New Caltech faculty member Alireza Marandi is on the cutting edge of laser science. Marandi, assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, explores how nonlinear photonics, a field of optics, enables a broad range of previously less-explored opportunities for using lasers and light detectors for a variety of purposes, including molecular sensing and computing. Although lasers currently are used for a number of important applications from surgery to communications, imaging, and sensing, the devices are not always available at the wavelength needed for a given application. Marandi and others are exploring ways to convert laser wavelengths to suit any given purpose, by passing the light through specially engineered devices. Such nonlinear devices can also be used in information processing. Marandi received a bachelor's degree from the University of Tehran, a master's from the University of Victoria, and a doctorate from Stanford University. Recently, he answered a few questions about his life and work.
Caltech has a great focus on science and engineering. Everyone you meet shares the same passion and drive, which fosters strong collaborations and motivates you to dig more deeply into your own field and be more effective. It has been a utopia for the type of research I am interested in.
Moreover, Caltech has played a critical role in the evolution of electrical engineering and photonics. Many of the prominent figures in the field have been at Caltech at some point in their careers as students, postdocs, or faculty members. It is extremely exciting for me to be a part of this community and contribute to its extraordinary impact.
When I was in primary school, I saw one of those sci-fi movies that had lasers in it. I don't even remember the name of the movie, but it got me interested in understanding what a laser was and how it was different from other light sources. Being a bookworm at the time, I actually went out and bought a laser textbook. Except for the first few pages, I could not understand anything in that book, but it helped me create an imaginary picture of the physics behind lasers. It was fun. Of course, everyone teased me for having a laser textbook in primary school.
Later, in high school, I got my hands on some laser diodes and built the simplest optical communication link. It was my first serious photonic experiment. When I got to college, I knew I would do electrical engineering. I had always been the type of kid that would try to build things. My parents may not agree with me on the term "build," but I "worked" with a lot of electronics in high school.
As an undergrad, I got a little off-track from photonics and found myself working a lot with artificial intelligence. I used artificial intelligence to design electromagnetic structures, which we built and tested. That got me back into learning more about electromagnetics and optics. Fast forward to after my PhD, when I ended up using photonic structures to solve some artificial intelligence problems. So, everything connects in a nonlinear way. In hindsight, one of the most appealing elements of photonics for me is that you can find a nice balance between science and engineering design and development.
Think of breath analysis. There is a correlation between the molecular composition of your exhaled breath and what exists in the blood. So, there's a lot of useful information about your health contained in your breath, but it is difficult to analyze because the concentrations are so low. To overcome that, you could analyze the spectra of exhaled breath using lasers, searching for the spectral "fingerprints," or signatures, that reveal the presence of those compounds. The problem is that those fingerprints sometimes only show up at certain wavelengths of light, for which lasers and light detectors are not easily available. Wavelength conversion in nonlinear photonics enables accessing that information using the currently available lasers and detectors.
There are two application directions that I'm particularly excited about: one of them is related to information processing and the other is related to sensing, which I just described. For information processing, nonlinear photonics can provide access to extraordinary functionalities ranging from low-power logic operations to generation and manipulation of quantum states of light,but the challenge is that it's expensive and not easy to scale at the moment. The important question is how you can bring such functionalities, either for sensing or information processing, into a scalable platform to solve real-world problems.
Anneila Sargent (MS '67, PhD '78), Caltech's Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, has made a gift to establish the Wallace L. W. Sargent Fellowship. With this fellowship, she is supporting tomorrow's scientists and engineers while also honoring her late husband. Wallace "Wal" Sargent, former Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy, served on the Caltech faculty from 1966 until his death in 2012.
Read more on the Break Through campaign website.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a Pioneer Award to Viviana Gradinaru (BS '05), professor of neuroscience and biological engineering, Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator, and director of the Center for Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech.
The award is part of the NIH's High-Risk, High-Reward Research program and supports "scientists with outstanding records of creativity," according to the program website, particularly in the area of biomedical and behavioral research. This year, Gradinaru is one of 10 Pioneer Award recipients.
Though gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 are making genome engineering more feasible, it remains a challenge to safely and efficiently transport large genomes into cells—especially into cells in the brain, which are protected by the nearly impenetrable blood-brain barrier. With the Pioneer Award, Gradinaru will pursue research to engineer harmless viruses into shuttles that can deliver desired genes into targeted populations of cells, including brain cells.
"To effectively study and repair the brain, we need genetic access to specific cells throughout the adult and developing brain," says Gradinaru. "An outstanding challenge is the means to safely and efficiently transfer large genomes to desired cells at all stages of the life span. The Pioneer Award will allow us to work toward this goal and contribute tools that can help in neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration research and translational work, for example studying Parkinson's disease."
In addition to developing these viral vectors that can cross the blood-brain barrier, the Gradinaru laboratory uses techniques such as optogenetics and CLARITY tissue clearing—a technique to render tissues transparent, which Gradinaru helped develop during and since her graduate work at Stanford. Her work on the brain has also led to advances in understanding the neural bases underlying sleep and locomotion.
Gradinaru studied physics for two years at the University of Bucharest in Romania before transferring to Caltech, where she graduated with honors in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in biology. She received her PhD in 2010 in neuroscience from Stanford University. Among other awards, she has received the NIH Director's New Innovator Award and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She has been honored as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist and as one of Cell journal's "40 Under 40." Gradinaru is also a Sloan Fellow, Pew Scholar, Moore Inventor, Vallee Scholar, and recipient of the inaugural Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award by the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. In 2017, she received the Early-Career Scientist Award from the Takeda Pharmaceutical Company and the New York Academy of Sciences' inaugural Innovators in Science Awards.
Starting in fall 2018, the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (EAS) will offer students a new undergraduate degree option in a field that is at the forefront of computer science: information and data sciences (IDS).
The new option will focus on the acquisition, storage, communication, processing, and analysis of data—making sense of a world where information is acquired at an ever-increasing rate, with opportunities to generate actionable knowledge based on its analysis.
"Humans can't deal directly with the tremendous volume of data that we are currently collecting. It holds endless potential but also presents a huge challenge. If we are going to make sense of big volumes of data, we need to create new automated pipelines for processing it," says Adam Wierman, professor and executive officer of EAS's computing and mathematical sciences department. "With this new option, we're going to give the next generation of engineers the tools to develop those pipelines."
Mathematics will form the backbone of the new option. Students in IDS will take core courses focusing on machine learning, information theory, probability, statistics, linear algebra, and signal processing. After that, they will have the opportunity to branch out with electives that cover applications of data sciences to science and engineering. Because of the broad applicability of the degree—and the interdisciplinary nature of Caltech—Wierman sees an opportunity for students to branch out into biology, economics, chemistry, and other diverse fields.
"Everyone uses data and needs to extract answers from the data they've collected. A student with a strong foundation in information and data sciences can apply those skills in any field across campus and around the world," Wierman says. That mindset is embodied by the "CS + X" philosophy of the computer science department, where computer science is combined with whatever "X" area of translation a student is interested in pursuing.
The IDS option will also offer a minor that focuses on the foundations of information and data sciences for students in other majors who are seeking to supplement their skill set.
A key component of this program will be select collaborations with private industry to make connections between current industry-relevant challenges and how data sciences can provide innovative solutions. Support for the new option comes from two founding partners: Newport Beach-headquartered investment management company PIMCO and cloud-computing provider Amazon Web Services (AWS). Funding from these two partners will supportgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows in data sciences who will teach courses and conduct research with students in the IDS program. The partners will also support computing resources, such as AWS Cloud Credits, and provide students and faculty in the option access to data.
The IDS option will provide new opportunities for faculty as well as students. Drawing advisers from multiple divisions—including EAS as well as the divisions of Biology and Biological Engineering (BBE) and Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS)—IDS will unite researchers and allow them to tackle outstanding problems in managing big data.
"Many disciplines are coming to grips with how to handle large amounts of data or model output, including the earth and climate sciences," says Andrew Thompson, professor of environmental science and engineering in GPS, and one of the advisers for the new option. "This new program provides an opportunity to work with students with backgrounds different from our typical graduate students and who are likely to have unique insight on how to develop new analysis techniques."
In the end, Wierman hopes the creation of this new option will prepare both students and Caltech for the future. "It almost doesn't matter what you're interested in. If you want to make discoveries and be on the cutting edge of your field, you're going to need the skills to analyze and manipulate large collections of information," he says.
More information about the new option can be found online at: http://cms.caltech.edu/academics/ugrad_ids
Gathered together on campus for the first time, Caltech's newest community members—undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral scholars—were formally welcomed to the Institute by Vice President for Student Affairs Joseph E. Shepherd and President Thomas F. Rosenbaum at this year's convocation ceremony on Sunday, September 23. The event, which was held in Beckman Auditorium, launched a week of orientation activities and offered the incoming scholars a glimpse into the opportunities ahead of them.
"You are about to enter into a world rich in tradition and profoundly connected to the greatest achievements of humanity," said Rosenbaum, who holds the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and is also a professor of physics. "It is the start of a lifelong relationship with Caltech that will evolve and deepen as you progress from student to alum. Most exciting, it is a dynamic world that is ready to be sculpted by the power of your ideas."
Throughout his speech, Rosenbaum encouraged the diverse group to take full advantage of the breadth of experiences and opportunities Caltech has to offer. He urged them to "delve deeply into subjects at the boundaries of discovery" through research, to seek to understand other cultures and perspectives through study abroad, and to expand their own abilities and interests through theater, the arts, and music on campus and through the exploration of Pasadena and Los Angeles.
"You will crack open many books as you master the intricacies of science and engineering, but a full resonant education requires much more," he noted.
Gathered in the nearly full auditorium were many—if not all—of the 487 students joining Caltech this year, as well as incoming postdoctoral scholars, family members and friends, and current faculty and administrators.
The incoming class of 233 undergraduates is one of Caltech's most diverse to date, with women making up 46 percent of the class and a quarter of those enrolled identifying themselves as being part of historically underrepresented ethnic groups. Along with the first-time freshmen, Caltech welcomed two transfer students who are enrolled through the Institute's 3/2 program—a partnership that invites students at a select group of liberal arts colleges to transfer to Caltech after the completion of their junior year and eventually earn degrees from both institutions.
The incoming class of 254 graduate students is composed of scholars and researchers from around the world.
Throughout the program, Shepherd, the Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair and event emcee, spoke about the Caltech journey the attendees were about to embark upon, emphasizing the range of activities and opportunities that will be afforded to each of them. The primary focus on Sunday, was in the performing and visual arts as the Institute has traditionally used the convocation ceremony as an opportunity to highlight and celebrate a single area that supports students intellectual and personal growth beyond the classroom and the lab.
Glenn Price, director of performing and visual arts (PVA) and band director, spoke to how the arts can help to provide balance in students' lives, while also refreshing and invigorating their academic and scientific pursuits. Price highlighted the breadth and depth of Caltech's programs, which range from silk screening and virtual reality, to improvisation, musicals, symphony orchestra, and guitar classes. "Whatever your interests and prior level of experience, I'm sure there is a place for you in PVA," he said.
Also featured during the program were graduate student Matteo Ronchi and postdoctoral scholars Rajib Schubert and Sandra Koenig, who shared the ways in which they have been inspired by courses and training in the art of storytelling. Undergraduates Sarah Fish and Tara Porter also played an instrumental duet.
"Every day I come to lab to work on being the best version of a computer vision scientist that I can," said Ronchi, a fifth-year graduate student in computer science. "And I know as a fact that I am the best computer vision scientist on my block in north Pasadena. This and all the parts of the journey that brought me here are what makes me happy, and makes [my computer] happy. Now she sees people in 3-D, just like me."
For Fish, a sophomore who is pursuing a degree in mathematics while also participating in the Chamber Music Program, what was particularly noteworthy was how her involvement in that group has helped her to further make the Caltech experience her own.
"You can choose what kind of music you want to play, from baroque to modern, and you can choose what instrument you play," she said. "I am actually a violinist, but I chose to play the viola for a term just to try it out. And it's been a lot of fun."
In the upcoming week, these newest Caltech scholars will continue to have opportunities to learn about and experience Caltech's academic and social environment through orientation programs run through the offices of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the Dean of Graduate Students. Classes for the 2018-19 academic year will officially begin on Monday, October 1.
Nearly 500 incoming undergraduate and graduate students will be kicking off their academic and social journey at Caltech this week as they participate in the Institute's new student orientation programs.
The two concurrently run but separate programs will help undergraduate and graduate students to get to know their peers, as well as the Caltech campus and its many services and resources. Among the activities planned by offices of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the Dean of Graduate Studies are information sessions covering topics ranging from research integrity and the Caltech Honor Code to residential life, diversity and inclusion, campus safety, and study habits.
In addition, undergraduate students will have opportunities to take in some of Los Angeles' sights: there will be a group trip to Venice Beach as well as optional weekend adventures, including a hike in the Angeles National Forest, a community service trip organized through the Caltech Y, and a self-guided tour of The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Graduate students will attend a day-long teaching conference hosted by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach. And both groups will come together with current community members on Sunday, September 30, for Techfest, a campuswide event on Beckman Lawn that will feature a screening of Incredibles 2 and a fireworks show.
Caltech's incoming international students, who arrived on campus on September 19, have participated in targeted orientation programs sponsored by the International Student Programs office and will now join their peers for this week's broader orientation activities.
Postdoctoral Scholars contribute mightily to research on campus and to Caltech's standing in the world. More than 600 postdocs are on campus this year, spread across all six divisions. They make their influence felt across the academic enterprise, carrying out experiments, devising theories, mentoring students, setting intellectual directions, and conveying the power of science to the general public. Caltech postdocs have made scientific and technological contributions at the highest levels, garnering, for example, 14 Nobel Prizes and 14 National Medals of Science over the years.
The start of National Postdoc Appreciation Week is a most appropriate time to recognize the unsung heroes in our midst. To that end, the Institute recently created a central postdoctoral office to supplement the support provided in the divisions. We are also buttressing career placement services in order to make sure that our postdocs are well-positioned to maximize their impact on society as they move on to the next stages of their careers.
Caltech's mission of world-leading research and education depends crucially on our postdoctoral scholars. Although their time at Caltech may be short, they quickly become vital parts of the Institute's intellectual fabric. In the words of Herman Hesse: "Where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home for a time." A heartfelt thank you to the Caltech Postdoc Association for your partnership and to all our postdoctoral scholars for making Caltech home.
Caltech's newest undergraduate residence, the 211-bed Bechtel Residence—named for Caltech life trustee Stephen D. Bechtel Jr.—officially opened its doors to students on Monday, September 17.
The first new undergraduate housing facility to open on campus in more than two decades, Bechtel is a multiuse residence that will house undergraduates from all class levels along with two faculty in residence, a half-dozen graduate resident associates, and a residential life coordinator. The beds in Bechtel will now make it possible for Caltech to offer all of its undergraduates the opportunity to live on campus throughout all four years of their education.
"Completion of the Bechtel Residence is a milestone in our efforts to provide on-campus housing for all our students and, most importantly, creates a new model of residential experience for this millennium," says Joe Shepherd, the vice president for student affairs and Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair.
The 95,000-square-foot residence, composed of six distinct but interconnected structures arranged around an expansive interior courtyard, was intentionally designed to promote interaction among its residents. Although all of the student rooms are singles, nearly all have been set up in apartment or suite configurations with anywhere from four to 12 rooms in each shared space. The residence also has a 400-person dining hall, community lounges, and a kitchen on each floor; in addition, there are four study rooms and multiple laundry facilities throughout the complex.
"This thoughtfully and beautifully designed new building provides new opportunities to enrich and enhance the Caltech undergraduate experience," says Antonio Rangel, the Bing Professor of Neuroscience, Behavioral Biology, and Economics, who will be living in Bechtel with his family as the new head faculty in residence. "Take for instance, the full whiteboards in every suite—what a great tool for student collaboration."
By providing the additional space needed to house all undergraduates on campus, Bechtel also has freed up Caltech-owned off-campus apartments and houses for graduate student use. Both the ability to house all undergrads on campus and the ability to provide more space for graduate students have been longtime goals for enhancing residential life.
Work on Bechtel, which is situated at the north end of campus alongside Avery on Moore Walk, began in 2016.
To celebrate the work of its postdoctoral scholars, Caltech will mark National Postdoc Appreciation Week from September 17–21 with events including divisional town hall meetings, social mixers, career discussions, and a raffle for Amazon gift cards.
Initiated by the National Postdoctoral Association in 2009, the annual event recognizes the contributions that postdocs make to research and discovery worldwide. The Caltech Postdoc Association (CPA)—which advocates on behalf of the postdoc community and seeks to boost professional and personal developmentopportunities—has hosted events marking the occasion previously, but this year the organization is boosting the size, number, and coordination of events campus-wide to underscore the contributions postdocs make.
The weeklong event mirrors new Institute-wide efforts to provide more coordinated services that will support postdocs. Earlier this year, Caltech established the Postdoctoral Scholars Office (PSO)—overseen by Vice Provost Kaushik Bhattacharya—to represent postdocs' interests. It also established the Postdoctoral Studies Committee—made up of members from the PSO, faculty representatives from each division, the CPA, and Human Resources—to propose recommendations for improving the postdoc experience at Caltech.
CPA chair Sreeram Balasubramanian, a postdoctoral scholar in biology and biological engineering, notes that postdocs "represent a unique part of the Caltech community. They are scholars who play an invaluable role in Caltech's research enterprise by primarily engaging in research activities as part of their continued training post-graduation to help prepare for their chosen career paths." Moreover, most postdocs mentor graduate and undergraduate students: "That's an important service that most postdocs provide while pursuing their research endeavors."
Bhattacharya says that Caltech has about 700 postdocs working on campus at any given time, making its postdoc-to-student ratio as much as four times higher than peer institutions. This is why they play an "especially vital" role in research at the Institute, he says.
"The success of our alumni scholars is a critical part of our impact," Bhattacharya adds. "However, since postdoctoral scholars are deeply immersed in their research and identified with individual laboratories, they do not always feel integrated with the larger Caltech community. The Postdoctoral Scholars Office and the Postdoctoral Studies Committee seek to address their needs at the Institute and to enable them to succeed. National Postdoc Appreciation Week is an important opportunity to recognize this dedicated and talented group of scholars, and to acknowledge their contributions to the Institute."
In a letter to the campus community on September 17, the first day of National Postdoc Appreciation Week, President Thomas Rosenbaum highlighted the crucial work of postdocs, noting that "Caltech's mission of world-leading research and education depends crucially on our postdoctoral scholars. Although their time at Caltech may be short, they quickly become vital parts of the Institute's intellectual fabric."
For National Postdoc Appreciation Week, Balasubramanian says,the CPA aims to "increase awareness for postdocs, inform our postdocs about various campus resources, and facilitate interactions within the community."
In collaboration with the Office of the Provost as well as the Institute's divisions and its campus partners, the CPA will host Appreciation Week activities that include free morning coffee and informational booths, town hall meetings focusing on postdocs' needs and concerns, an ice cream social, a tech-and-industry mixer, reflections and advice from postdoc alumni, and an opportunity to get free professional headshots.
More information on the week's schedule of events can be found here.
New Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kimberly See caught her first glimpses into the world of chemistry growing up in Colorado. She originally thought she wanted to be a botanist, but then began to realize that plants—and everything else around her—are made up of molecules, and switched her interest to chemistry.
"My chemistry kit was going outside and playing in the streams and being in nature and climbing in mountains and trees," she says in a new video profile.
After earning her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the Colorado School of Mines in 2009, she went on to UC Santa Barbara, where she received her PhD in 2014. She worked as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign until last year, when she joined the Caltech faculty.
See's passion for the outdoors led her to focus on energy research, and more specifically, battery chemistry. She and her students are looking into potential new electrodes and electrolytes that go beyond the traditional chemical reactions using lithium-ion batteries. For example, they are studying the chemistry of magnesium and other abundant, less-expensive resources that might one day be used in batteries for electrical vehicles or other forms of renewable energy storage. Says See, "the ultimate goal of our lab is really to develop new chemistry."
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Start: 24 Apr 2017 | End: 18 Apr 2018