News & Events


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

Machine Learning Helps Robot Swarms Coordinate


Soon-Jo Chung, Bren Professor of Aerospace, Yisong Yue, Professor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, postdoctoral scholar Wolfgang Hönig, and graduate students Benjamin Rivière and Guanya Shi, have designed a new data-driven method to control the movement of multiple robots through cluttered, unmapped spaces, so they do not run into one another. "Our work shows some promising results to overcome the safety, robustness, and scalability issues of conventional black-box artificial intelligence (AI) approaches for swarm motion planning with GLAS and close-proximity control for multiple drones using Neural-Swarm," says Chung. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT CMS Yisong Yue Soon-Jo Chung postdocs Benjamin Rivière Guanya Shi Wolfgang Hönig

Microstructures Self-Assemble into New Materials


A new process developed at Caltech makes it possible for the first time to manufacture large quantities of materials whose structure is designed at a nanometer scale—the size of DNA's double helix. Pioneered by Professor Julia R. Greer, "nanoarchitected materials" exhibit unusual, often surprising properties—for example, exceptionally lightweight ceramics that spring back to their original shape, like a sponge, after being compressed. Now, a team of engineers at Caltech and ETH Zurich have developed a material that is designed at the nanoscale but assembles itself—with no need for the precision laser assembly. "We couldn't 3-D print this much nanoarchitected material even in a month; instead we're able to grow it in a matter of hours," says Carlos M. Portela, Postdoctoral Scholar. "It is exciting to see our computationally designed optimal nanoscale architectures being realized experimentally in the lab," says Dennis M. Kochmann, Visiting Associate. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights GALCIT MCE Julia Greer Dennis Kochmann postdocs Carlos Portela

Ultrasound Can Selectively Kill Cancer Cells


Professor Michael Ortiz and Professor Morteza Gharib are exploring a new technique that could offer a targeted approach to fighting cancer. Low-intensity pulses of ultrasound have been shown to selectively kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. In the past, ultrasound waves have been used as a cancer treatment with high-intensity bursts resulting in killing cancer and normal cells. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MedE MCE Morteza Gharib Michael Ortiz

Bionic Jellyfish Swim Faster and More Efficiently


John Dabiri, Centennial Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, has developed a tiny prosthetic that enables jellyfish to swim faster and more efficiently than they normally do, without stressing the animals. Dabiri is envisioning a future in which jellyfish equipped with sensors could be directed to explore and record information about the ocean. "Only five to 10 percent of the volume of the ocean has been explored, so we want to take advantage of the fact that jellyfish are everywhere already to make a leap from ship-based measurements, which are limited in number due to their high cost," Dabiri says. "If we can find a way to direct these jellyfish and also equip them with sensors to track things like ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, and so on, we could create a truly global ocean network where each of the jellyfish robots costs a few dollars to instrument and feeds themselves energy from prey already in the ocean." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE John Dabiri

Bees "Surf" Atop Water


Chris Roh, Research Engineer, working with Professor Morteza Gharib, discovered a unique way that bees navigate the interface between water and air. When a bee lands on water, the water sticks to its wings, robbing it of the ability to fly. However, that stickiness allows the bee to drag water, creating waves that propel it forward."I was very excited to see this behavior and so I brought the honeybee back to the lab to take a look at it more closely," Roh says. [Caltech release]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT Morteza Gharib Chris Roh

Professor McKeon Unlocked Secrets Behind Turbulence


Beverley McKeon, Theodore von Karman Professor of Aeronautics, has unlocked some of the secrets behind turbulence, a much-studied but difficult-to-pin-down phenomenon that mixes fluids when they flow past a solid boundary. "We knew that, underlying these very complicated structures, there had to be a very simple pattern. We just didn't know what that pattern was until now," says McKeon. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT Beverley McKeon

New Polymer Heart Valve Implanted in First Patient


Professor Morteza Gharib, has designed a new generation of heart valves that are longer-lasting, cost less to manufacture, and are more biocompatible than options that are currently available to patients. One of the new valves has been implanted into a human for the first time. "This is among my proudest moments. Creating something with the potential to save and improve lives is one of the reasons I became an engineer," Gharib says. [Caltech release]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MedE Morteza Gharib

Professor Gharib Constructs Leonardo da Vinci's Model of Flow


Leonardo da Vinci studied the motion of blood in the human body. He was interested in the heart’s passive, three-cusp aortic valve, which he realized must be operated by the motion of blood. He theorized that vortices curl back to fill the cusps in the flask-shaped constriction at the aorta’s neck. Morteza Gharib, Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering; Booth-Kresa Leadership Chair, Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies; Director, Graduate Aerospace Laboratories; Director, Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies, has used modern imaging techniques to demonstrate the existence of the revolving vortices that Leonardo interpreted as closing the valve. [Nature Article]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MedE Morteza Gharib

"Neural Lander" Uses AI to Land Drones Smoothly


Professors Chung, Anandkumar, and Yue have teamed up to develop a system that uses a deep neural network to help autonomous drones "learn" how to land more safely and quickly, while gobbling up less power. The system they have created, dubbed the "Neural Lander," is a learning-based controller that tracks the position and speed of the drone, and modifies its landing trajectory and rotor speed accordingly to achieve the smoothest possible landing. The new system could prove crucial to projects currently under development at CAST, including an autonomous medical transport that could land in difficult-to-reach locations (such as a gridlocked traffic). "The importance of being able to land swiftly and smoothly when transporting an injured individual cannot be overstated," says Professor Gharib who is the director of CAST; and one of the lead researchers of the air ambulance project. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Morteza Gharib Yisong Yue Soon-Jo Chung Animashree Anandkumar