News & Events


Robotics Engineers Take on COVID-19


Methods that were originally created to help robots to walk and autonomous cars to drive safely can also help epidemiologists predict the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Aaron Ames and colleagues took these tools and applied them to the development of an epidemiological methodology that accounts for human interventions (like mask mandates and stay-at-home orders). By utilizing the U.S. COVID-19 data from March through May, they were able to predict the infection wave during the summer to high accuracy. "This is the greatest health challenge to face our society in a generation at least. We all need to pitch in and help in any way we can," Ames says. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights MCE CMS Aaron Ames Andrew Singletary

Large Variations in Shaking in Los Angeles Basin


Using data from a network of 500 seismic stations across the Los Angels basin, researchers have revealed areas where the amplification of shaking in high-rise buildings is greatest. "We thought the amplifications would be south of downtown LA, but we didn’t see that,” Monica Kohler says. “We saw them elsewhere, where the basin is not deep, in West LA and the San Fernando Valley." Each building shakes differently during an earthquake. Studying those differences will help to improve building codes and practices and potentially save lives. [Caltech Science Exchange] [SSA story] [Wired story] [Temblor story]

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Tags: Mani Chandy Thomas Heaton Monica Kohler Filippos Filippitzis

EAS Remembers Wilfred D. (Bill) Iwan


Wilfred D. (Bill) Iwan, Professor of Civil Engineering, Emeritus, passed away on October 29, 2020. He was 85 years old. Dr. Bill Iwan received all his degrees from Caltech, B.S. in 1957, M.S. in 1958, and Ph.D. in 1961. He joined the Caltech faculty in 1964 and became Professor Emeritus in 2004. He served as the Executive Officer for Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, 1980-86. Dr. Iwan’s research focused on fundamental areas of mechanics, understanding and characterization of strong earthquake ground motion, analysis and monitoring of the response of structural systems subjected to extreme events, and public policy regarding disasters. His research achievements include the development of methods to represent complex nonlinear structures with simpler linear systems, the development of practical methods for earthquake-resistant design, and the development of simplified methods for the analysis of seismic isolation systems for critical equipment. In 1979, he proposed an earthquake early-warning system for urban regions. Dr. Iwan was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1999 “for research on seismic performance of structures, and for leadership in earthquake hazard mitigation and improvement of public safety.” He was a Distinguished Member and Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which awarded him the Nathan M. Newmark Medal (1997), William H. Wisely Award (2006), and Theodore von Karman Medal (2013). In recognition of his distinguished service, the California Earthquake Safety Foundation awarded him the 2002 Alfred E. Alquist Medal “for his lifetime of service to the profession of structural engineering and its application to the safety of the people of California and the world". [Caltech story]

Tags: MCE EAS history alumni Wilfred Iwan

Four EAS Students Receive Department of Energy Fellowships


Four Engineering and Applied Science graduate students are among 26 who have been named as recipients of a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (DOE CSGF), which the DOE provides to future leaders in the field of high-performance computing (HPC). [Caltech story]

Tags: honors MCE CMS Alexandra Baumgart Emily de Jong Ethan Epperly Margaret Trautner

Lab-Grown Earthquakes Reveal the Frictional Forces Acting Beneath Our Feet


Simulating an earthquake on a miniature scale in a laboratory known unofficially as the "seismological wind tunnel," engineers and seismologists have produced the most comprehensive look to date at the complex physics of friction driving destructive thrust-fault earthquakes. "Simulating earthquakes in a lab lets us observe how these brief and violent events grow and evolve by ‘slowing down' their motion through high-speed photography and optics," says Ares Rosakis, the Theodore von Karman Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE Ares Rosakis

Kaushik Bhattacharya Receives Theodore von Kármán Prize


Kaushik Bhattacharya, Howell N. Tyson, Sr., Professor of Mechanics and Materials Science; Vice Provost, has received the 2020 Theodore von Kármán Prize. This prize is awarded for a notable application of mathematics to mechanics and/or the engineering sciences made during the five to ten years preceding the award. [SIAM story] [Caltech story]

Tags: honors MCE Kaushik Bhattacharya

A Pathway to Longer-Lasting Lithium Batteries


The energy density of batteries have been a major challenge for consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and renewable energy sources. Professor Julia R. Greer has made a discovery that could lead to lithium-ion batteries that are both safer and more powerful. Findings provide guidance for how lithium-ion batteries, one of the most common kinds of rechargeable batteries, can safely hold up to 50 percent more energy. "Every power-requiring application would benefit from batteries with lithium instead of graphite anodes because they can power so much more," says Greer. "Lithium is lightweight, it doesn't occupy much space, and it's tremendously energy dense." [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights MCE Julia Greer

Dabiri Receives Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation


The National Science Foundation (NSF) honors John O. Dabiri, Centennial Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, with the 2020 Alan T. Waterman Award. The Alan T. Waterman Award is given to an outstanding young U.S. scientist or engineer along with a medal and other recognition. "This year's scientific pioneers are innovators who are creatively addressing some of the most challenging scientific questions," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "John Dabiri has looked to the fluid mechanics of sea life for inspiration to build better wind farms that appear to boost efficiency with a much smaller footprint." [NSF story] [Caltech story

Tags: honors GALCIT MCE John Dabiri Waterman Award

Ari Rosner Develops Tool That Configures Socially-Distanced Students In Classrooms


Mechanical engineering student Ari Rosner, has developed an interactive Excel worksheet powered by advanced algorithms to help schools with social distancing in classrooms. Schools can plug a room’s dimensions and social distancing parameters into the worksheet, and the most efficient configuration of students for a designated classroom would automatically be mapped out. Rosner’s model situates students in rows or in a hexagonal pattern, depending on a room’s shape, in order to safely maximize space. "I cried when I saw how this worked," said Rachael Burton, the development director at a small private school in Brooklyn, New York. "I knew Ari’s mathematical chart could save our lives." [Forbes story]

Tags: research highlights MCE Ari Rosner

Winners of the 2020 Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes Announced


The student winners of the 2020 Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes were announced at the end of this academic year. Manuel Bedrossian, advised by Professor Moretza Gharib has received the prize in Biotechnology. His research is in the development of novel optical imaging devices to investigate and characterize microbial populations in extreme environments around the world. Vinayak Narasimhan, advised by Professor Moretza Gharib and Hyuck Choo has received the prize in Biotechnology. His research is in the utilization of nanostructures inspired from nature in practical biomedical applications. Tyler Ross, advised by Professor Matt Thomson and Professor Paul Rothemund has received the prize in Nanotechnology. His research is in guiding biomolecular filaments and motors to form structures and flow fields with patterned light. Adam Neumann, advised by Professor Michael Roukes has received the prize in Nanotechnology. His research involves incorporating nanoscale sensors into a mass spectrometer and using them to weigh individual molecules and perform rudimentary imaging of them. Joaquin Garcia Suarez, advised by Professor Dominiki Asimaki has received the prize in Seismo-Engineering, Prediction, and Protection. His research is in fundamental research in Continuum Mechanics to better understand the behavior of civil structures during earthquakes.

Tags: honors MedE MCE Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes Vinayak Narasimhan Joaquin Garcia Suarez Adam Neumann Tyler Ross Manuel Bedrossian