Question of the Month: How does an MRI work, and why is it so noisy?

Question of the Month Answered by: Russ Jacobs, Ph.D., Member of the Beckman Institute, Biology

Magnetic resonance imaging machines, or MRIs, use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to look inside a patient without the need for surgery or the use of damaging radiation such as X-rays. MRIs have become standard equipment in many hospitals over the last decade.

Keck II Telescope to Be Dedicated

PASADENA—The 10-meter Keck II Telescope will be dedicated in a mountaintop ceremony at 11:00 a.m. (Hawaiian Time) on Wednesday, May 8. Keck II and its five-year-old twin Keck I are the world's largest optical telescopes.

Edward C. Stone, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and chair of the board of directors of the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), which owns and operates the telescopes, will lead the ceremony inside the Keck II dome on the summit of Mauna Kea, a 13,796-foot dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Question of the month: What exactly is mad cow disease?

Question of the Month Answered by: Michael Harrington, Member of the Beckman Institute at Caltech in biology

Formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy—or BSE for short—mad cow disease is the common name of a fatal illness that many cattle in the United Kingdom have. Bovine means related to cattle; encephalopathy has Greek roots and means brain disease; and spongiform means literally "in the form of a sponge." Put it all together, and BSE is a disease of cattle in which the brain ends up looking like a sponge, full of holes.

Chemical Engineers Show that Directed Evolution Can Be Useful

PASADENA—Caltech engineers have shown for the first time that an experimental technique known as directed evolution can solve real, industrial problems in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The result, published in the April 1 issue of Nature Biotechnology, describes how the researchers used directed evolution to develop a new enzyme that is able to catalyze—increase the reaction rate of—an important step in the manufacture of an antibiotic.

Question of the month: How long is a radio wave, and how do you measure it?

Question of the Month Answered by: Sterl Phinney, Associate Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics

Radio waves come in a variety of lengths, from as short as an inch or less up to several miles. The waves we usually think of as radio waves, the ones that broadcast music and weather reports, range in length from about 10 feet for FM to about 300 yards for AM stations.

Astronomers Find Elusive Primeval Galaxies

PASADENA—A group of astronomers has identified the most distant population of normal galaxies yet found. Using a new technique designed to isolate large numbers of extremely distant, young galaxies, the scientists have discovered what are very likely the progenitors of the bright galaxies—spirals and ellipticals—seen today. They observed the galaxies at a time very soon after they first formed, roughly 10 billion years ago, at redshifts between 3.0 and 3.5.

Scientists Report Interactions Between Individual Photons: First Step Toward a Quantum Computer

PASADENA—Caltech physicists have demonstrated that individual photons, which normally do not interact, can strongly influence each other when brought together with an atom inside an optical cavity.

This result—interactions between single photons—could be used to make information processing devices that employ quantum-mechanical effects to improve their performance. Further, these devices could form the building blocks needed to construct a "quantum computer," a theoretical machine that, researchers believe, could outperform any computer based on conventional technology.

Physicists Observe Alteration in Fundamental Interaction of Light and Matter

PASADENA—Scientists recently reported the first experimental observation of the modification of the fundamental interaction between light and matter, a change brought about by illuminating trapped cesium atoms with manifestly quantum, or nonclassical, light.

Scientists refer to the interplay of light and matter as fundamental atomic radiative processes. These processes span the range from the linear absorption and scattering familiar from everyday optics to nonlinear interactions on which for example the laser is based.

Astronomers Announce Discovery of Extremely Distant Quasars

PASADENA—Astronomers have discovered 16 new extremely distant quasars, the result of a search made nearly 40 times more efficient than previously possible by applying artificial intelligence to the new Palomar digital sky survey. This novel technique allows researchers to study more easily the formation of quasars and large-scale structures in the early universe.

"This is one of the first successful major applications of artificial intelligence techniques in astronomy and space science," said Usama Fayyad, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Astronomers Announce Discovery of an Old Brown Dwarf

PASADENA—Astronomers at the California Institute of Technology and the Johns Hopkins University today announce the discovery of what they believe is a brown dwarf, and release the first image and spectrum ever taken of this elusive type of object.

The brown dwarf, called GL 229B, lies in the southern-hemisphere constellation Lepus, near Orion, where it orbits a small, dim star called GL 229. This is the first detection of such a cool object outside the solar system.


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