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How Do You Test a Helicopter Bound for Mars?

04-29-21

Caltech grad students helped JPL build a custom wind tunnel in a vacuum chamber for the Mars Ingenuity helicopter. The Ingenuity helicopter may be the first vehicle ever to fly on Mars, but Mars was not the first place it has ever flown. Before packaging it up and blasting it to the Red Planet, engineers at JPL gave the helicopter a trial run in a special wind tunnel. The fan array was designed and built by JPL engineers with input from Chris Dougherty and Marcel Veismann, who are currently working with Morteza Gharib, Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering and Booth-Kresa Leadership Chair of Caltech's Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST). Jason Rabinovitch, who was a mechanical engineer at JPL working on testing the helicopter, reached out to the CAST team in 2017. "I'd earned my PhD at GALCIT, so I was aware of CAST and its facilities," says Rabinovitch. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT Morteza Gharib Jason Rabinovitch Marcel Veismann Chris Dougherty

Hungry Fruit Flies are Extreme Ultramarathon Fliers

04-22-21

Michael Dickinson, Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering and Aeronautics; Executive Officer for Biology and Biological Engineering, has discovered that fruit flies can fly up to 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) in a single journey—6 million times their body length, or the equivalent of over 10,000 kilometers for the average human. "The dispersal capability of these little fruit flies has been vastly underestimated. They can travel as far or farther than most migratory birds in a single flight. These flies are the standard laboratory model organism, but they are almost never studied outside of the laboratory and so we had little idea what their flight capabilities were," Dickinson says. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT Michael Dickinson CNS

New EAS Division Chair Announced

04-15-21

Harry A. Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science and director of the Liquid Sunlight Alliance (LiSA), has been selected as the new chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. On July 1, he will begin his five-year term, taking over the Otis Booth Leadership Chair from current division chair Guruswami (Ravi) Ravichandran, the John E. Goode, Jr., Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. After more than three decades at Caltech, Atwater says he's looking forward to the opportunity to serve the Institute in a new way. "I'm excited to be able to pay back or pay forward all of the investments that Caltech has made in me," he says. "I'm excited to try to do what I can to catalyze research initiatives that my colleagues are excited to lead, and to make the division as strong and distinctive as possible." [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS honors GALCIT MCE Harry Atwater Guruswami Ravichandran

Sorina Lupu Awarded Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship

04-12-21

Graduate student Sorina Lupu has been awarded the Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship. The Amelia Earhart Fellowship was established in 1938 in honor of famed pilot and Zontian, Amelia Earhart. The Fellowship is awarded annually to up to thirty-five women pursuing Ph.D. degrees in aerospace engineering and space sciences.

Tags: honors GALCIT Sorina Lupu

JPL Designates Perseverance Rover’s Landing Site and Observation Point

04-12-21

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has designated the Perseverance rover’s landing site as the Octavia E. Butler Landing and the rover’s observation point to record Ingenuity helicopter tests as the Van Zyl Overlook. Jakob van Zyl (MS ’83; PhD ‘86) joined JPL in 1986 and stayed for 33 years in various positions, including director for Astronomy, Physics and Space Technology. He taught at Caltech, as a senior faculty associate in electrical engineering and aerospace, for two decades. The Ingenuity helicopter was one of his last projects at the JPL. Van Zyl retired from the JPL in 2019 and passed away unexpectedly in August 2020. Octavia Butler lived just miles away from JPL; she was a pioneering author and one of the first Black female science fiction authors. Butler was the first to write about prominent Black characters in science fiction settings, using dystopias, time travel and other tropes. She was awarded both the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction author to receive a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Butler passed away in 2006. [USA Today]

Tags: EE Jakob van Zyl

Undergraduates Win First-Place in AIAA Region VI Student Paper Conference

04-08-21

Malcolm Tisdale, Isabella Dulá, and Luis Pabon Madrid have won first-place at the 2021 AIAA Region VI Student Conference for their paper titled "Design of a Modular and Orientable Electrodynamic Shield for Lunar Dust Mitigation." The AIAA Region VI Student Conference is a virtual technical and oral paper competition for undergraduate and graduate students of all majors. First-place winners are offered a chance to compete in the 2022 International Student Conference, taking place in conjunction with the 2022 AIAA SciTech Forum.

Students Selected for NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

04-06-21

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected graduate students Komron Shayegan, Steven Bulfer, and Daniel Mukasa to receive Graduate Research Fellowships. The selection criteria used to identify NSF fellows reflect the potential of the applicant to advance knowledge and benefit society. Those selected for a fellowship will receive support for three years of graduate study in a research-based master's or doctoral program in science or engineering. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS EE honors alumni Komron Shayegan Steven Bulfer Skye Reese Noelle Unyoung Davis Daniel Mukasa

A Swiss Army Knife for Genomic Data

04-05-21

A good way to find out what a cell is doing—whether it is growing out of control as in cancers, or is under the control of an invading virus, or is simply going about the routine business of a healthy cell—is to look at its gene expression. Lior Pachter, Bren Professor of Computational Biology and Computing and Mathematical Sciences, has developed a complex software tool that enables the processing of large sets of genomic data in about 30 minutes, using the computing power of an average laptop. Like a Swiss Army knife, the tool can be used in myriad ways for different biological needs, and will help ensure the reproducibility of scientific studies. "The interdisciplinarity of our team was crucial to conceiving of and executing this project," says Pachter. "There are people in the lab who are computer scientists, biologists, engineers. Sina Booeshaghi is in the mechanical engineering department and brings the perspective of his design background and engineering." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights MCE CMS Lior Pachter Sina Booeshaghi

Computational Tool for Materials Physics Growing in Popularity

04-05-21

Marco Bernardi, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, has developed a new piece of software that makes it easier to study the behavior of electrons in materials—even materials that have been predicted but do not yet exist. The software, called Perturbo, is gaining traction among researchers. "Over the next decade, we will continue to expand the capabilities of our code, and make it the go-to for first-principles calculations of electron dynamics," Bernardi says. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Marco Bernardi

Lei Li Selected as 2021 TED Fellow

03-31-21

Lei Li, Postdoctoral Scholar Research Associate in Medical Engineering, has been selected as a 2021 TED Fellow. The TED Fellows program provides transformational support to a global community of over 500 remarkable individuals who are collaborating across disciplines to spark positive change around the world. Each TED Fellow was selected for their remarkable achievements, the potential impact of their work and their commitment to community building. [2021 Class of TED Fellows]

Tags: honors MedE postdocs Lei Li