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Caltech Professors Awarded 2015 Sloan Fellowships

Five Caltech faculty members have been named among the 2015 class of Sloan Research Fellows. The fellowships, awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, honor "early-career scientists whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars, the next generation of scientific leaders." This year, 126 young scientists were awarded fellowships in eight scientific and technical fields: chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics. Candidates must be nominated by a department head or other senior researcher and are reviewed by a selection committee of three distinguished scientists in each field.

Viviana Gradinaru (BS' 05), an assistant professor of biology and the faculty director of the Beckman Institute Pilot Center for Optogenetics and CLARITY, received her fellowship in the area of neuroscience. The CLARITY technique, codeveloped by Gradinaru, is used to render tissues, organs, and even whole organisms transparent. Her research focuses on developing tools and methods for neuroscience as well as investigating the mechanisms underlying deep brain stimulation and its long-term effects on neuronal health, function, and behavior.

Mitchell Guttman, an assistant professor of biology, received the fellowship in the category of computational and evolutionary molecular biology. His work exploring unknown regions of the genome has led to the identification of genes that do not produce proteins, known as long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), which act as efficient administrators, gathering and organizing key proteins necessary for packaging genetic information and regulating gene expression. Guttman and his colleagues recently discovered that lncRNAs can shape chromosome structure to remodel the genome and pull in necessary target genes, unlike other proteins that must travel to their targets.

Gregg Hallinan, an assistant professor of astronomy, received his fellowship in the physics category. His group studies the universe at radio wavelengths, particularly examining the radio emissions produced by stars and their planets. His team recently completed construction of a new radio telescope at Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory that can survey the entire sky instantaneously. This project aims to deliver the first detection of radio waves produced by the interaction of the magnetic field of an exoplanet—a planet outside our own solar system—with the stellar wind of its host star.

Heather Knutson, an assistant professor of planetary science, received the fellowship in the physics category. She studies the structure, chemistry, and atmospheric dynamics of extrasolar planets. These planets are often classified into broad categories based on their mass and radius. Knutson's research measuring exoplanet temperatures and characterizing atmospheric compositions adds detail to these classifications. She has helped develop many of the techniques that are now used to study exoplanet atmospheric dynamics.

Xinwen Zhu, an associate professor of mathematics, received the fellowship in the mathematics category. His research interests focus on geometric representation theory, in particular the geometric aspects of the Langlands program, a kind of "unified theory of mathematics" linking together many different mathematical fields of research. This research aims to provide a more intuitive visualization of prime numbers by relating the field to diverse topics such as geometry and quantum physics.

Also included among this year's class of fellows are six other Caltech alumni: Brandi Cossairt (BS '06), Jennifer A. Dionne (MS '05, PhD '09), Aaron Esser-Kahn (BS '04), Michael Kesden (PhD '05), Neal Mankad (PhD '10), and Stephanie Waterman (MS '02).

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NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape to Furious Black Hole Winds

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA's (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions—a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.

This discovery has given astronomers their first opportunity to measure the strength of these ultra-fast winds and prove they are powerful enough to inhibit the host galaxy's ability to make new stars.

"We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies," said Fiona Harrison, NuSTAR's principal investigator and the Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics at Caltech. Harrison is a co-author on a new paper about these results appearing in the journal Science. "Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are."

Read the full story at JPL News.

Written by Whitney Clavin

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Monday, March 2, 2015
Winnett Lounge – Winnett Student Center

The Secret Life of a Snowflake

Charles H. Townes

1915–2015

Laser pioneer Charles H. "Charlie" Townes (PhD '39), a life member of the Caltech Board of Trustees and a recipient of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics, died on Tuesday, January 27. He was 99 years old.

Townes, a professor of physics, emeritus, at UC Berkeley, won one-half of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his role in inventing the maser (for "microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation") and its cousin, the laser, in which light is emitted instead of microwaves. He shared the award with Aleksandr M. Prokhorov and Nicolai G. Basov, who independently developed the idea for a maser.

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Townes graduated from Furman University in 1935 with a BS in physics and a BA in modern languages. He completed a master's degree in physics at Duke University in 1936 and in 1939 received his PhD in physics from Caltech. A member of the technical staff at Bell Labs through World War II, he joined the faculty at Columbia University in 1948. There, he built the first working maser. From 1959 to 1961, Townes served as vice president and director of research at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, D.C.; he then served for six years as provost and professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1967, Townes moved to UC Berkeley, where he was named University Professor. At Berkeley, Townes transitioned into the field of infrared astronomy. Along with his colleagues, he carried out the first detection of three-atom molecules (water and ammonia) in interstellar space, and the first measurement of the mass of the black hole in the center of our galaxy. He also served as principal investigator for a pioneering program in radio and infrared astronomy, the Infrared Spatial Interferometer Array.

Townes served on many governmental panels, including the President's Science Advisory Committee from 1965 to 1969. He was the chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee for the Apollo Program until shortly after the first successful lunar landing.

Townes was named a Caltech trustee in 1979 and became a life member of the board in 1987.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Townes was the recipient of the National Medal of Science; the National Academy of Sciences Comstock Prize and John T. Carty Medal; the Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute (twice); the Vannevar Bush Medal; the Lomonosov Medal of the Russian Academy of Sciences; the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal; NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal; the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the Astronomische Gesellschaft; and honorary degrees from 25 colleges and universities. In recognition of his lifelong interest in the intersection of science and religion, Townes was awarded the 2005 Templeton Prize. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of London, the Max Planck Society, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame.

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Friday, February 13, 2015
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Backpocket Barnburner: A Lightning Quick Overview of Educational Theory

Caltech Professors Named Fellows of the AAAS

Caltech Professor of Astronomy George Djorgovski and chemist Bruce Brunschwig are among the 401 newly elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for 2014.

The AAAS was formed in 1848 with the mission of "advancing science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people." The annual tradition of electing fellows began in 1874 to recognize scientists for their contributions toward this mission.

"The AAAS performs an essential role of promoting and protecting science and its benefits for society. This has never been more important than it is now," says Djorgovski, director of the Center for Data-Driven Discovery at Caltech. He was elected by his scientific peers to the AAAS's Section on Astronomy for his "leadership of the Virtual Observatory and the emerging field of astroinformatics, and considerable body of work on surveys and transient discovery." Astronomical data is exponentially growing in complexity and volume; the Virtual Observatory is an open, web-based research environment intended to organize, maintain, and explore the rich information content within these datasets.

"Science is being transformed by computing and information technology, and astronomy has been at the forefront of these developments," says Djorgovski.

Brunschwig, director of the Molecular Materials Research Center (MMRC) at Caltech, was elected to the AAAS's Section on Chemistry for his "pioneering contributions to the theoretical and physical understanding of electron transfer and its application to artificial photosynthesis." The MMRC is home to state-of-the-art instrumentation that facilitates cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in the fields of chemistry, surface science, and materials science. The center currently hosts myriad projects, including work on artificial photosynthesis and solar energy conversion.

"Bruce Brunschwig is a model for us to aspire to with his dedication to scholarship and his natural curiosity and inquisitiveness," says Brunschwig's colleague Nate Lewis, the George L. Argyros Professor of Chemistry at Caltech and the scientific director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. "His election as a fellow to the AAAS is well deserved."

Caltech is currently home to 42 fellows of the AAAS.

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SPIDER Experiment Touches Down in Antarctica

After spending 16 days suspended from a giant helium balloon floating 115,000 feet above Antarctica, a scientific instrument dubbed SPIDER has landed in a remote region of the frozen continent. Conceived of and built by an international team of scientists, the instrument launched from McMurdo Station on New Year's Day. Caltech and JPL designed, fabricated, and tested the six refracting telescopes the instrument uses to map the thermal afterglow of the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background (CMB). SPIDER's goal: to search the CMB for the signal of inflation, an explosive event that blew our observable universe up from a volume smaller than a single atom in the first fraction of an instant after its birth.

The instrument appears to have performed well during its flight, says Jamie Bock, head of the SPIDER receiver team at Caltech and JPL. "Of course, we won't know everything until we get the full data back as part of the instrument recovery."

Read the full story and view the slideshow

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