Caltech Astrophysicist Awarded Dan David Prize

PASADENA, Calif.--Andrew Lange, the Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Physics and chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has been awarded the 2009 Dan David Prize along with Paolo De Bernardis of the University La Sapienza in Rome and Paul Richards of the University of California, Berkeley. Lange and De Bernardis have been recognized for leading the BOOMERanG experiment, which provided the first undisputed evidence of the universe's flat geometry. Richards's MAXIMA experiment confirmed the result soon after. The experiments made the first resolved images of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Lange and colleagues were able to deduce the universe's geometry from the angular sizes of the intricate structures in the images, using theoretical tools developed by Marc Kamionkowski, the Robinson Professor of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics at Caltech, and his colleagues.

The Dan David Prize is a joint international enterprise, endowed by the Dan David Foundation and headquartered at Tel Aviv University. The prize is awarded annually for achievements having an outstanding scientific, technological, cultural, or social impact on our world. Each year fields are chosen within three time dimensions: Past, Present, and Future. Lange, De Bernardis, and Richards are sharing the $1 million prize in the Past dimension for Astrophysics--History of the Universe. "The work recognized by this prize was a team effort," says Lange. "Many other people deserve recognition, especially Jamie Bock and his group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) microdevices lab, which developed the detectors that enabled both BOOMERanG and MAXIMA." Additional analysis of BOOMERanG and MAXIMA's data implied that ordinary matter constitutes a small fraction of the cosmic mass density (5 percent at the present time). These results have been subsequently confirmed and carry important implications for fundamental physics. The nature of most of the cosmic matter (known as Dark Matter) is actively being explored, and the flat geometry of the universe is believed to have originated from an early epoch of the universe's inflation, during which space curvature was erased by a prolonged period of vast expansion.

"The measurement of the large-scale geometry of the universe by Lange and his colleagues is one of the great achievements of all time in cosmology; it richly deserves this Dan David Prize," said Kip Thorne, the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech. "We at Caltech should be very proud to be associated with Andrew Lange, his BOOMERanG team, and their achievements."

Lange and his Caltech students worked closely with Bock and his group at JPL in developing the spiderweb bolometers that made possible BOOMERanG and MAXIMA, as well as several other major cosmological and astronomical projects and instruments.

"This technology is about to be launched into orbit on the Planck satellite later this spring," says Lange. "We still have much more to learn from the microwave background."

The other 2009 Dan David laureates are former British prime minister Tony Blair for Present Leadership, and Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, for Future Global Public Health. Dan David laureates donate 10 percent of their prize money to graduate students in their respective fields, thereby contributing to the community and fostering a new generation of scholars. For more information, visit

Deborah Williams-Hedges
Exclude from News Hub: 

Caltech's Newest Shining Star: The Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics

PASADENA, Calif.--The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists who study the outer reaches of space are about to get some space of their own with the official opening of the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The opening not only marks the beginning of a new era for Caltech astronomy, but is the Institute's kick-off for the International Year of Astronomy, a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO to mark the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The aim of the year is to stimulate worldwide interest in astronomy and science.

The Cahill Center--located at 1216 California Boulevard--boasts 100,000 square feet of offices, laboratories, and common areas. Designed by the Los Angeles-based firm Morphosis (led by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne) and built by general contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie, the building is both highly functional and visually impressive.

Everything about this building has that thought-through feel--from its address (1216, in angstroms, is the wavelength of ultraviolet light emitted by hydrogen atoms) to the view from the lobby up an ever-narrowing staircase to the skylight on the third floor (which mimics the experience of peering up through a telescope) to the cut-through hallways on each floor (which connect Caltech's north and south campuses and serve to orient the building's occupants).

But what is perhaps most important about the Cahill Center is that it will allow some 300 of Caltech's top-ranked astronomy and astrophysics faculty and graduate students to work together in a building dedicated to their needs for the first time in more than 40 years, thanks to Charles H. Cahill, who provided the lead gift for the $50 million center. The building has been named for Cahill and his late wife, Anikó Dér Cahill.

"As a civil engineer myself, I'm always excited to be part of the birth of a new building, especially one that has been needed and envisioned by our faculty and administrators for so long," says Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau. "If not for the extraordinary generosity of Charles Cahill and several other supporters, our faculty might still be waiting for this dream to become a reality."

Indeed, the Cahill Center was made possible not only by Cahill's lead gift, but by generous support from a number of Institute friends, including the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation, the Kenneth & Eileen Norris Foundation, Fred & Joyce Hameetman (whose gift will name the Hameetman Auditorium), and Michael Scott.

"Taking a program like this to the next level is a team effort," says Chameau, "and our donors have been a key part of this remarkable team."

"For decades, our extraordinary astrophysics faculty have been scattered across campus, among several overcrowded buildings," says Andrew Lange, chair of Caltech's Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy and the Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Physics. "The Cahill Center will bring together 26 astrophysics faculty and their groups into a single, remarkable space. Students and faculty alike will have a much richer experience. I can safely predict that new discoveries will be spawned in the coming year by conversations in hallways and interaction spaces that would not have otherwise taken place."

Some of the key features of the building include

  • the 148-seat Hameetman auditorium and a library situated on the building's first floor to maximize their use as social and gathering spaces;
  • offices located on the building's second and third floors and the western part of the first floor, amongst which are scattered conference rooms and interactive spaces designed specifically to promote impromptu discussions and informal group meetings;
  • a single basement floor (with ample access to natural light) which houses all of the building's laboratories;
  • remote-observing rooms; and
  • a building-wide wireless system.

"The design for the Cahill Center draws on the institute's desire to maximize interaction between the astronomy and astrophysics faculty and their research groups," explains Kim Groves, principal in charge for the Morphosis team. "Visual and vertical connections between the laboratory and office levels occur via the main stair, while interaction areas and open break rooms punctuate each floor, all providing opportunities for chance and planned discussions to occur between the researchers. Views out of the building look across the campus and up into the sky, providing select moments to celebrate the study of astronomy and astrophysics on the world-renowned Caltech campus."

The Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Credit: Bob Paz/Caltech

The Cahill Center is noteworthy not only for its creative design concept and execution, but also because it will be the first Caltech building to be certified under the LEED Green Building Rating System. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was created by the U.S. Green Building Council, a coalition of more than 7,500 organizations from all sectors of the construction industry. LEED certifications are meant to encourage "whole-building" sustainability by recognizing structures that meet the building council's high standards.

"Conventional buildings have significant impacts on the environment over their lifetimes, considering the resources used to construct and maintain them and the generation of the energy used to operate them," notes John Onderdonk, Caltech's manager for sustainability programs. "Constructing LEED-certified buildings, which represent the state of the art in resource and energy efficient design, is critical to improving Caltech's environmental performance."

The Cahill Center will be given its gold-level LEED distinction because of the many features that allow it to reduce negative environmental and health impacts. The building's design provides for

  • reducing water use by 30 percent;
  • reducing energy use by 24.5 to 28 percent; and
  • providing access to daylight to a minimum of 75 percent of its spaces.

"Two of the most visible green features of the Cahill Center are the use of day lighting throughout the building--which reduces the need for electrical lighting--and the architectural paneling on the exterior," Onderdonk explains. "The paneling actually shades the building, thereby reducing heat gain and the need for interior air conditioning."

This focus on keeping things green extended to the construction phase of the building as well. In building the Cahill Center, the architects and construction crews focused on using materials with recycled content, as well as local and regional materials; they also used low-emitting adhesives, sealants, paints, carpets, composite woods, and laminate adhesives. In addition, they diverted more than 90 percent of the construction waste from the landfills, which significantly reduced the building's impact on the environment.

The opening of the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics will be followed on January 27 with a full-day symposium to celebrate Caltech astrophysics. The symposium, "The Future of Astrophysics," is being held in the Hameetman Auditorium, with webcasts to the Cahill conference rooms. Speakers will include

  • Michael Turner, professor of physics, University of Chicago;
  • Jason Glenn, associate professor of astrophysics, University of Colorado;
  • Seth Shostak, senior astronomer, SETI Institute;
  • Roger Blandford, professor of physics, Stanford University;
  • Tim De Zeeuw, director general, European Southern Observatory;
  • Robert Kirshner, professor of astronomy, Harvard University;
  • Steven Beckwith, vice president for research and graduate education, University of California;
  • Andrea Ghez, professor of physics and astronomy, University of California, Los Angeles;
  • Peter Goldreich, professor in the School of Natural Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study; and
  • Jerry Nelson, professor of astronomy, University of California, Santa Cruz.

For more information about the symposium, please contact Michelle Vine at 626-395-3817 or

# # #

About Caltech: Caltech is recognized for its highly select student body of 900 undergraduates and 1,200 graduate students, and for its outstanding faculty. Since 1923, Caltech faculty and alumni have garnered 32 Nobel Prizes and five Crafoord Prizes.

In addition to its prestigious on-campus research programs, Caltech operates the W. M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, the Palomar Observatory, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Caltech is a private university in Pasadena, California. For more information, visit

Lori Oliwenstein
Exclude from News Hub: 
News Type: 
In Our Community

About Caltech Astronomy

Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom, Martin Rees, summed up Caltech's legacy in astronomy when he said, "The universe of astronomy has no center, but the universe of astronomers does. For years that center has been in Pasadena, California."

As part of Caltech's Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy, the astronomy department's primary mission is to perform cutting-edge research in astronomy and astrophysics while educating undergraduate and graduate students to become the scientific leaders of tomorrow.

Astronomy has been a major component of Caltech's scientific identity since the early days of the Institute. George Ellery Hale, the first director of the Mount Wilson Observatory, was elected to the board of trustees of Throop Polytechnic Institute (later to be renamed the California Institute of Technology) in 1907. Hale is largely responsible for shifting the institution's focus to engineering and science, fields in which Caltech would quickly become a world leader.

Among Caltech's major contributions to the field of astronomy is the first survey of the entire sky visible from the Northern Hemisphere, the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey. Conducted in l948, it revealed thousands of new stars, galaxies, and comets. This provided astronomers the world over with an atlas of the heavens to be used for the next three decades. Today, Palomar Mountain in San Diego County is home to the 200-inch Hale Telescope, which was for four decades the largest and most powerful optical telescope in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1964, Caltech astronomer Maarten Schmidt determined that quasars--a puzzling class of cosmic objects--were the most powerful and distant objects in the universe. Since quasar light travels for billions of years to reach Earth, Schmidt's discovery gave astronomers unprecedented insight into how the universe looked billions of years before the birth of the sun and its planets.

Today, the Caltech astronomy department--led by more than 30 faculty--continues to engage in a wide variety of astronomical research projects, with topics ranging from nearby stars to the most distant galaxies in the universe. To help maintain these research efforts, the department supports an interest in worldwide astronomical observatories at locations ranging from San Diego County to Hawaii to the Chilean Andes, including

The Palomar Observatory, located in San Diego County, was dedicated in 1948 and is home to the 200-inch Hale Telescope, as well as a 60-inch instrument, the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope, and an 18-inch Schmidt Telescope.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, is dedicated to the detection of cosmic gravitational waves and the harnessing of these waves for scientific research. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these waves in 1916, and LIGO--which was designed by Caltech and MIT physicists--began its search in 2001. LIGO consists of two widely separated installations within the United States--one in Hanford, Washington, and the other in Livingston, Louisiana--which are operated in unison as a single observatory.

The Keck Observatory is perched atop the dormant volcano Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii. Keck is a joint effort of Caltech and the University of California, and consists of twin 10-meter telescopes, Keck I and Keck II. Recently, the two telescopes have been used in combination as the Keck Interferometer, with sufficient power and resolution to detect planetary systems around nearby stars.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is a 10-meter dish atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The Owens Valley Radio Observatory is located some five hours north of Pasadena, near the Sierra Nevada range. The observatory is home to a variety of dishes and interferometers, and is the operations base for the CARMA millimeter-wave interferometer (see below).

The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy, or CARMA, is the merger of two university-based millimeter arrays--the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) millimeter array and the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA) millimeter array--which together form a powerful astronomical tool for the new millennium.

The Chajnantor Observatory is located at an altitude of over 16,000 feet in the Chilean Andes. It is the site of the Cosmic Background Imager (CBI) and will be the site of the Q/U Imaging Experiment (QUIET) project. The site is accessible year-round and provides superb conditions for cosmic microwave background observations.

The Thirty Meter Telescope is a collaboration between Caltech, the University of California, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) to build a 30-meter-diameter telescope for astronomy at visible and infrared wavelengths.

The Big Bear Solar Observatory is a world center for observations of the sun. The facility is managed by the New Jersey Institute of Technology for a university consortium that includes Caltech.

Visit to learn more about Caltech Astronomy.

# # #

Lori Oliwenstein
Exclude from News Hub: 
News Type: 
In Our Community

Caltech Researchers Interpret Asymmetry in Early Universe

PASADENA, Calif.--The Big Bang is widely considered to have obliterated any trace of what came before. Now, astrophysicists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) think that their new theoretical interpretation of an imprint from the earliest stages of the universe may also shed light on what came before.

"It's no longer completely crazy to ask what happened before the Big Bang," comments Marc Kamionkowski, Caltech's Robinson Professor of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics. Kamionkowski joined graduate student Adrienne Erickcek and senior research associate in physics Sean Carroll to propose a mathematical model explaining an anomaly in what is supposed to be a universe of uniformly distributed radiation and matter.

Their investigations turn on a phenomenon called inflation, first proposed in 1980, which posits that space expanded exponentially in the instant following the Big Bang. "Inflation starts the universe with a blank slate," Erickcek describes. The hiccup in inflation, however, is that the universe is not as uniform as the simplest form of the theory predicts it to be. Some parts of it are more intensely varied than others.

Until recently, measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, a form of electromagnetic radiation that permeated the universe 400,000 years after the Big Bang, were consistent with inflation--miniscule fluctuations in the CMB seemed to be the same everywhere. But a few years ago, some researchers, including a group led by Krzysztof Gorski of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech, scrutinized data from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). They discovered that the amplitude of fluctuations in the CMB is not the same in all directions.

"If your eyes measured radio frequency, you'd see the entire sky glowing. This is what WMAP sees," Kamionkowksi describes. WMAP depicts the CMB as an afterglow of light from shortly after the Big Bang that has decayed to microwave radiation as the universe expanded over the past 13.7 billion years. The probe also reveals more pronounced mottling--deviations from the average value--in the CMB in one half of the sky than the other.

"It's a certified anomaly," Kamionkowski remarks. "But since inflation seems to do so well with everything else, it seems premature to discard the theory." Instead, the team worked with the theory in their math addressing the asymmetry.

They started by testing whether the value of a single energy field thought to have driven inflation, called the inflaton, was different on one side of the universe than the other. It didn't work--they found that if they changed the mean value of the inflaton, then the mean temperature and amplitude of energy variations in space also changed. So they explored a second energy field, called the curvaton, which had been previously proposed to give rise to the fluctuations observed in the CMB. They introduced a perturbation to the curvaton field that turns out to affect only how temperature varies from point to point through space, while preserving its average value.

The new model predicts more cold than hot spots in the CMB, Kamionkowski says. Erickcek adds that this prediction will be tested by the Planck satellite, an international mission led by the European Space Agency with significant contributions from NASA, scheduled to launch in April 2009.

For Erickcek, the team's findings hold the key to understanding more about inflation. "Inflation is a description of how the universe expanded," she adds. "Its predictions have been verified, but what drove it and how long did it last? This is a way to look at what happened during inflation, which has a lot of blanks waiting to be filled in."

But the perturbation that the researchers introduced may also offer the first glimpse at what came before the Big Bang, because it could be an imprint inherited from the time before inflation. "All of that stuff is hidden by a veil, observationally," Kamionkowski says. "If our model holds up, we may have a chance to see beyond this veil."

The study appears December 16 in the journal Physical Review D. It was supported by the Department of Energy and by Caltech's Moore Center for Theoretical Cosmology and Physics.

Elisabeth Nadin

Caltech's David Baltimore and Fiona Harrison Named among America's Best Leaders for 2008

U.S. News Media Group and Harvard's Center for Public Leadership recognize 24 of the country's foremost professionals

PASADENA, Calif.--Two prominent researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have been named among the country's 24 top leaders by U.S. News Media Group in association with the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at Harvard Kennedy School. The 2008 edition of America's Best Leaders--available online at and on newsstands Monday, November 24--includes honors for Caltech's David Baltimore and Fiona Harrison.

According to U.S. News, the Best Leaders issue features "some of the country's most visionary individuals," highlighting those professionals "who continue to offer optimism and hope through their work."

Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology and former president of Caltech, was lauded by the magazine for the way he has "profoundly influenced national science policy on such issues as recombinant DNA research and the AIDS epidemic. He is an accomplished researcher, educator, administrator and public advocate for science and engineering, and is considered one of the world's most influential biologists."

Baltimore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975, at the age of 37. He served as president of Caltech for nine years and was named president emeritus in 2006. He had previously spent almost 30 years on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he contributed widely to the understanding of cancer, AIDS, and the molecular basis of the immune response, and where he served as founding director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research from 1982 until 1990. He served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science from 2007 to 2008, and is currently its chair.

Baltimore says he is "very honored to be named among this exceptional group of leaders."

Leadership, he says, "involves a vision of the future, and a generosity of spirit that allows the leader to take pleasure in the accomplishments of others." Leadership can't be about micromanaging every aspect of a large organization, he notes. "It's about picking the right people, motivating them, and encouraging them. You have to make sure those people are pulling in the same direction. You have to catalyze interaction between people so that they see a commonality of interests--so that they follow a common line."

Fiona Harrison, a professor of physics and astronomy at Caltech, was chosen for her work as principal investigator of the NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) Mission, a pathfinder mission that will "open the high energy X-ray sky for sensitive study for the first time," she says. She started developing the technologies necessary to realize NuSTAR more than a decade ago, and assembled and led a team of scientists and engineers to design and implement the mission. NuSTAR was selected by NASA through a competitive process and will launch in mid-2011.

Harrison "has devoted her career to studying energetic phenomena in the Universe, including massive black holes and stellar explosions, and developing advanced instrumentation for focusing and detection of X-rays and gamma-rays," notes U.S. News. She is a recipient of a NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship and winner of the Robert A. Millikan Prize Fellowship in Experimental Physics, and was awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by President Clinton. She joined the faculty of Caltech in 1995.

"It is an honor to be recognized among such a diverse and distinguished group of people," says Harrison.

"Most aspiring scientists don't focus on leadership as a quality necessary to accomplish their research," she adds. "As experiments and projects get larger and more complex, however, good leadership is often necessary in order to make progress. For me, creating and motivating an effective team were skills I learned in order to make the science I am passionate about happen."

In a collaborative effort between U.S. News and Harvard's CPL, the leaders were selected by a nonpartisan and independent committee, convened and organized by the center, without the participation of U.S. News editors. The selection criteria used by the committee in choosing the honorees included the ability to set direction, achieve results, and cultivate a culture of growth.

"Even though Americans have lost confidence in current leadership, over the past year they have had unique opportunities to observe and debate the qualities of strong leaders," says Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News & World Report. "With our Best Leaders issue, we widen the lens to examine people who are showing leadership in unexpected ways across a wide variety of fields."

Other honorees include Lance Armstrong, founder of the Lance Armstrong Foundation; Herbie Hancock, chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance Arts; Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund; Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease; Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense; and Steven Spielberg, director and producer, and founder of the Shoah Foundation.

# # #


Lori Oliwenstein
Exclude from News Hub: 

W.M. Keck Foundation Gift to Enable Caltech and JPL Scientists to Research the Universe's Violent Origin

PASADENA, Calif.--The W.M. Keck Foundation has awarded $2.3 million to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to fund the Keck Array--a suite of three microwave polarimeters at the South Pole--and the corresponding research initiative, "Imaging the Beginning of Time: A Search for the Signature of Inflation in the Cosmic Microwave Background."

Andrew Lange, Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Physics, chair of Caltech's Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy, and senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), will lead the project. Lange believes that the Keck Foundation's gift could lead to breakthroughs for both cosmology and high-energy physics. "We may be able to probe the very moment at which the universe sprang into existence and explore energies far higher than will ever be achieved in terrestrial accelerators," says Lange.

The polarimeters will analyze radiation that is a relic of the primeval fireball that filled the early universe. Now cooled from visible light to faint microwaves, this primordial radiation still fills the universe as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), first detected in 1965. The CMB bears rich information about the embryonic universe, information that Lange's research teams have successfully explored for 20 years. With the Keck Array, they're closing in on one of cosmology's most daunting problems.

Based largely on observations of the CMB, cosmologists now believe that the entire universe sprang from a subnuclear volume in a violent expansion known as inflation. Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts that such a violent space-time disturbance would have generated strong gravitational waves that would persist to this day as a cosmic gravitational-wave background (CGB)--a gravitational analog to the CMB. Though no instrument has detected unambiguous evidence of gravitational waves, their existence has been proved by inference. The Keck Array, far more sensitive than its predecessors, may be able to detect the faint signature of the CGB imprinted on the polarization of the CMB. (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), an NSF-funded collaboration between Caltech and MIT, uses different instrumentation in an effort to directly detect much higher frequency gravitational waves from comparatively nearby sources.)

Caltech and JPL scientists successfully tested the methodology with BICEP, a prototype polarimeter in operation at the South Pole since January 2006, while they developed detectors that will be able to map the sky 10 times faster and with more frequency coverage than the prototype. The Keck Foundation's gift makes it possible for Lange's team to upgrade to a full-scale instrument. All three polarimeters will be in operation by 2011.

"Caltech and the W.M. Keck Foundation share a focus on bold research that can transform our understanding of the world," says Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau. "The foundation's support for research at Caltech has already made a tremendous difference to science. This new gift will allow Caltech researchers--who lead the world in CMB-related observation, theory, and technology--to make observations with a precision that seemed impossibly out of reach just a few years ago. This single, generous gift could have profound impacts on cosmology and high-energy physics."

Lange's team at Caltech includes cosmologists Marc Kamionkowski, Robinson Professor of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics, who pioneered the theory behind the measurement, Christopher Hirata, a Sloan Research Fellow and assistant professor of astrophysics, and Sunil Golwala, assistant professor of physics, who contributed to the project proposal. Golwala shares major responsibility for the development of the state-of-the-art instrumentation. Jamie Bock leads the project at JPL.

Astrophysicists and engineers from institutions in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.--including Case Western Reserve, the University of Chicago, Stanford, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of Toronto, and Cardiff University--will collaborate with Caltech and JPL on this project.

Additional funding comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the James and Nelly Kilroy Foundation, and the Balzan Foundation (research support linked to the prestigious Balzan Prize, awarded to Lange for his contributions to cosmology). All of the Keck funds will be used at Caltech.


About Caltech: Caltech is recognized for its highly select student body of 900 undergraduates and 1,200 graduate students, and for its outstanding faculty, which currently includes several Nobel laureates and numerous members of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences. In addition to its prestigious on-campus research programs, Caltech operates the W. M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, the Palomar Observatory, and JPL. Caltech is a private university in Pasadena, California. For more information, visit

About the W.M. Keck Foundation: One of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations, the W.M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 in Los Angeles by William Myron Keck. The foundation funds the work of leading researchers, the establishment of unique laboratories and research centers, and the purchase of sophisticated instruments, laying the groundwork for discoveries and new technologies that save lives, solve complex problems, and add immeasurably to human understanding of life and our place in the universe.

Jon Weiner
Exclude from News Hub: 
News Type: 
In Our Community

"Einstein's Cosmic Messengers" Multimedia Concert Inspired by Quest for Gravitational Waves

PASADENA, Calif.--Join two world-renowned California Institute of Technology (Caltech) physicists and an award-winning composer for the world premiere of "Einstein's Cosmic Messengers," an inventive multimedia concert. Inspired by Caltech's involvement with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), the presentation takes an innovative approach to communicating scientific exploration and discovery to the general public. The event takes place Thursday, October 30, at 8 p.m., in Beckman Auditorium on the Caltech campus.

This unique event will feature noted physicist Kip Thorne, Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics and LIGO cofounder; Jay Marx, LIGO executive director and senior research associate in physics; and Andrea Centazzo, award-winning composer, percussionist, and multimedia artist. The program is based on LIGO's quest for the detection of gravitational waves--ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events in the distant universe. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these waves in 1916. LIGO, which was designed by Caltech and MIT physicists, began its search in 2001 with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Thorne will open the program by explaining how gravitational waves can reveal the fundamental nature of gravity and open a new window onto the "warped" side of the universe, shining light on previously inaccessible events such as violent coalescences of black holes and neutron stars. Marx will follow with a discussion on the history, achievements, and promise of LIGO's search for gravitational waves. Centazzo will then perform his world premiere of "Einstein's Cosmic Messengers," the multimedia concert he created with Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Michele Vallisneri. The presentation blends music and sounds played live with images and animations inspired by LIGO's facilities, the universe, and Einstein's genius and obsessions, creating a one-of-a-kind live performance.

Vallisneri initially conceived the concert and Centazzo made it a reality. "'Einstein's Cosmic Messengers' is the result of exposing professional composer and video artist Andrea Centazzo to my narrative of the birth of astronomy and the great revolutions in our understanding of the cosmos," says Vallisneri. "The performance includes evocative images, projected on a cinema screen, complemented by synchronized music played live on a vast array of percussive instruments, both acoustic and digital.

"I hope the concert can expose the public, whether artistically or scientifically inclined, to the quest to measure gravitational waves, an extremely engaging intellectual and technological adventure that I work on every day. I love to see human creativity transcend the boundaries between science and the arts and humanities. This will be a breathtaking journey through magnificent visions of the universe."

Visit,, and for more information, including images and a sample video at Centazzo's site. Admission and parking are free. No tickets or reservations are required.

Martin Voss
Exclude from News Hub: 
News Type: 
In Our Community

Keck Telescope and "Cosmic Lens" Resolve Nature and Fate of Early Star-Forming Galaxy

The combination demonstrates the eventual power of the Thirty Meter Telescope

PASADENA, Calif.--Astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and their colleagues have provided unique insight into the nature of a young star-forming galaxy as it appeared only two billion years after the Big Bang and determined how the galaxy may eventually evolve to become a system like our own Milky Way.

The team made their observations by coupling two techniques, gravitational lensing--which makes use of an effect first predicted by Albert Einstein in which the gravitational field of massive objects, such as foreground galaxies, bends light rays from objects located a distance behind, thus magnifying the appearance of distant sources--and laser-assisted guide star (LGS) adaptive optics (AO) on the 10-meter Keck Telescope in Hawaii. Adaptive optics corrects the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere by real-time monitoring of the signal from a natural guide star or an artificial guide star. Gravitational lensing enlarged the distant galaxy in angular size by a factor of about 8 in each direction. Together with the enhanced resolution using adaptive optics, this allowed the team to determine the internal velocity structure of the remote galaxy, located 11 billion light-years from Earth, and hence its likely future evolution.

The researchers found that the distant galaxy, which is typical in many respects to others at that epoch, shows clear signs of orderly rotation. The finding, in association with observations conducted at millimeter wavelengths, which are sensitive to cold molecular gas (an indicator of galactic rotation), suggests that the source is in the early stages of assembling a spiral disk with a central nucleus similar to those seen in spiral galaxies at the present day.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, the team located a distinctive galaxy dubbed the "Cosmic Eye" because its form is distorted into a ring-shaped structure by the gravitational field of a foreground galaxy.

"Gravity has effectively provided us with an additional zoom lens, enabling us to study this distant galaxy on scales approaching only a few hundred light-years. This is 10 times finer sampling than hitherto possible," explains postdoctoral research scholar Dan Stark of Caltech, the leader of the study. "As a result, we can see, for the first time, that a typical-sized young galaxy is spinning and slowly evolving into a spiral galaxy much like our own Milky Way," he says.

The research, described in the October 9 issue of the journal Nature, provides a demonstration of the likely power of the future Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the first of a new generation of large telescopes designed to exploit AO.

When completed in the latter half of the next decade, TMT's large aperture and improved optics will produce images with an angular resolution three times better than the 10-meter Keck and 12 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope, at similar wavelengths. Because of the significant improvement in angular resolution provided by AO, the TMT will be able to study the internal properties of small distant galaxies, seen as they were when the universe was young.

Likewise, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a large interferometer being completed in Chile, will provide a major step forward in mapping the extremely faint emission from cold hydrogen gas--the principal component of young, distant galaxies and a clear marker of cold molecular gas--compared to the coarser capabilities of present facilities. In their recent research, the Caltech-led team has provided a glimpse of what can be done with the superior performance expected of TMT and ALMA.

The key spectroscopic observations were made with the OSIRIS instrument, developed specifically for the Keck AO system by astrophysicist James Larkin and collaborators at the University of California, Los Angeles. Stark and his coworkers used the OSIRIS instrument to map the velocity across the source in fine detail, allowing them to demonstrate that it has a primitive rotating disk.

To aid in their analysis, the researchers combined data from the Keck Observatory with data taken at millimeter wavelengths by the Plateau de Bure Interferometer (PdBI), located in the French Alps. This PdBI instrument is sensitive to the distribution of cold gas that has yet to collapse to form stars. These observations give a hint of what will soon be routine with the ALMA interferometer.

"Remarkably, the cold gas traced by our millimeter observations shares the rotation shown by the young stars seen in the Keck observations. The distribution of gas seen with our amazing resolution indicates we are witnessing the gradual buildup of a spiral disk with a central nuclear component," explains coinvestigator Mark Swinbank of Durham University, who was involved in both the Keck and PdBI observations.

This work demonstrates how important angular resolution has become in ensuring progress in extragalactic astronomy. This will be the key gain of both the TMT and ALMA facilities.

"For decades, astronomers were content to build bigger telescopes, arguing that light-gathering power was the primary measure of a telescope's ability," explains Richard S. Ellis, Steele Family Professor of Astronomy at Caltech, a coauthor on the Nature study, and a member of the TMT board of directors. "However, adaptive optics and interferometry are now providing ground-based astronomers with the additional gain of angular resolution. The combination of a large aperture and exquisite resolution is very effective for studying the internal properties of distant and faint sources seen as they were when the universe was young. This is the exciting future we can expect with TMT and ALMA, and, thanks to the magnification of a gravitational lens, we have an early demonstration here in this study," he says.

Coauthors on the paper, "The formation and assembly of a typical star-forming galaxies at redshift z~3," are Simon Dye of Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales; Ian R. Smail of Durham University in Durham, England; and Johan Richard of Caltech.

The W. M. Keck Observatory operates twin 10-meter telescopes located on the summit of Mauna Kea. The observatory, made possible by grants from the W. M. Keck Foundation totaling over $138 million, is managed as a nonprofit corporation whose board of directors includes representatives from Caltech and the University of California.

The Thirty Meter Telescope is currently in a detailed design and development phase and represents a collaboration between Caltech, the University of California, and the Association for Canadian Universities Research in Astronomy. It has received generous support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Further information on the Thirty Meter Telescope is available at


Information on the Atacama Large Millimeter Array is available at

Further information on the Keck telescopes, their adaptive optics systems, and the OSIRIS instrument are available at:

Kathy Svitil

Caltech Scientist Proposes Explanation for Puzzling Property of Night-Shining Clouds at the Edge of Space

PASADENA, Calif.-- An explanation for a strange property of noctilucent clouds--thin, wispy clouds hovering at the edge of space at 85 km altitude--has been proposed by an experimental plasma physicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), possibly laying to rest a decades-long mystery.

Noctilucent clouds, also known as night-shining clouds, were first described in 1885, two years after the massive eruption of Krakatoa, a volcanic island in Indonesia, sent up a plume of ash and debris up to 80 km into Earth's atmosphere. The eruption affected global climate and weather for years and may have produced the first noctilucent clouds.

The effects of Krakatoa eventually faded, but the unusual electric blue clouds remain, nestled into a thin layer of Earth's mesosphere, the upper atmosphere region where pressure is 10,000 times less than at sea level. The clouds, which are visible during the deep twilight, are most often observed during the summer months at latitudes from 50 to 70 degrees north and south--although in recent years they have been seen as far south as Utah and Colorado. Noctilucent clouds are a summertime phenomenon because, curiously, the atmosphere at 85 km altitude is coldest in summer, promoting the formation of the ice grains that make up the clouds.

"The incidence of noctilucent clouds seems to be increasing, perhaps because of global warming," says Paul M. Bellan, a professor of applied physics at Caltech.

Twenty-five years ago, researchers at Poker Flat, Alaska, discovered that the clouds were highly reflective to radar. This unusual property has long puzzled scientists. Bellan, reporting in the August issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, now has an explanation: the ice grains in noctilucent clouds are coated with a thin film of metal, made of sodium and iron. The metal film causes radar waves to reflect off ripples in the cloud in a manner analogous to how X-rays reflect from a crystal lattice.

Sodium and iron atoms collect in the upper atmosphere after being blasted off incoming micrometeors. These metal atoms settle into a thin layer of vapor that sits just above the altitude at which noctilucent clouds occur. Astronomers recently have been using the sodium layer to create laser-illuminated artificial guide stars for adaptive optics telescopes that remove the distorting affects of atmospheric turbulence to produce clearer celestial images.

Measurements of the density of sodium and iron atomic vapor layers show that the metal vapor is depleted by over 80 percent when noctilucent clouds are present. "Noctilucent clouds have been shown to act very much like a flycatcher for sodium and iron atoms," Bellan says. Indeed, in laboratory experiments, other researchers have found that at the frigid temperatures (-123 degrees Celsius) within noctilucent clouds, atoms in sodium vapor quickly become deposited on the surface of ice to form a metallic film.

"If you have metal-coated ice grains in noctilucent clouds, the radar reflectivity can become enormous" he says. "This reflectivity is not the sum of reflections from individual ice grains, which would not produce a very large reflection. Instead, what happens is that ripples in the cloud of metal-coated ice grains reflect in unison and reinforce each other, somewhat like an army marching in step across a bridge causes the bridge to vibrate."

Kathy Svitil
Exclude from News Hub: 
News Type: 
Research News

MacArthur Foundation Names Alexei Kitaev Latest Caltech "Genius"

Notes that his work brings us "closer to the realization of the full potential of quantum computing"

PASADENA, Calif.-- Alexei Kitaev, a California Institute of Technology (Caltech) faculty member, has been named a MacArthur Fellow, winning one of the five-year, $500,000 grants that are awarded annually to creative, original individuals and that are often referred to as the "genius" awards. 

With a joint appointment at Caltech as professor of theoretical physics and computer science in the Divisions of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy and of Engineering and Applied Science, Kitaev explores the mysterious behavior of quantum systems and their implications for developing practical applications, such as quantum computers. He has made important theoretical contributions to a wide array of topics within condensed-matter physics, including quasicrystals and quantum chaos.

More recently, Kitaev has devoted considerable attention to the use of quantum physics for performing computation. Upon learning of the first algorithm for factoring numbers (an important aspect of cryptography) with quantum computers, he independently developed an alternative approach using "phase estimation," a solution that generalizes to an even wider range of calculations.

Though his work is focused mainly at the conceptual level, he also participates in "hands-on" efforts to develop working quantum computers.

Kitaev says he was "very surprised" when he received the call from Daniel Socolow, director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, telling him of his selection for the award. "I didn't know what the award was at first," admits Kitaev, who was born and educated in Russia. "But then I looked up the names of people who have previously received a MacArthur award, and saw that they are very good scientists. I am excited and honored to be in the same group with them."

"We are thrilled that Alexei has received this well-deserved honor," says Andrew Lange, the Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Physics and chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Caltech. "He is a stunningly original thinker who has made profound theoretical contributions to both quantum computing and condensed-matter physics. Alexei forged a deep connection between these two disparate subjects by proposing the 'topological quantum computer,' an idea now being aggressively pursued in laboratories around the world. Fostering such interdisciplinary insights is a central part of Caltech's mission, and we are proud to have Alexei on our faculty."

Kitaev received a diploma from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1986, and his PhD from Russia's Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in 1989. He served as a researcher at Microsoft Research from 1999 until 2001. He first came to Caltech as a visiting associate and a lecturer in 1998, and he was named professor of theoretical physics and computer science in 2002.

The MacArthur awards traditionally come out of the blue--most awardees have no idea that they are even being considered--and with no strings attached. MacArthur Fellows are not required to account for the ways in which they spend the money. Still, Kitaev says he feels it is important for him to use the award to do work that is "innovative and creative," and expects to take some time to figure out just what will fit the bill.

"The MacArthur Fellows Program celebrates extraordinarily creative individuals who inspire new heights in human achievement," says MacArthur president Jonathan Fanton. "With their boldness, courage, and uncommon energy, this new group of Fellows--men and women of all ages in diverse fields--exemplifies the boundless nature of the human mind and spirit."

Kitaev is one of 25 newly named 2008 Fellows--a list which includes UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez, who received her MS in 1989 and her PhD in 1993 from Caltech, and Harvard Medical School neurobiologist Rachel Wilson, who was a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech from 2001 to 2004. Kitaev also joins the ranks of previous Caltech MacArthur Fellows, including its two 2007 awardees, Michael Elowitz and Paul W. Rothemund.

Lori Oliwenstein
Exclude from News Hub: 
News Type: 
In Our Community