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Tue, 31 Oct 2017 18:35:43 +0000
Flat Metasurface Optics: Watson Lecture Preview
Andrei Faraon will discuss how nanotechnology enables new ways to make optical components

Flat Metasurface Optics - A. Faraon - 1/17/2018

Flat Metasurface Optics - A. Faraon - 1/17/2018
Watch the lecture recorded on January 17, 2018
Credit: Produced in association with Caltech Academic Media Technologies

For hundreds of years, most optical elements like lenses and polarizers have been fabricated using carefully polished pieces of glass or crystals and assembled in optical systems such as cameras and microscopes.

Delivering the Earnest C. Watson Lecture on January 17, Andrei Faraon (BS '04) will discuss how nanotechnology enables new ways to make optical components using fabrication processes already developed in the semiconductor industry. These nanopatterned structures, named optical metasurfaces, allow for extreme miniaturization of optical systems with applications in consumer electronics and medical devices.

Faraon is an assistant professor of applied physics, and his laboratory specializes in developing nanophotonic technologies for devices that operate close to the fundamental limit of light-matter interaction, with applications in imaging, sensing, and quantum information processing. In 2016, Faraon was named the inaugural KNI-Wheatley Scholar in Nanoscience, established by Chuck and Judith Wheatley and the Kavli Nanoscience Institute. He was also the recipient of the 2015 National Science Foundation CAREER award, the 2015 Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award, and the 2016 Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award.

The lecture, held at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17, in Beckman Auditorium, is a free event; no tickets or reservations are required.


Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's YouTube site.


Thu, 19 Oct 2017 17:32:03 +0000
The Grand Tour: Watson Lecture Preview
In the November 15 Watson Lecture, Professor of Planetary Science Heather Knutson will discuss how to characterize planets outside of our solar system.
News Writer: 
Lori Dajose
Heather Knutson
Heather Knutson
Credit: Caltech

The past decade has marked a period of great progress in our quest to discover and characterize the properties of the planets outside of our own solar system, called exoplanets. Observations of eclipsing systems—in which a planet periodically passes in front of and then behind its star as seen from Earth—have given us new insights into the nature of these alien worlds. On November 15, Professor of Planetary Science Heather Knutson will give a Watson Lecture to discuss ongoing efforts, using a combination of both ground- and space-based telescopes, to investigate the diverse properties of exoplanetary systems. This Watson Lecture begins at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium and is free and open to the public.

What do you do?

I study the properties of planets orbiting nearby stars. We're currently very good at finding these systems—the astronomy community has found over 5,000 planets and planet candidates so far—but for the vast majority of them, all we know is the size and orbital period of the planet. My group is working to answer questions like: What is the planet made of? Does it have an atmosphere and, if so, what kind? What is the weather like on the planet—is it hot, cold, cloudy, windy?

Why is this important?

There are two reasons why this is important. First, we are looking for clues that tell us about how these planetary systems formed and evolved. Many of them have architectures that look very different than our own—for instance, a large gas giant planet orbiting closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun. We'd like to understand why our solar system went down a different path. The second reason is related to life: we'd like to know whether Earth-like planets are common or rare in the universe and eventually we'd like to search for signs of life on these planets. Of course, life might not necessarily be limited to Earth-like planets, but it's the obvious place to start!

How did you get into this line of work?

I have always loved science, and picked physics as my major when I was an undergrad at Johns Hopkins because it was interesting and also practical. However, my interests took a decidedly non-practical turn when I found my way across the street to the Space Telescope Science Institute, home of the Hubble Space Telescope, and located immediately adjacent to the Johns Hopkins campus, for a summer internship. The presence of so many professional astronomers in one spot convinced me that, yes, you could earn a living doing really cool astronomy research, and I ultimately ended up going to Harvard to earn my PhD in astronomy.

 

Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's YouTube site.


Wed, 03 May 2017 21:53:08 +0000
Going Out in a Blaze of Glory: Cassini Mission Highlights
The November Watson Lecture will be given by Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist.
News Writer: 
Lori Dajose
Linda Spilker

Early in the morning of September 15, the Cassini spacecraft sent its final signals to Earth and plunged into Saturn, burning up in its atmosphere. Cassini had been orbiting and observing the planet and its moons for the previous 13 years. On Wednesday, November 1, Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker of NASA's JPL, a division of Caltech, will give a Watson Lecture highlighting the Cassini mission's most intriguing discoveries. The lecture begins at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium and is free to the public.

What do you do?

I am the Cassini project scientist. I am responsible for maximizing the scientific return of the mission within cost and schedule. I work with a team of over 300 international scientists to produce the best science possible for the mission across five diverse areas involving the planet, its magnetosphere, its rings, the moon Titan, and the icy satellites. I enjoy interacting with Cassini's scientists.

Why is this important?

By studying the planets, we seek to answer some key questions about ourselves, including how the solar system come to be and if we are alone in the universe. The discoveries made by Cassini and Huygens [a probe carried into space by Cassini that landed on Saturn's moon Titan in 2005] have certainly expanded the possibility that there are other worlds where life might exist. For example, Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus has a salty, liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust, as does the giant moon Titan. Could life exist inside these ocean worlds?

How did you get into this line of work?

I always enjoyed science, most especially studies of the stars and planets. My parents gave me my first telescope when I was nine years old. The first thing I did was to use it to look at Saturn, Jupiter, and their moons. I wondered what these worlds would look like up close. Working on both Cassini and Voyager gave me a chance to find out.

I majored in physics in college at Cal State Fullerton. When I got out of school in the late 1970s, it was a great time to look for a job. I applied at JPL—in fact, JPL was number one on my list as I had always wanted to do something in astronomy or on the planets. I was offered two jobs—one on the Viking extended mission, and one on a new mission called Voyager that hadn't even launched yet. I asked where Voyager was going. They said, "Jupiter and Saturn and, if all goes well, on to Uranus and Neptune." So of course I chose Voyager—that was a no-brainer. I was just launching my career and it seemed appropriate to start with something new. Using Voyager data, I got both master's and PhD degrees at UCLA. As Voyager was ending, I was asked to participate in a scientific study for a mission to return to Saturn. That mission ultimately became Cassini. Working on both Voyager and Cassini has been a dream come true.

 

Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's YouTube site.


Tue, 18 Apr 2017 23:20:42 +0000
What Columbus Discovered
Nicol

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 16:56:01 +0000
Junior Watson Program Brings Top High School Science Students to Campus
News Writer: 
Jon Nalick
Garreth Ruane, a postdoctoral scholar in astronomy, shows visiting students from South Pasadena High School filtered views of the sun.
Using a telescope set up atop the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Garreth Ruane (center), postdoctoral scholar in astronomy, shows visiting students from South Pasadena High School filtered views of the sun.
Credit: Caltech

From visiting an optics lab and peering through telescopes to dining at the Athenaeum and attending a lecture on exoplanets, eight students from South Pasadena High School recently got a glimpse of life at Caltech.

"I can feel everyone's passion and love for science. Caltech has a very energetic atmosphere," said junior Jane Yang. The tour "inspired me to explore more about fundamental science."

Yang and her classmates visited the campus on April 5 as part of the Junior Watson Program, which brings high school teachers and their AP science students to campus twice each year; during each of these visits, the students get to hear a lecture from the Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series, visit the featured researcher's lab, and learn more about Caltech.

During their recent visit, the South Pasadena students listened to a presentation on admissions criteria, financial aid, and the curriculum. Afterward, they trekked to the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics to spend time in the lab of Dimitri Mawet, associate professor of astronomy, where they examined prototypes of optics designed to look at distant exoplanets; later, they climbed to the roof to view the sun and moon through a telescope. After dinner at the Athenaeum, the students filed into Beckman Auditorium to hear Mawet deliver his lecture on directly imaging planets outside of our solar system.

Sophomore Sarah Uriarte called the lecture "fascinating. … I didn't have previous knowledge about remote sensing, but I learned quite a bit about it and would love to learn more."

She said that the Junior Watson Program provided useful insight into STEM careers and research, and added that the visit increased her interest in attending Caltech. "It was a good experience—I had a really great time."

The Institute created the Junior Watson Program in 1998 as a collaboration between Public Events (now Campus Programs) and Admissions. The program will host its final group of students for this academic year on April 19, when students from STEM Academy of Boyle Heights will attend a lecture by Adam Wierman, professor of computing and mathematical sciences, on cloud computing.


Fri, 10 Mar 2017 17:38:30 +0000
How Clean is the Cloud?
Adam Wierman will give the April 19 Watson Lecture on sustainable cloud computing.
Adam Wierman
Adam Wierman
Credit: Caltech

Computing "in the cloud" may sound ephemeral, but the cloud actually has a physical presence in the form of data centers filled with thousands of servers. The power infrastructure needed to run these servers is enormous. In fact, at this point in time, data centers lead to more carbon emissions than the airline industry.

On Wednesday April 19, Adam Wierman, professor of computing and mathematical sciences (CMS) in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, executive officer for CMS, and director of Information Science and Technology at Caltech, will give a Watson Lecture describing ongoing research at Caltech aimed at building a sustainable computing infrastructure. In this design, data centers are powered by renewable energy and even serve as virtual energy storage facilities for more broadly integrating renewable energy into the electrical grid. Admission is free.

What do you do?

In typical Caltech fashion, I'm kind of hard to categorize. I study problems at the intersection of cloud computing, energy, and markets. This covers a wide range of questions from "Can we make cloud computing sustainable?" to "Can we run the electricity grid reliably if we get more than half our energy from renewable generation?"

Why is this important?

One of the biggest societal challenges we face today is how we can move our energy usage away from fossil fuels and toward more sustainable sources. The climate crisis will fundamentally change our world in the coming decades. Making the move to a sustainable energy landscape is an enormous interdisciplinary challenge—one that requires not just new technologies, but a complete reimagining of the way we think about generating and delivering electricity. Computational thinking has been a huge disruptor for many industries, and now is the time for that disruption to come to our energy infrastructure. Between the "smart grid," distributed solar generation, electric vehicles, and distributed energy storage, we have an enormous opportunity to make an impact. But, it's not enough to plug these new technologies in and turn them on. We need to redesign the systems, architectures, and markets if we want our energy landscape to be sustainable.

How did you get into this line of work?

When I came to Caltech in 2007, I was a computer scientist through and through. That changed within the first year I was here. It began when I consciously made the decision to focus on energy for all the reasons I described above. But, at the same time, Caltech was unconsciously changing the way I thought, in another way. I started interacting with faculty from all over campus, learning from them, and being influenced by them. The economists, especially John Ledyard [Alan and Lenabelle Davis Professor of Economics and Social Sciences, Emeritus], began to rub off on me and within a year I was co-teaching an economics course—a topic I had never studied before coming to Caltech! Then, about a year later these two different paths merged, as I realized how crucial it was to deal with both the economic and engineering aspects of energy together. Now, combining these with my computer science background, I truly bridge all three areas.

 

Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's YouTube site.


Tue, 14 Feb 2017 21:44:37 +0000
Seeing Other Worlds: Watson Lecture Preview
Dimitri Mawet will give the April Watson Lecture about directly imaging planets outside of our solar system.
News Writer: 
Lori Dajose
Dimitri Mawet
Associate Professor of Astronomy Dimitri Mawet
Credit: Caltech

The discovery of thousands of exoplanets over the past 20 years has taught us that our solar system is just one example among a mind-boggling variety of planetary systems. Most of these planetary systems were detected by indirect techniques, such as measuring a host star's motion in response to the gravitational tug of its planet. On Wednesday, April 5, Associate Professor of Astronomy Dimitri Mawet will consider the findings made possible by direct, high-contrast imaging and spectroscopy, techniques that, strikingly, have produced pictures of other worlds and the most detailed measurements of exoplanet atmospheres. This Watson Lecture begins at 8:00 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium and is free to the public.

What do you do?

I study planets orbiting other stars, called exoplanets, and the circumstellar disks of dust and gas in which they are born. I am developing and applying new technologies to image these other worlds directly and analyze them with spectroscopy, a technique akin to ultra-remote sensing. Direct detection allows us to learn detailed characteristics of exoplanets, such as their orbit, mass, temperature, and chemical composition. In some favorable cases, we can even measure the length of day, generate crude maps, and study weather phenomena. But it is extremely difficult because stars are so bright in comparison to their planets, which makes the planets very hard to see. It's like trying to see a firefly next to a spotlight hundreds of miles away.

Why is this important?

The prime motivation is to understand our origins and place in the universe by putting the solar system, with its cortege of planets, into universal perspective. Studying other planets and their diversity allows us to look at our own planet from a new vantage point. My hope is that it will teach invaluable lessons on how to be better stewards of the earth, a unique, magnificent, but fragile spaceship. The secondary motivation is to seek signs of primordial extra-terrestrial life and try to address the age-old question: are we alone?

How did you get into this line of work?

I started to work on exoplanet imaging about 15 years ago, by trying to solve a technical problem related to specialized instruments called coronagraphs—a sequence of optical devices used in conjunction with telescopes that allow us to see things very close to the sun and other stars—which I will discuss in my lecture. My background is engineering physics, and I indeed love to find new ways to answer these scientific questions, pushing the limits of the best ground-based and space-based telescopes.

 

Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's YouTube site.


Wed, 23 Nov 2016 00:51:00 +0000
Sleeping With the (Zebra)fishes
News Writer: 
Lori Dajose
David Prober
David Prober
Credit: Caltech

People can reject food and control their thirst, but we cannot keep from falling asleep. Even though we spend a third of our lives asleep and treat the prevalence of sleep disorders, we know remarkably little about why we sleep or how sleep is regulated.

On February 22, at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, Caltech assistant professor of biology David Prober will discuss his lab's efforts to find new approaches to answer these questions and the discoveries they've made using the zebrafish as a simple animal model—discoveries that may have implications for our understanding of sleep in humans as well. Admission is free.

What do you do?

My lab studies how genes and neurons regulate sleep. Most sleep research is performed using laboratory mice. We are taking a different approach by using zebrafish, a small tropical fish that can be found in pet stores and has recently emerged as a powerful animal model for exploring many questions in biology. Zebrafish have several advantages for studying sleep, including a brain that is anatomically similar to ours but much simpler, optical transparency that allows us to monitor the activity of neurons throughout the brain while the animals are awake or asleep, and a small size that enables large-scale experiments. Zebrafish also have a diurnal sleep/wake pattern similar to that of humans and unlike the nocturnal mice that are commonly used for sleep research. As a result, zebrafish are, in some ways, a better animal model than mice to explore how sleep is regulated in humans.

Why is this important?

We spend a third of our lives asleep, and sleeplike behaviors have been observed across the animal kingdom, including in animals as simple as jellyfish. These observations suggest that sleep serves an ancient and essential function, but we don't know what this function is or how sleep is regulated. These questions are medically relevant because sleep disorders are common, but few effective therapies are available. Beyond a basic desire to understand this biological mystery, we hope that determining how sleep is regulated will lead to novel therapies for sleep disorders and may also provide clues as to the function of sleep.

How did you get into this line of work?

Our work is inspired by [late professor emeritus] Seymour Benzer, whose seminal research showing that genes can regulate complex behaviors in fruit flies was performed in the space that my lab now occupies at Caltech. After studying genetic mechanisms that underlie cancer for my PhD, I wanted to change fields and focus on a significant and long-standing question that I knew would keep me busy for many years. After considering several avenues of research, I kept coming back to sleep as one of the last great mysteries of biology and one that has proved to be relatively intractable to solving. It's amazing that, despite decades of intense research, we still have a poor understanding of why we sleep or how sleep is regulated. When we began this work, the zebrafish had just started to be used to ask how genes and neurons regulate a variety of behaviors, so using zebrafish to address mechanisms that underlie sleep was an exciting, albeit risky, undertaking. Fortunately, this approach has proved to be fruitful and has allowed us to address long-standing questions in the sleep field.

 

Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's YouTube site.


Thu, 03 Nov 2016 22:23:34 +0000
Planet Nine from Outer Space
News Writer: 
Lori Dajose

In January 2016, Assistant Professor of Planetary Science Konstantin Batygin, along with Mike Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor and professor of planetary astronomy, discovered evidence for a Neptune-sized planet on an eccentric orbit hidden deep in the Kuiper Belt, the expansive field of icy debris beyond Neptune's orbit. On Wednesday, December 7, Batygin will present this evidence for the existence of the so-called Planet Nine in the Richard C. Biedebach Memorial Lecture of the Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series. The lecture will begin at 8:00 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium. Admission is free.

What do you do?

I study the origins and evolution of planetary systems, including our own. I am fascinated by the dynamics of orbits—especially chaotic ones—and the physical processes that determine their final architectures. I also spend a substantial fraction of my time thinking about planetary interiors, planetary magnetic fields, and protoplanetary disks—the disks of material from which planets form.

Why is this important?

One of the greatest questions ever asked is, "How did the world around us emerge?" This seemingly basic question cannot be answered without a full understanding of the formation and the early evolution of the solar system. Studying the solar system's present-day dynamical structure can help us unravel this remarkable story, while characterizing systems of extrasolar planets—planets outside of our solar system—can provide context for how our home world fits into the galactic planetary census.

How did you get into this line of work?

By accident. I met my undergraduate adviser at a party and got involved in planetary research as a consequence of that encounter. Then, by what was probably a clerical error, I got into grad school here at Caltech and completely fell in love with planetary science.

 

Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's iTunes U site.



Watson Lecture: Ceres and the Dawn of the Solar System
News Writer: 
Lori Dajose
Carol Raymond
Credit: Courtesy of C. Raymond

The main asteroid belt contains millions of objects but only a few date from the earliest stages of planet formation. The Dawn mission, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), explored two such fossils: protoplanet Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres, the latter of which the spacecraft began to explore in March 2015. Since then, the mission has gathered evidence of geologic activity and clues confirming that Ceres had an ancient subsurface ocean, placing the dwarf planet in the important class of objects with astrobiological potential.

On Wednesday, November 9, Carol Raymond, the deputy principal investigator for the Dawn mission, will discuss the mission's results. This Watson Lecture begins at 8:00 p.m. and is free to the public.

What do you do?

I am a planetary scientist with a focus on the geophysical nature of planetary bodies and what that can tell us about how they formed. In particular, I study the shape and detailed topography, and magnetic and gravity fields to understand the internal workings of these bodies and the tectonic processes that modify them. My current focus is on exploring the large building blocks of the planets, represented by Vesta and Ceres. I also am involved in the exploration of the subsurface ocean of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons.

Why is this important?

While our solar system's planets and moons are relatively well understood, the processes that formed them during the early days of our solar system are still debated. Many factors influence the diversity of bodies that we see today in our solar system, including the distribution of solids, volatile gases, and ices and dynamic processes that redistributed them during and following planet formation. Studying the building blocks of the planets sheds light on this complex evolution and on habitable zones in our planetary neighborhood.

How did you get into this line of work?

Science, in general, and physics in particular, were my main interests in school. I also love to observe and explore. Seeing a new landscape or an alien world for the first time is a thrill. But then gathering all the evidence and unraveling the story of how planetary bodies form and change is the real prize. After studying Earth's plate tectonics and the history of its ice sheets, using ships, planes, and satellites, I became interested in applying these same techniques to studying the fossils from the early solar system, which led to my current role exploring the asteroid belt.

 

Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's iTunes U site.


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