News & Events


The Science of Underground Kingdoms


A team led by the laboratory of Jose Andrade, George W. Housner Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering; Cecil and Sally Drinkward Leadership Chair, Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering; Executive Officer for Mechanical and Civil Engineering, studied the digging habits of ants and uncovered the mechanisms guiding them. Before beginning this research, Andrade had a big question he wanted to answer: Do ants "know" how to dig tunnels, or are they just blindly digging? "I got inspired by these exhumed ant nests where they pour plastic or molten metal into them and you see these vast tunnel systems that are incredibly impressive," Andrade says. He enlisted the help of Joe Parker, Assistant Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering, whose research focuses on ants and their ecological relationships with other species. "What Jose and his team needed was somebody who works with ants and understands the adaptive, collective behaviors of these social insects to give them some context for what they were doing," Parker says. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights MCE Jose Andrade Joe Parker Robert Buarque de Macedo Edward Andò Shilpa Joy Gioacchino Viggiani Raj Kumar Pal

Tim Colonius Receives APS Stanley Corrsin Award


Tim Colonius, Frank and Ora Lee Marble Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded the 2021 American Physical Society (APS) Stanley Corrsin Award. This Prize is intended to honor a recent achievement of especially high impact and significance, a particular discovery, or an innovation in the field. [Past Recipients]

Tags: honors MedE MCE Timothy Colonius

Material Inspired by Chain Mail Transforms from Flexible to Rigid on Command


Engineers at Caltech and JPL have developed a material inspired by chain mail that can transform from a foldable, fluid-like state into specific solid shapes under pressure. "We wanted to make materials that can change stiffness on command," says Chiara Daraio, G. Bradford Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics. "We'd like to create a fabric that goes from soft and foldable to rigid and load-bearing in a controllable way." To explore what materials would work best, Daraio, together with former Caltech postdoctoral researcher Yifan Wang and former Caltech graduate student Liuchi Li (PhD '19) as co-lead authors of the Nature paper, designed a number of configurations of linked particles, from linking rings to linking cubes to linking octahedrons (which resemble two pyramids connected at the base). The materials were 3-D printed out of polymers and even metals, with help from Douglas Hofmann, principal scientist at JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA. These configurations were then simulated in a computer with a model from the group of José E. Andrade, the George W. Housner Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and Caltech's resident expert in the modeling of granular materials. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS Chiara Daraio MCE Jose Andrade KNI Yifan Wang Liuchi Li

Professor Pellegrino Awarded Torroja Medal


Sergio Pellegrino, Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aerospace and Civil Engineering; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Senior Research Scientist; Co-Director, Space-Based Solar Power Project, has been awarded the Torroja Medal from the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS). The engraved medal represents the highest individual recognition given by the Association to members or nonmembers of the Association in recognition of outstanding and distinguished contributions to design, construction or research of shell and/or spatial structures. [Past recipients]

Tags: honors GALCIT MCE Sergio Pellegrino

Nano-Architected Material Resists Impact Better Than Kevlar


Julia R. Greer, Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics and Medical Engineering; Fletcher Jones Foundation Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute, has developed a nano-architected material made from tiny carbon struts that is, pound for pound, more effective at stopping a projectile than Kevlar, a material commonly used in personal protective gear. "The knowledge from this work could provide design principles for ultra-lightweight impact resistant materials for use in efficient armor materials, protective coatings, and blast-resistant shields desirable in defense and space applications," says Greer. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights MedE MCE Julia Greer KNI

New Algorithm Helps Autonomous Vehicles Find Themselves, Summer or Winter


Without GPS, autonomous systems get lost easily. Now a new algorithm developed at Caltech allows autonomous systems to recognize where they are simply by looking at the terrain around them—and for the first time, the technology works regardless of seasonal changes to that terrain. The general process, known as visual terrain-relative navigation (VTRN), was first developed in the 1960s. By comparing nearby terrain to high-resolution satellite images, autonomous systems can locate themselves. The problem is that, in order for it to work, the current generation of VTRN requires that the terrain it is looking at closely matches the images in its database. To overcome this challenge, Anthony Fragoso, Lecturer in Aerospace; Staff Scientist, Connor Lee, Graduate student in Aerospace, Austin McCoy, Undergraduate, and Soon-Jo Chung, Bren Professor of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems and research scientist at JPL, turned to deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to remove seasonal content that hinders current VTRN systems. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE CMS Soon-Jo Chung Anthony Fragoso Connor Lee Austin McCoy

Harnessing Sound for Health: A Conversation with Tim Colonius


When a person develops a kidney stone or a gall stone—hard accumulations of minerals and other compounds created by the body—they can experience a great deal of pain and discomfort. Lithotripsy is the practice of breaking gall or kidney stones into small pieces within the body using shockwaves produced by a machine called a lithotripter. A new form of lithotripsy has been under development with the help of Tim Colonius, Frank and Ora Lee Marble Professor of Mechanical Engineering. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights MCE Tim Colonius

Winners of the 2021 Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes Announced


The student winners of the 2021 Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes were announced at the end of this academic year. David Brown, advised by Professor Viviana Gradinaru and Professor Matt Thomson has received the prize in Entrepreneurship. His research is in molecular and computational strategies for both understanding variability in the human immune system, and characterizing the on- and off-target profile of gene therapy delivery at the resolution of individual cells. Hsiao-Yi Chen, advised by Professor Marco Bernardi has received the prize in Nanotechnology. His research is in the development of ab initio methods to investigate exciton radiative emission and ultrafast dynamics. Tatyana Dobreva, advised by Professor Matt Thomson and Professor Viviana Gradinaru has received the prize in Entrepreneurship. Her research is in single-cell sequencing to interrogate the human immune system, characterize immune response to recombinant Adeno-Associated Viruses (AAVs), and engineer immune cells. Zachary Lee, advised by Professor Steven Low has received the prize in Environmentally Benign Renewable Energy Sources. His research involves developing a suite of tools and algorithms to enable smart electric vehicle charging at scale. Valère Lambert, advised by Professor Nadia Lapusta has received the prize in Seismo-Engineering, Prediction, and Protection. His research is in developing and using physics-based numerical models that combine laboratory insight and theoretical developments to simulate sequences of earthquake ruptures and slow slip that match field observations, thus illuminating physical properties of faults and building towards predictive modeling.

Tags: honors Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes Nadia Lapusta Steven Low Marco Bernardi Viviana Gradinaru Valère Lambert Matt Thomson David Brown Hsiao-Yi Chen Tatyana Dobreva Zachary Lee

Winners of the 2021 New Horizons Award Announced


The student winners of the 2021 New Horizons Award were announced at the end of this academic year. Sara Beery was recognized for her passion, energy, and fearlessness to improve the CMS program by founding the Women in CMS group, organizing events and discussions on racism in academia, and advocating for the support structures that improve the educational experience for all CMS students. Abigail (Abby) Jiang was recognized for her commitment to enhance the campus environment through her leadership of the Caltech Asian Pacific Islander Desi American student association (APIDA+) and of PRISM, the Caltech LGBTQ+ association, and her advocacy for other campus diversity initiatives. Daniel Mukasa was recognized for his dedication and leadership of Black Scientists and Engineers of Caltech, which catalyzed campus engagement, reflection, and reform, and for his mentorship of undergraduates through the WAVE program. Alexander Choi, Leah Ginsburg, Marcus Lee and Victoria Lee, were recognized for their collective engagement and sustained dedication to improve the quality of life for MCE graduate students that culminated in the initiation of a seminar series, an option-wide climate survey, the appointment of a Diversity Liaison, the creation of a MCE community statement, and formation of, a campus-wide data base for DEI activities.

Tags: APhMS honors MCE CMS Sara Beery Abigail Jiang Daniel Mukasa Marcus Lee Victoria Lee Alexander Choi Leah Ginsburg

Marcus Lee Receives MCE Outstanding Service Award


Graduate student Marcus Lee has been awarded the MCE Outstanding Service Award. The award is given in recognition of their significant contributions to improve the quality of climate, culture and scholarship in service of the Mechanical and Civil Engineering Department. 

Tags: honors MCE Marcus Lee