libbrecht has lots of professional company; in fact, the field was essentially founded by Albert Einstein, who first predicted the existence of gravitational waves as a consequence of general relativity. Kip Thorne and Ron Drever at Caltech, along with Rai Weiss at MIT, were instrumental in initiating the LIGO project in the 1980s.

But in snowflake research, Libbrecht is pretty much a one-man show. And he says there's something about the exclusivity that he likes.

"It suits some of my hermit-like tendencies," comments Libbrecht. "As Daniel Boone once said, if you can smell the smoke of another person's fire, then it's time to move on. My research on snow crystal growth is the one thing I do that simply wouldn't get done otherwise."

Additional information about the 2006 stamps is available at

Robert Tindol
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New Window of Universe Opens at Griffith; Unprecedented Image from Palomar

PASADENA, Calif.--Caltech scientists have produced the largest astronomical image ever in order to inspire the public with the wonders of space exploration. The image has been reproduced as a giant mural in the new exhibit hall of the landmark Griffith Observatory, which will reopen Nov. 3 after several years of renovation.

A team led by Caltech Professor of Astronomy George Djorgovski used data from the Palomar-Quest digital sky survey, an ongoing project at the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory, which is owned and operated by Caltech. The survey is a joint venture between groups at Caltech and Yale University.

The great cosmic panorama, named The Big Picture, is 152 feet long by 20 feet high, and it covers the entire wall of the Richard and Lois Gunther Depths of Space exhibit hall at Griffith Observatory. It is displayed on 114 steel-backed porcelain enamel plates, expected to last many decades, and it will be viewed by millions of visitors annually.

"We wanted to inspire the public and convey the richness of the deep universe and its understanding, and to do it with a real scientific data set," says Djorgovski. "We are doing research with these data, but there is also a sense of beauty and awe, which is important to communicate, especially to young people."

The image covers only a sliver of the visible sky, less than a thousandth of the celestial sphere, roughly an area your index finger would cover if held about a foot away from your eyes. The entire Palomar-Quest sky survey covers an area about 500 times greater.

The part of the sky covered by The Big Picture is in the constellation of Virgo, and it spans the core of the Virgo cluster of galaxies, about 60 million light years away; the light from the brightest galaxies seen in the picture started its journey when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

"What is perhaps most striking about the image is the wealth of the information in it, and the remarkable diversity of cosmic objects it shows," says Ashish Mahabal, the project scientist for the survey. Aside from the prominent bright galaxies in the Virgo cluster, which dominate the view, the image contains nearly a million much fainter and more distant galaxies; hundreds of thousands of stars in our own galaxy (the Milky Way); a thousand quasars (luminous objects believed to be powered by massive black holes) with distances up to 12 billion light-years away, hundreds of asteroids in our own solar system; and at least one comet.

The data used to construct the image were obtained by the Caltech-Yale team in the course of over 20 nights at the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar in 2004 and 2005. The data were then transferred to Caltech, Yale, and other locations via the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network. Several hundred gigabytes of raw data were then distilled to produce a 7.4-gigabyte color image, using cutting-edge technology at Caltech's Center for Advanced Computing Research.

"This project illustrates a powerful synergy between modern astronomy and advanced computing, which is increasingly becoming a driving force for both research and education," says Roy Williams, a scientist on the team, and one of the leaders of the U.S. National Virtual Observatory effort. "We plan to use The Big Picture as a magnet and a gateway to learning, not only about the universe, but also about the computing and information technology used to create the mural."

Sky surveys are a large part of the scientific history and legacy of Palomar Observatory starting with the pioneering work of Caltech professor Fritz Zwicky in the 1930s. He used the first such survey to discover numerous supernova explosions, large-scale structures in the universe, and other wonders. A major photographic sky survey conducted in the 1950s at the 48-inch telescope provided the first modern atlas of the sky, guiding many astronomical inquiries. The telescope was later named in honor of Samuel Oschin, the late Los Angeles business leader and philanthropist. Successive surveys at the same telescope, including the current Palomar-Quest project, continue to provide fundamental data sets for astronomy. They have led to numerous important discoveries, ranging from the outer reaches of the solar system to the very distant universe.

In addition to The Big Picture, several exhibits at Griffith have strong connections to Caltech and Palomar, including a model of the Hale 200-inch Telescope, which was a major engineering feat at the time of its construction and has been at the center of many groundbreaking astronomical discoveries for nearly half a century.

A Big Picture education/public outreach website will become active following the Griffith Observatory reopening:

The Caltech team that created The Big Picture includes Djorgovski; staff scientists Mahabal, Williams, Matthew Graham, and Andrew Drake; graduate students Milan Bogosavljevic and Ciro Donalek; digital image experts Leslie Maxfield, Simona Cianciulli, and Radica Bogosaljevic; and several staff members at Palomar Observatory and the Center for Advanced Computing Research. Members of the Yale team who contributed data and observations include Charles Baltay, David Rabinowitz and Nan Elman, graduate student Anne Bauer, and several others. The work was supported mainly by the National Science Foundation. ###

Contacts: S. George Djorgovski, (626) 395-4415, Jill Perry, (626) 395-3226,

Visit the Palomar Observatory website at

Visit the Center for Advanced Computing Research website at


"Champagne Supernova" Challenges Ideas about How Supernovae Work

PASADENA, Calif.- An international team of astronomers at the California Institute of Technology, University of Toronto, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered a supernova more massive than previously believed possible. This has experts rethinking their basic understanding of how stars explode as supernovae, according to a paper to be published in Nature on September 21.

The lead author of the study, University of Toronto postdoctoral researcher Andy Howell, identified a Type Ia supernova, named SNLS-03D3bb, in a distant galaxy 4 billion light years away that originated from a dense evolved star, termed a "white dwarf," whose mass is far larger than any previous example. Type Ia supernovae are thermonuclear explosions that destroy white dwarfs when they accrete matter from a companion star.

The discovery was made possible through images taken as part of a long-term survey for distant supernovae with the Canada France Hawaii Telescope. Follow-up spectroscopy led by Richard Ellis, Steele Family Professor of Astronomy at Caltech, with the 10-meter Keck Telescope was key to determining the unusually high mass of the new event.

Researchers say the surprisingly high mass of SNLS-03D3bb has opened up a Pandora's box on the current understanding of Type Ia supernovae and, in particular, how well they might be used for future precision tests of the nature of the mysterious "dark energy" responsible for the acceleration of the cosmic expansion.

Current understanding is that Type Ia supernova explosions occur when the mass of a white dwarf approaches 1.4 solar masses, or the "Chandrasekhar limit." This important limit was calculated by Nobel laureate Subramanyan Chandrasekhar in 1930, and is founded on well-established physical laws. Decades of astrophysical research have been based upon the theory. Yet somehow the star that exploded as SNLS-03D3bb reached about two solar masses before exploding.

"It should not be possible to break this limit," says Howell, "but nature has found a way! So now we have to figure out how nature did it."

In a separate "News & Views" article on the research in the same issue of Nature, University of Oklahoma professor David Branch has dubbed this the "Champagne Supernova," since extreme explosions that offer new insight into the inner workings of supernovae are an obvious cause for celebration.

The team speculates that there are at least two possible explanations for how this white dwarf got so fat before it went supernova. One is that the original star was rotating so fast that centrifugal force kept gravity from crushing it at the usual limit. Another is that the blast was in fact the result of two white dwarfs merging, and that the body was only briefly more massive than the Chandrasekhar limit before exploding.

Since Type Ia supernovae usually have about the same brightness, they can be used to map distances in the universe. In 1998 they were used to make the surprising discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. Although the authors are confident that the discovery of a supernova that doesn't follow the rules does not undermine this result, it will make them more cautious about using them to measure distance in the future.

Ellis summarizes: "This is a remarkable discovery that in no way detracts from the beautiful results obtained so far by many teams, which convincingly demonstrate the cosmic acceleration and hence the need for dark energy. However, what it does show is that we have much more to learn about supernovae if we want to use them with the necessary precision in the future. This study is an important step forward in this regard."

Peter Nugent, a staff scientist with the scientific computing group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is a co-author of the Nature paper. ###

Contact: Andy Howell, department of astronomy and astrophysics, University of Toronto (416) 946-5432

Richard Ellis, division of physics, mathematics, and astronomy, California Institute of Technology (626) 676-5530

Jill Perry, Caltech Media Relations (626) 395-3226

Visit the Caltech Media Relations website at


Jupiter-Sized Transiting Planet Found by Astronomers Using Novel Telescope Network

PASADENA, Calif.—Our home solar system may be down by a planet with the recent demotion of Pluto, but the number of giant planets discovered in orbit around other stars continues to grow steadily. Now, an international team of astronomers has detected a planet slightly larger than Jupiter that orbits a star 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Draco.

Unlike the mythological names associated with the solar system's planets, the newly discovered planet is known by "TrES-2" and passes in front of the star "GSC 03549-02811" every two and a half days.

The new planet is especially noteworthy because it was identified by astronomers looking for transiting planets (that is, planets that pass in front of their home star) with a network of small automated telescopes. The humble telescopes used in the discovery consist of mostly amateur-astronomy components and off-the-shelf 4-inch camera lenses. This is the third transiting planet found using telescopes similar to those used by many amateur astronomers.

By definition, a transiting planet passes directly between Earth and the star, causing a slight reduction in the light in a manner similar to that caused by the moon's passing between the sun and Earth during a solar eclipse. According to Francis O'Donovan, an Irish graduate student in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, "When TrES-2 is in front of the star, it blocks off about one and a half percent of the star's light, an effect we can observe with our TrES telescopes.

"We know of about 200 planets around other stars," says O'Donovan, lead author of the paper announcing the discovery in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal, "but it is only for the nearby transiting planets that we can precisely measure the size and mass of the planet, and hence study its composition. That makes each new transiting planet an exciting find. And because TrES-2 is the most massive of the nearby transiting planets, it sets a new limit to our understanding of how these gas planets form around stars."

The planet TrES-2 is also noteworthy for being the first transiting planet in an area of the sky known as the "Kepler field," which has been singled out as the targeted field of view for the upcoming NASA Kepler mission. Using a satellite-based telescope, Kepler will stare at this patch of sky for four years, and should discover hundreds of giant planets and Earth-like planets. Finding a planet in the Kepler field with the current method allows astronomers to plan future observations with Kepler that include searching for moons around TrES-2.

And finally, the research team hails the discovery as the second transiting "hot Jupiter" found with the Trans-Atlantic Exoplanet Survey (TrES), an effort involving the "Sleuth" telescope at Caltech's Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, the Planet Search Survey Telescope (PSST) at Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona, and the "STellar Astrophysics and Research on Exoplanets (Stare) telescope in the Canary Islands. The name of the planet, TrES-2, is derived from the name of the survey.

To look for transits, the small telescopes are automated to take wide-field timed exposures of the clear skies on as many nights as possible. When an observing run is completed for a particular field-usually over an approximate two-month period-the data are run through software that corrects for various sources of distortion and noise.

The end result is a "light curve" for each of thousands of stars in the field. If the software detects regular variations in the light curve for an individual star, then the astronomers do additional work to see if the source of the variation is indeed a transiting planet. One possible alternative is that the object passing in front of the star is another star, fainter and smaller.

In order to confirm they had found a planet, O'Donovan and his colleagues switched from the 10-centimeter TrES telescopes to one of the 10-meter telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Using this giant telescope, they confirmed that they had found a new planet. O'Donovan says, "Each of us had spent countless hours working on TrES at that point, and we had suffered many disappointments. All our hard work was made worthwhile when we saw the results from our first night's observations, and realized we had found our second transiting planet."

TrES-2 was first spotted by the Sleuth telescope, which was set up by David Charbonneau, formerly an astronomer at Caltech who is now at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and is a coauthor of the paper. The PSST, which is operated by Georgi Mandushev and Edward Dunham (coauthors from Lowell Observatory), also observed transits of TrES-2, confirming the initial detections.

The other authors of the paper are David Latham and Guillermo Torres of Harvard-Smithsonian; Alessandro Sozetti of Harvard-Smithsonian and the INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Torino; Timothy Brown of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope; John Trauger of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Markus Rabus, José Almenara, Juan Belmonte, and Hans Deeg of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias; Roi Alonso of the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille and the Institute de Astrofísica de Canarias; Gilbert Esquerdo of Harvard-Smithsonian and the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson; Emilio Falco of Harvard-Smithsonian; Lynne Hillenbrand of Caltech; Anna Roussanova of MIT; Robert Stefanik of Harvard-Smithsonian; and Joshua Winn of MIT.

Robert Tindol

Meyerowitz and Lange Awarded Balzan Prize

PASADENA, Calif.- California Institute of Technology faculty Andrew Lange and Elliot Meyerowitz have been named Balzan Prizewinners for 2006 by the International Balzan Foundation. Lange, Goldberger Professor of Physics, will share his award for observational astronomy and astrophysics with Paolo de Bernardis of Università di Roma La Sapienza in Italy "...for their contributions to cosmology, in particular the "BOOMERanG" Antarctic balloon experiment."

Lange and Italian team leader de Bernardis led the international team that developed BOOMERanG (Balloon Observations of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation and Geophysics), a balloon-borne telescope capable of obtaining images of the universe in its embyronic state, long before the first stars formed. The images obtained in 1998, during a 10-day circumnavigation of Antarctica, revealed that the geometry of the universe is flat, and provided compelling evidence that 95 percent of the universe consists of exotic forms of matter and energy that remain largely a mystery.

Meyerowitz, Beadle Professor of Biology and biology division chair, will share his award for plant molecular genetics with Chris R. Somerville of Stanford University "...for their joint efforts in establishing Arabidopsis as a model organism for plant molecular genetics. This has far-reaching implications for plant science, both on a fundamental level and in potential applications."

Meyerowitz's primary research interest is the genes that control the formation of flowers, how altering these genes will affect flower development; and using computational models to study how plants grow. His laboratory has identified mutations that cause petal cells to develop into stamens instead, and another mutation that causes these same embryonic petals to become sepals. They and their collaborators have also produced computer models that faithfully reproduce the cellular behavior of meristems, the growing tips of shoots.

The winners named will be presented with their Balzan (pronounced bal-ZAHN) Prizes personally by the president of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, during an award ceremony November 24 at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, in the Palazzo Corsini in Rome. Each prize is worth one million Swiss francs, about $810,000 US. Because both Lange and Meyerowitz share their prizes with one other person, they will each receive half of the total, or about $405,000 US. Half of the prize money is awarded directly to the prizewinners in recognition of their outstanding scholarly work and they are asked to spend the other half on research projects carried out by young scholars or scientists in their respective fields.

The recipients were chosen by the General Prize Committee, a body chaired by Ambassador Sergio Romano and composed of 20 members representing European cultural institutions, from the candidates nominated by universities, academies, and cultural institutions throughout the world.

Unlike other international forms of recognition, the Balzan Prizes are awarded for different subjects each year, which are chosen annually by the Balzan Foundation. Two prizes are awarded in the humanities (literature, the moral sciences, and the arts) and two in the sciences (medicine and the physical, mathematical, and natural sciences). By rotating subjects, it is possible for the foundation to give preference to new or emerging areas of research, and to sustain important fields of study that may have been previously overlooked.

Additional recipients this year are Ludwig Finscher of the University of Heidelberg, Germany, for history of Western music since 1600, and Quentin Skinner of University of Cambridge, UK, for political thought: history and theory.

In 2007, Balzan Prizes will be awarded in European literature (1000-1500), international law since 1945, innate immunity, and nanoscience. The Prize for Humanity, Peace, and Brotherhood among Peoples will also be awarded next year; past winners include Mother Teresa and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The International Balzan Foundation was founded in 1961 to promote the worthy causes of culture, the sciences and humanities, and peace and brotherhood in the world. The main concern of the foundation is to award the Balzan Prizes, which are given annually to individuals who have earned international distinction in their field, regardless of their nationality, race, or creed. At intervals of not less than three years, the Balzan Foundation also awards the Prize for Humanity, Peace, and Brotherhood among Peoples, which is worth two million Swiss francs. The Balzan Foundation operates on an international level through its two offices, which are legally distinct bodies: its Milan, Italy, headquarters is concerned with awarding the prizes, while the estate of Eugenio Balzan, which funds the Balzan Prizes, is managed from Zurich, Switzerland.

For details, see the Balzan Foundation website: ### Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226 Visit the Caltech Media Relations website at

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NSF Awards $11.97 Million to Caltech for Distributed Data Analysis of Neutron Scattering

PASADENA, Calif.—The National Science Foundation today awarded $11.97 million to the California Institute of Technology for computer software to analyze neutron-scattering experiments. This work could show how to design new materials for a huge variety of applications in transportation, construction, electronics, and space exploration.

The five-year Distributed Data Analysis for Neutron Scattering Experiments (DANSE) project is led by Brent Fultz, a professor of materials science and applied physics at Caltech, with coprincipal investigators Michael A. G. Aivazis of the Center for Advanced Computing Research at Caltech, and Ian S. Anderson of the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Neutron scattering is a method of analyzing the stability of materials, molecules, and condensed matter at various temperatures and pressures by looking at the positions and motions of the atoms making up the materials. According to Fultz, the research will find the principles of how atoms can be combined to form stable materials and will eventually show how new materials could be optimized for characteristics such as mechanical strength, electrical conductivity, energy storage, and resistance to corrosion.

To date, many neutron-scattering measurements have been impaired by the low intensities of today's neutron sources. This will change in 2008 as the SNS, constructed at a cost of $1.411 billion, begins to operate at high power. The unprecedented quality of data from the SNS will allow a deeper understanding of atom interactions, for example, and will require better methods for interpreting the measurements.

The DANSE project is an opportunity arising from recent developments in computing, materials theory, and the new experimental facilities at the SNS. The project integrates new materials theory with high-performance computing to push the science of the SNS and other neutron facilities to a higher level of sophistication. The project will also extend a capable software framework developed at Caltech to include distributed computing on today's networked computing hardware.

The DANSE project is centered at Caltech where its software technology effort, inelastic neutron-scattering research, and project administration will be conducted. The total grant includes smaller awards to four other universities for subfields of neutron-scattering research-neutron diffraction (Simon Billinge, Michigan State University), engineering diffraction (Erstan Ustundag, Iowa State University), small-angle scattering (Paul Butler, University of Tennessee), and reflectometry (Paul Kienzle, University of Maryland). All these different subfields need advanced scientific computing for comparing experimental data to underlying physical models or simulations, and all will benefit from a shared development effort. DANSE will develop new methods for doing neutron-scattering research in these subfields.

Planning for DANSE began during the Angular-Range Chopper Spectrometer (ARCS) project at Caltech, a five-year, $14.9 million dollar neutron-scattering instrument project initiated in 2001 with support from the U.S. Department of Energy. A detailed plan for DANSE was developed with a $980,000 design award from the NSF to Caltech in 2004. In a series of software releases, the DANSE project will deliver by 2011 a set of capabilities for neutron scattering, tested with actual science.

The NSF funding will also support an outreach effort in teacher education, which is being created by Iowa State University.

The DANSE award is the first construction award made by the Division of Materials Research under the Instrumentation for Materials Research-Mid-Scale Instrumentation Project since its inception in 2004.

Robert Tindol

Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Passes Conceptual Design Review

PASADENA, Calif.—The detailed design for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) developed by a U.S.-Canadian team is capable of delivering on the full promise of its enormous light-collecting area, according to the findings of an independent panel of experts.

With the TMT, astronomers will be able to analyze the light from the first stars born after the Big Bang, directly observe the formation and evolution of galaxies, see planets around nearby stars, and make observations that test fundamental laws of physics.

"The successful completion of our conceptual design review means that the TMT has a strong science vision, good technical requirements, a thoroughly reviewed design, and a powerful team to carry our work forward," says Project Manager Gary Sanders.

Now in detailed design, the TMT is a concept for the world's largest telescope. It consists of a primary mirror with 738 individual 1.2-meter segments that span 30 meters in total, three times the effective diameter of the current largest telescopes. All of the segments will be under exquisite computer control so that they work together as a single mirror.

The review panel evaluated all aspects of the project, including its optical design, the telescope structure, science instrumentation, site testing, management and cost estimate procedures. The panel was positive on nearly all fronts and praised in particular the adaptive optics technology being planned for the giant telescope.

Adaptive optics will allow the TMT to reach the "diffraction limit," comparable to a telescope's resolution in space. TMT project engineers are integrating this system with the designs for the eight science instruments under detailed study, so the power of the adaptive optics (AO) system should be available at the beginning of the telescope's science operations in 2016, the external panel reported following the May 8-11 conceptual design review.

The baseline adaptive optics system for TMT involves nine laser beams that are launched from a small telescope at the peak of the structure that supports the telescope's secondary mirror. These laser beams reflect off a layer of sodium gas high in Earth's upper atmosphere to provide artificial points of light analogous to distant stars. These point-like laser reflections drift and wobble just like the star light, giving the AO system reference points to use anywhere in the sky as it compensates for distortions of the star light by Earth's ever-changing atmosphere. This technology has been pioneered at the Lick Observatory, the Gemini Observatory 8-meter telescopes and the Keck Observatory 10-meter telescopes.

TMT is also studying the potential for an adaptive secondary mirror for the telescope. This would involve covering the bottom of a flexible glass surface as large as the primary mirror in many current telescopes (a concave hemisphere 3.6 meters in diameter) with hundreds of tiny pistons to push and pull the surface of the mirror in minute increments. A computer controls these movements many times per second, as it works to adjust the mirror so it has the exact opposite shape of the distortions in the incoming star light.

Much of the TMT's scientific work will be done in the infrared, where the diffraction limit is easier to attain, young stars and galaxies are to be found, and the opportunities for new discoveries are abundant.

The eight scientific instruments in detailed design for the TMT are huge in comparison to current-generation astronomical instruments, and equivalently more complex. Each instrument is the size of school bus or larger, and they rest on two platforms on either side of the telescope that are each the size of a basketball court. The biggest technical challenge among the instruments is the Planetary Formation Instrument, which employs "extreme" adaptive optics in an effort to directly image other planets, the board found.

The technical requirements for the telescope, its structure, and its control system are clear and appropriate for this stage of the project, the review board concluded.

"The panel's report is glowing in its praise and confident that TMT is on track," says Richard Ellis, the Steele Family Professor of Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, one of the partners in the project. "We'll decide in mid-2008 where to build the telescope and then start construction in early 2009."

The TMT is a collaboration between the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA), and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), with significant work being done by industry and by university teams studying instrument designs.

Canadians welcome the external panel's endorsement of the depth and quality of the TMT design work. "We look forward to supplying the enclosure, telescope structure and adaptive optics system in time for first science," says Ray Carlberg of the University of Toronto, the Canadian project director for ACURA, an association of 24 Canadian universities in partnership with the National Research Council of Canada.

The design and development phase of the TMT project has a budget of $64 million, including $35 million in private sector contributions from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The conceptual design review board found that the project is estimating the cost of the TMT using up-to-date industry standards. A formal cost review of the project is scheduled for September 2006.

The TMT project is studying five sites in Chile, Hawaii, and Mexico as possible locations for the telescope. The project office is currently based in Pasadena, CA, where the conceptual design review was held.

Edward Stone, chair of the TMT Board of Directors and former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is available to answer media questions about the conceptual design review and the status of this exciting project.

For more information on the project, see

The TMT is designed to meet the scientific goals of the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope concept, which was the highest-priority ground-based project in the most recent astronomy decadal survey conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, published in 2000.


Robert Tindol

Palomar Observes Broken Comet

PALOMAR MOUNTAIN, Calif.—Astronomers have recently been enjoying front-row seats to a spectacular cometary show. Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is in the act of splitting apart as it passes close to Earth. The breakup is providing a firsthand look at the death of a comet.

Eran Ofek of the California Institute of Technology and Bidushi Bhattacharya of Caltech's Spitzer Science Center have been observing the comet's tragic tale with the Palomar Observatory's 200-inch Hale Telescope. Their view is helping them and other scientists learn the secrets of comets and why they break up.

The comet was discovered by Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Arthur Wachmann 76 years ago and it broke into four fragments just a decade ago. It has since further split into dozens, if not hundreds, of pieces.

"We've learned that Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 presents a very dynamic system, with many smaller fragments than previously thought," says Bhattacharya. In all, 16 new fragments were discovered as a part of the Palomar observations.

A sequence of images showing the piece of the comet known as fragment R has been assembled into a movie. The movie shows the comet in the foreground against distant stars and galaxies, which appear to streak across the images. Because the comet was moving at a different rate across the sky than the stellar background, the telescope was tracking the comet's motion and not that of the stars. Fragment R and many smaller fragments of the comet are visible as nearly stationary objects in the movie.

"Seeing the many fragments was both an amazing and sobering experience," says a sleepy Eran Ofek, who has been working non-stop to produce these images and a movie of the comet's fragments.

The images used to produce the movie were taken over a period of about an hour and a half when the comet was approximately 17 million kilometers (10.6 million miles) from Earth. Astronomically speaking the comet is making a close approach to Earth this month giving astronomers their front-row seat to the comet's break up. Closest approach for any fragment of the comet occurs on May 12, when a fragment will be just 5.5 million miles from Earth. This is more than 20 times the distance to the moon. There is no chance that the comet will hit Earth.

"It is very impressive that a telescope built more than 50 years ago continues to contribute to forefront astrophysics, often working in tandem with the latest space missions and biggest ground-based facilities," remarks Shri Kulkarni, MacArthur Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Science and director of the Caltech Optical Observatories.

The Palomar observations were coordinated with observations acquired through the Spitzer Space Telescope, which imaged the comet's fragments in the infrared. The infrared images, combined with the visible-light images obtained using the Hale Telescope, will give astronomers a more complete understanding of the comet's break up.

Additional support for the observations and data analysis came from Caltech postdoc Arne Rau and grad student Alicia Soderberg.

Images of the comet and a time-lapse movie can be found at:


Scott Kardel Palomar Public Affairs Director (760) 742-2111


CARMA Radio Telescope Array in the Inyo Mountains Dedicated May 5

PASADENA, Calif.—The official dedication of the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA) facility was held Friday, May 5, at Cedar Flat in the Inyo Mountains near Bishop.

CARMA is a joint venture of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Maryland. The project has involved moving the six existing 10-meter telescopes at Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) millimeter-wave array, along with the nine 6-meter telescopes at the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA) array, to the new Cedar Flat location, about 13 miles east of Big Pine by mountain route.

According to Anneila Sargent, CARMA director, the new facility will give radio astronomers an extremely clear view of the universe due to the dry air and 7,300-foot altitude of the Cedar Flat site.

Inovative technology and better atmospheric transmission make CARMA a much more powerful instrument than merely the sum of the previous arrays, said Sargent, who is Rosen Professor of Astronomy at Caltech. The facility will be used to observe molecular gas and dust in planets, star-forming clouds, planet-forming disks around other stars, nearby galaxies, and galaxies so distant that they must have formed soon after the Big Bang.

"These measurements will enable studies that address directly some of the most important questions in astrophysics today," Sargent said. "These include how the modern universe and the first stars and galaxies formed and evolved, how stars and planetary systems like our own are formed, and what the chemistry of the interstellar gas can tell us about the origins of life."

The new array is operated by the CARMA Association, which comprises the four partner universities. The association will coordinate the separate activities of its members through a board of representatives that includes senior administrators from each partner university and the CARMA science steering committee, made up of scientists from Caltech and from BIMA.

As a multi-university facility, CARMA also has a major educational mission. Innovative astronomy and technical development programs will ensure that the next generation of radio astronomers and instrumentalists will receive hands-on training while conducting frontline research. The National Science Foundation has supported both the OVRO and BIMA arrays since their inception, and will continue to support CARMA operations. Construction costs for the new combined array are being divided equally among the NSF, Caltech, and BIMA, and astronomers around the world will have access to the facility.

Sargent says that funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Norris Foundation have also been crucial. "We're especially grateful for their getting us started."

Robert Tindol


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