Caltech Students and Alumni Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

This year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected 31 current Caltech students and 12 alumni to receive its Graduate Research Fellowships. The awards support three years of graduate study within a five-year fellowship period in research-based master's or doctoral programs in science or engineering.

The NSF notes that the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) "is a critical program in NSF's overall strategy to develop the globally-engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation."

Caltech's awardees for 2015 are seniors Bridget Connor, Boyu Fan, Mark Greenfield, Bryan He, Adam Jermyn, Robert F. Johnson, Ellen Price, Charles Tschirhart, Max Wang, Benjamin Wang, Caroline Werlang, Patrick Yiu, and Andy J. Zhou; and graduate students Louisa Avellar, Dawna Bagherian, Kevin Cherry, Rebecca Glaudell, Elizabeth Goldstein, Denise Grunenfelder, Nina Gu, Elizabeth Holman, Erik Jue, Kyle Metcalfe, Kelsey Poremba, Denise Schmitz, Rebekah Silva, Chanel Valiente, Grigor Varuzhanyan, Ryan Witkosky (also an alumnus), Emily Wyatt, and Nicole Xu. Caltech alumni in the 2015 class of Graduate Fellows are Karen Dowling, Melissa Hubisz, Pawel Latawiec, Laura Lindzey, Katja Luxem, Rocio Mercado, Bertrand Ottino-Loffler, David Sell, Benjamin Suslick, Jordan Theriot, Ryan Thorngren, and Matthew Voss.

In total this year, the NSF selected 2,000 GRFP recipients from a pool of 16,500 applicants. Caltech's Fellowships Advising & Study Abroad Office works with current students and recent Caltech graduates interested in applying for an NSF fellowship, sponsoring a panel discussion of previous winners each fall and offering one-on-one advising. 

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Two Caltech Seniors Win Hertz Fellowships

Adam Jermyn and Charles Tschirhart join the 51st class of Hertz fellows

Caltech seniors Adam Jermyn and Charles Tschirhart have been named 2015 Hertz Fellowship winners. Selected from a pool of approximately 800 applicants, the awardees will receive up to five years of support for their graduate studies. According to the Hertz Foundation, fellows are chosen for their intellect, their ingenuity, and their potential to bring meaningful improvement to society. Jermyn and Tschirhart bring the number of Caltech undergraduate Hertz fellows to 60.

Adam Jermyn, a physics major from Longmeadow, Massachusetts, works with so-called "emergent phenomena," which "is a broad term referring to situations where we know all of the laws on a fundamental level but where there are so many pieces working together that the consequences aren't known," he says. For example, the basic laws governing fluid mechanics are simple equations that relate such easily measured quantities as density, velocity, and temperature to one another, but simulating the behavior of two gases as they mix in a turbulent flow can tax the capacity of a supercomputer.

Jermyn's senior thesis models how a pulsar—a type of celestial radio source that flashes as fast as a thousand times per second—disrupts the atmosphere of a companion star. Pulsars are neutron stars—supernova cinders that pack the mass of a couple of suns into a sphere roughly the size of Manhattan. The spin imparted by the supernova's explosion and equally violent collapse creates a beam of tightly focused radio waves. If a neutron star were "aimed" at Earth, the beam's fleeting illumination would register as a flash in our radio telescopes every time it swept across us. Meanwhile, the pulsar's intense gravity distorts the companion star, creating a bulge on its surface. Like Earth's moon, the star's rotation is tidally locked, always presenting the same side to its dominant neighbor. The companion star's atmosphere gets siphoned away, layer by layer, forming a turbulent tendril of gas that winds in an ever-tightening spiral around the pulsar as the stolen material accretes onto its surface.

Charles Tschirhart of Naperville, Illinois, is a double major in applied physics and chemistry. His interests lie at the opposite end of the scale—in the world of nanotechnology, where lengths are measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter. In the summer of 2012, he was part of a team that built nanoelectrodes—tiny silicon needles that penetrate a cell wall without damaging the cell to monitor the electrical activity within.

Tschirhart and Jermyn share an interest in fluid mechanics. "I think the biggest difference between what Adam and I do is that he is a theorist, and I am an experimentalist," Tschirhart says. "Physicists pretend that a fluid is a continuum of infinitely divisible matter and thus doesn't have any 'graininess' to it." But because atoms and molecules do have finite sizes, "once you get down to small enough scales," he says, "even water becomes 'grainy.'" The fluid becomes more viscous, as it takes effort to force the grains past one another. For his senior thesis, Tschirhart determined the nanoviscosity of silicone oil by measuring the thickness of a thin film of oil, smearing it even thinner with a stream of air and measuring its thickness again. The thickness should decrease in a linear manner, but this doesn't happen when the layer gets thin enough. "These films aren't much thicker than the size of a molecule," he says. "This is where noncontinuum effects show up." These effects could affect how engineers approach tasks as diverse as lubricating hard drives and extracting crude oil from porous rocks.

Both students took Physics 11, a course taught by the late Professor Thomas Tombrello. Tombrello launched this class in 1989 to teach encourage freshman to think creatively, and taught it annually until his death in September 2014. This year, Jermyn and Tschirhart are helping teach it. "Physics 11 really shaped the way I ask questions, and I have Tom Tombrello to thank for that," says Jermyn. "He pushed us to think about things obliquely," Tschirhart concurs. "After I got over my initial nerves, I found myself enjoying [the two rounds of Hertz interviews], which made it much easier to answer the questions creatively."

Both plan to defer their Hertz doctoral fellowships while they take advanced degrees in England. Tschirhart will be attending the University of Nottingham as a Fulbright Scholar for one year, where he plans to develop new applications for atomic force microscopy, a powerful technique for "photographing" nanoscale objects. Jermyn will be at the University of Cambridge for two years as a Marshall Scholar investigating the processes by which planets form around binary star systems.

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Caltech Space Challenge: Mission to an Asteroid in Lunar Orbit

For one week at the end of March, 32 students from 20 universities and 14 countries came to Caltech for an intensive training experience in space mission design: the Caltech Space Challenge. Organizers hand-selected the undergraduate and graduate students from a pool of 220 applicants and created two "dream teams" of engineers, scientists, and designers to face off in a competition to see who could design the best mission.

This year, the teams—Team Explorer and Team Voyager—were tasked with designing a manned mission to an asteroid placed in orbit around the moon. Aside from determining details such as the best type of vehicle to use, the optimal launch date, and how to keep the astronauts safe, each team was asked to explain how its mission would explore and make use of the asteroid to enable future missions to more distant locales, such as Mars.

The Space Challenge takes place at Caltech every two years. For the inaugural challenge in 2011, participants designed a manned mission to a near-Earth asteroid. Two years later, the challenge involved planning a mission to one of Mars's moons.

This year, organizers based the challenge on NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), proposed for launch in 2020. The concept of that mission is to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid, have it remove a large boulder from the asteroid's surface, and then move it into a lunar orbit. A version of a mission originally considered by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) at Caltech, NASA's ARM is part of a larger strategy to use asteroids as a stepping-stone to manned missions to Mars and beyond.

"KISS came up with this idea to redirect an asteroid and bring it here as a way to fulfill President Obama's vision of people going to an asteroid by 2025," explains Hayden Burgoyne, a graduate student in space engineering at Caltech and one of two student lead organizers for this year's challenge. "Basically, they said, 'It's hard to send people to an asteroid; it's easier to bring an asteroid to us.' But people are looking toward the end goal of Mars, and they want to know how the Asteroid Redirect Mission will help us get there. So we framed this challenge as a resource utilization challenge to show how this resource that they bring back—this asteroid—can be used to benefit future human exploration."

Throughout the week, the students attended lectures delivered by scientists and engineers from JPL and the aerospace industry on topics related to the challenge, such as mission formulation, human space exploration, asteroid mining, and chemical propulsion. They were also able to consult with mentors working in related fields who were available to help the teams troubleshoot.

"Basically, we brought together the best of the best," says Niccolo Cymbalist, a graduate student in aeronautics at Caltech and the event's other student lead organizer. "But one of the neat things is that the students had the opportunity to interact with sort of their future selves. The speakers and mentors who came in from JPL and from industry are also at the top of their fields, and many participants from previous years have gone on to work in space-related fields."

This year, the teams also had the opportunity to complete a half-day formalized study with a group in the Innovation Foundry at JPL, known as the A-Team. These JPL scientists and engineers help explore, develop, and evaluate early mission concepts and were able to advise the students on science, implementation, and programmatic elements of their respective missions.

At the end of the week, both teams turned in written reports and presented their mission concepts to an audience that included jurors from Caltech, JPL, the Planetary Society, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, and Millennium Space Systems.

In their mission plans, both groups opted to use two rockets—one to launch scientific cargo and another at a later date to deliver the crew. They also both decided that three astronauts would be optimal for this mission.

Beyond those similarities, though, the two teams had quite different approaches to the challenge. Team Explorer had the idea to use an autonomous swarm of robots to characterize the topology of the asteroid and to collect samples both at the surface and at depth, using a specially designed chamber to extract volatiles. They planned to purify water found on the asteroid, demonstrating that it could be used in a variety of ways, including to water a lettuce garden—something that might capture the attention of the general public. The mission would also determine whether the asteroid could be used as a resource depot for other missions, or as part of the Deep Space Network to help facilitate communication between Earth and operating spacecraft.

In contrast, Team Voyager planned to join their mission's cargo and crew vehicles with an inflatable habitat brought along as cargo once their astronauts reached the asteroid. The astronauts would then spend five days using a robotic arm to drill and to conduct seismic surveys as they determined whether it was safe to explore the asteroid further. They also would bring a suite of scientific instruments with them, including a device to extract oxygen, hydrogen, and methanol from the asteroid, and they would collect and return samples to Earth from the asteroid's subsurface core. Team Voyager's plan for engaging the public included social media and a live feed from a 3-D HD 360-degree camera mounted on an astronaut's helmet.

The organizers say both teams presented outstanding missions. "I was blown away by the quality of the work that the students produced," says Burgoyne.

The final results were presented at a closing reception and banquet at the Athenaeum on March 27. In the end, Team Voyager came out slightly ahead of Team Explorer. According to the jury, the deciding factor was Team Voyager's presentation and success in turning their technically detailed report into a compelling story for the audience.

Alicia Lanz, a member of Team Voyager and a graduate student in physics at Caltech, says the best part of the experience was meeting and working with people from various parts of the world and with different scientific training. "It was so interesting to learn from people with different backgrounds and to see everyone work together to create a viable mission that was greater than anything a single individual could have contributed," she says. "The Caltech Space Challenge was an amazing opportunity."

The student technical lead for this year's Space Challenge was Jay Qi, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at Caltech. The faculty advisor was Beverley McKeon, professor of aeronautics at Caltech and associate director of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories of the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT). Leon Alkalai of JPL was the program mentor. The Space Challenge is organized by GALCIT and supported by Caltech and its Division of Engineering and Applied Science, JPL, KISS, and corporate sponsors including Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, Millennium Space Systems, and AGI.

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Anderson Wins Prestigious Student-Athlete Honor

Rob Anderson, a junior on the Caltech men's basketball team, has been named to the 2015 Allstate National Association of Basketball Coaches Good Works Team. The community service award "honors student-athletes for their off-the-court achievements and commitment to giving back to their communities and positively impacting the lives of those around them," according to the NABC.

"I learned that I was named to the team at 8:30 a.m. after pulling an all-nighter, so it didn't really hit me at first," Anderson says. "I feel extremely honored to represent Caltech and our team on a national scale."

Anderson, who is studying mechanical engineering and business economics and management, was selected for his extensive work researching and designing sustainable energy projects. During his senior year of high school, he designed a 17-foot solar-powered boat for the 2012 Solar Splash Competition. Upon his arrival at Caltech in the fall of 2012, he joined both the basketball team and the Institute's 2013 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon team, which collaborated with architectural design students from the Southern California Institute of Architecture to design, build, and operate a solar-powered house.

During the summer of 2013, Anderson returned to his home state to conduct research at the University of Minnesota, where he designed and coded a tool to calculate the economic feasibility of growing crops that could be converted to fuel in the form of cellulosic ethanol.

"After the Solar Decathlon ended in autumn of 2013, I began looking for another engineering sustainability project," Anderson says. "I noticed there were a few empty gas-engine go-karts in Fleming [one of Caltech's eight undergraduate houses] and I realized I could re-engineer them to use electric power."

Anderson reached out to Caltech and the Resnick Sustainability Institute, and proposed repairing the vehicles, one using battery power and another using a hydrogen fuel cell. He also reached out to the undergraduate population to gauge interest in a sustainable vehicle club. Eventually, more than 100 students signed up for the club's mailing list.

"That's basically how the Sustainable Vehicle Club was born," Anderson says. "The people at the Resnick Institute were excited that a student wanted to lead an engineering project around sustainability. They have played a key role in advising the club, connecting us with the right people around campus and in the corporate world, and have been our main source of funding for purchasing the parts we need."

"Now we're using the old go-kart shells to experiment with drivetrains—the components that deliver power to the driving wheels—and battery systems. We're working with local companies to gather most of the parts." Anderson and his team aim to enter the 2016 Society of Automotive Engineers Formula One Electric Race, an electric vehicle design competition for college engineers.

In addition to design and engineering, Anderson and his group conduct research into the feasibility and efficiency of fuel cells.

"In general, sustainable energy can go either the electric route or the fuel cell route. We're analyzing both systems with respect to these go-karts to figure out their overall energy efficiency."

Engineering the go-karts to run on sustainable energy is still a long-term process. In the more immediate future, Anderson will soon be traveling to attend the NCAA Division I "Final Four" college basketball playoffs with other student-athletes on the NABC's Good Works team. Later in the year, the team will also participate in a community works project and hold a basketball camp for younger players.

"Rob epitomizes the term student-athlete," says head basketball coach Oliver Eslinger. "His character and commitment, both as an academic standout and teammate, are highly valued in our program. He is a perfect representative for athletics and our university, in that he brings efficiency, creativity, and focus to his daily activities. We are so proud of this honor and what it means for Caltech. I know that the folks he meets during Final Four weekend will be impressed with his efforts and abilities to balance basketball with all of his research and academic pursuits."

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Contest Unleashes Aquamania in Millikan Pond

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Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

A robot enters the water during the first round of the competition. During the first 30 seconds of each round, the robots had to operate completely autonomously—meaning they had to be able to enter the water without any human intervention. Once the 30 seconds were over, the students were able to direct the robots through the water via remote control.

Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

Teammates Joaquin Gabaldon and Melissa Chang prepare to send their robot into the water. Because the students had to build their robots within a limited budget, many teams came up with inventive and affordable solutions—such as the duct tape and chicken wire seen on the front of the team KOOPAS robot here—to help resolve design and engineering challenges.

Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

Joaquin Gabaldon (in blue) from team KOOPAS drives his team's robot using a remote control while Dan Chui, Jalani Williams, and Margaret Lee from team T.O.A.D. look on. In the first two rounds of the Aquamania, teams paired up to compete against other pairs of teams for the most points.

Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

Rob Anderson, Anup Kishore, and Naveen Tadepalli celebrate a victory for their team's robot.

Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

Basith Fahumy uses a remote control to guide team AXOLOTL's robot toward a small red ball. In the competition, teams scored points by moving balls their color past a gate.

Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

The audience, including students from several local elementary and middle schools, watches as two robots enter the water and begin their battle.

Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

KATS, the winning team, poses with their trophy in Millikan Pond. (Left to right: Tammer Eweis-Labolle, Kristin Eliason, Sheila Lo, and Auggie Nanz)

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Amphibious robots took to Millikan Pond on Tuesday, March 10, each one hoping to come away with the title "Aquamania champion." At the event, teams of students tested their robotic athletes in the 30th annual Mechanical Engineering 72 (ME72) competition—a campus tradition that also serves as a final exam for mechanical engineering students enrolled in the two-term ME72 design lab in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. In this year's competition, the student teams were tasked with designing and building robots that could successfully drive down a ramp into Millikan Pond and then navigate through the water to move inflatable balls of various sizes past a series of gates. At the end of each round, points were tallied based on how many balls each robot successfully moved past each gate. Eight teams competed for this year's title, and after three intense (and very wet) rounds, team KATS—named for teammates and Caltech juniors Kristin Eliason, Auggie Nanz, Tammer Eweis-Labolle, and Sheila Lo—walked away with the trophy.

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Senior Connie Hsueh Wins Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Senior Connie Hsueh, a physics major, has been awarded a 2015 Gates Cambridge Scholarship that will fund graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. She is the seventh Caltech undergraduate student to receive this award. 

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship program, established in 2000 through a donation to Cambridge University from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recognizes young people from around the world who not only excel academically, but also display a commitment to social issues and bettering the world. Hsueh and the 39 other American recipients were selected from a pool of 755 applicants competing for this year's U.S. award. In April, 55 international scholars, selected from a pool of around 3,000 applicants, will join Hsueh and her U.S. colleagues as Gates Cambridge Scholars.

A native Californian, and the only student in this year's U.S. applicant pool to win a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study physics, Hsueh will use her scholarship to pursue an MPhil in physics. She will use computational and theoretical techniques to investigate novel battery materials—an interest that began for her while doing experimental work with batteries at Caltech in the laboratory of Brent Fultz, Barbara and Stanley R. Rawn, Jr., Professor of Materials Science and Applied Physics.

"The summer after my sophomore year, I investigated the electronic properties of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in Professor Fultz's lab," Hsueh says. "I think it's incredible that through a variety of spectroscopic techniques, we can explain how materials behave at the atomic level. That we have the ability to probe materials on these scales—so many orders of magnitude smaller than what we physically deal with—is what astounds and interests me about physics. In addition," she adds, "Professor Fultz has been an incredibly supportive advisor and friend to me as I have tried to figure out what I want to do with my life."

A student with varied research interests, Hsueh spent her first summer at Caltech investigating novel HIV diagnostics as part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) project in the laboratory of Jim Heath, the Elizabeth W. Gilloon Professor and professor of chemistry. In 2014, she completed a summer internship at Lockheed Martin, where she gained experience in computer modeling and experimental research for defense-related technologies.

While at Caltech, Hsueh also kept a busy schedule outside of the laboratory and the classroom, serving two terms as the director of operations of the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT) board of directors, four seasons on the Caltech volleyball team, and three seasons on the water polo team. Surprised that there was no physics club for students, Hsueh co-founded the Caltech Physics Club to give interested students a place to explore physics topics outside of the classroom.

Hsueh, who is currently studying abroad at Cambridge as a participant in Caltech's undergraduate exchange, the Cambridge Scholars Program, "is an outstanding student and human being," says Lauren Stolper, director of the Fellowships Advising and Study Abroad Office and the Career Development Center. "Connie has invested herself in her Caltech education and always considers how she can help her peers academically or by bettering extracurricular opportunities for them. She will be an excellent representative for Caltech as a Gates Cambridge Scholar," Stolper adds.

After Cambridge, Hsueh would like to continue to pursue an academic career and, one day, become a professor. However, this pursuit is not her only goal.

"It's always been my ambition to improve society and do good in the world. What that means exactly is still up in the air—maybe it will mean encouraging and mentoring future generations, or maybe it will mean inventing a life-changing device that completely revolutionizes the world," she says. "I'm honored to join the community of Gates Cambridge Scholars because I believe that they share this passion for improving the world, and I hope that we will support one another in this mission."

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Men's and Women's B-ball Teams Score Wins

The Caltech women's basketball team broke a 5-year, 64-game conference losing streak with a 59–58 win over the University of La Verne on Wednesday, February 18.

The win caps a banner week for Caltech basketball, as the men's team notched its third straight home SCIAC win with a 70–69 victory over La Verne on February 17. The men's three SCIAC wins are the most in a single season since 1960–61, when the Beavers topped four conference foes, and equal the total number of SCIAC wins over the previous 42 years.

Read more about the women's game and the men's game.

Both teams face off against Occidental College on Saturday, February 21, at Braun Gym, in their last home games of the season. The women tip-off at 5 p.m. and the men at 7 p.m.

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Men's Basketball Makes it Two Wins in a Row

Just days after shaking off a 55-game conference losing streak, the Caltech men's basketball team accomplished something it had not in 44 years—two Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) wins in one season—with a 92–77 victory over Whittier College on Saturday, February 7.

Their first win of the season—and first conference victory since February 22, 2011, when the team broke a 310-game conference losing streak—came Tuesday, February 3, against the University of Redlands, after a game-winning basket at the buzzer.

"It was an amazing, unprecedented week for basketball and Caltech athletics. Our team continues to progress and the effort each player and coach puts into our program translated into two huge wins," says head basketball coach Oliver Eslinger. "We thank our fans and community for the energy they brought to Braun. There's more to come!"

The men's team last won two conference games in the 1970–71 season. The last set of back-to-back conference wins occurred 61 years ago, in the 1953–54 season, when the team won three straight conference games to claim the SCIAC Championship. Caltech also recorded consecutive SCIAC victories during the 1960–61, 1959–60, and 1958–59 seasons, although in each case there was a nonconference loss between the two winning conference games.

The team will next face off against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Thursday, February 12, at the Rains Center on the Pomona College campus. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.

Learn more about Caltech athletics at http://www.gocaltech.com/.

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Men's Basketball Snaps Losing Streak

With a game-winning basket at the buzzer, the Caltech men's basketball team snapped a 55-game, four-year SCIAC losing streak with a 49-47 victory over the University of Redlands on February 3.

Read the full story on the Caltech Athletics' site.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015 to Sunday, April 5, 2015
Beckman Institute Auditorium – Beckman Institute

Amateur Radio License class, Part Two of Two & FCC Exam

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