News & Events


Beaming Clean Energy From Space


Once considered science fiction, technology capable of collecting solar power in space and beaming it to Earth to provide a global supply of clean and affordable energy is moving closer to reality. Through the Space-based Solar Power Project (SSPP), a team of Caltech researchers is working to deploy a constellation of modular spacecraft that collect sunlight, transform it into electricity, then wirelessly transmit that electricity wherever it is needed—including to places that currently have no access to reliable power. "This is an extraordinary and unprecedented project," says Harry Atwater, Otis Booth Leadership Chair, Division of Engineering and Applied Science; Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science; Director, Liquid Sunlight Alliance. "It exemplifies the boldness and ambition needed to address one of the most significant challenges of our time, providing clean and affordable energy to the world." [Caltech story]

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Mimicking Termites to Generate New Materials


Inspired by the way termites build their nests, researchers at Caltech have developed a framework to design new materials that mimic the fundamental rules hidden in nature's growth patterns. "We thought that by understanding how a termite contributes to the nest's fabrication, we could define simple rules for designing architected materials with unique mechanical properties," says Chiara Daraio, G. Bradford Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics; Investigator, Heritage Medical Research Institute. [Caltech story]

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Tweaking Turbine Angles Squeezes More Power Out of Wind Farms


A new control algorithm for wind farms that alters how individual turbines are oriented into the wind promises to boost farms' overall efficiency and energy output by optimizing how they deal with their turbulent wake. "Individual turbines generate choppy air, or a wake, which hurts the performance of every turbine downwind of them," says John O. Dabiri, Centennial Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering. "To cope with that, wind farm turbines are traditionally spaced as far apart as possible, which unfortunately takes up a lot of real estate." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights GALCIT MCE John Dabiri alumni Michael Howland

Methods from Weather Forecasting Can Be Adapted to Assess Risk of COVID-19 Exposure


Techniques used in weather forecasting can be repurposed to provide individuals with a personalized assessment of their risk of exposure to COVID-19 or other viruses, according to new research published by Caltech scientists. The technique has the potential to be more effective and less intrusive than blanket lockdowns for combatting the spread of disease, says Tapio Schneider, Theodore Y. Wu Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Senior Research Scientist. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Chiara Daraio ESE Tapio Schneider Oliver Dunbar Lucas Böttcher Dmitry Burov Alfredo Garbuno-Inigo Gregory Wagner Sen Pei Raffaele Ferrari Jeffrey Shaman Jinlong Wu

Making Robotic Assistive Walking More Natural


A team of graduate students in Caltech's Advanced Mechanical Bipedal Experimental Robotics Lab (AMBER), led by Professor Aaron Ames, Bren Professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering and Control and Dynamical Systems, is developing a new method of generating gaits for robotic assistive devices, which aims to guarantee stability and achieve more natural locomotion for different users. "If you're designing a trajectory for a robotic assistive device, a satisfactory gait should not only be stable but also feel natural," says Amy Li. [Caltech story]

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Lab Earthquakes Show How Grains at Fault Boundaries Lead to Major Quakes


By simulating earthquakes in a lab, Caltech engineers have provided strong experimental support for a form of earthquake propagation now thought responsible for the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that devastated the coast of Japan in 2011. "Our novel experimental approach has enabled us to look into the earthquake process up close, and to uncover key features of rupture propagation and friction evolution in rock gouge," says Vito Rubino, research scientist and lead author of the Nature paper. The Nature paper is titled "Intermittent lab earthquakes in dynamically weakening fault gouge." Rubino and his co-authors Nadia Lapusta, Lawrence A. Hanson, Jr., Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Geophysics, and Ares Rosakis, Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering, show that so-called "stable" or "creeping" faults are not actually immune to major ruptures after all, as previously suspected. [Caltech story]

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A Science Journey with Fernando Villafuerte


As part of the Science Journeys lecture series—designed to inspire scientific curiosity, especially among students in eighth grade and higher—graduate student Fernando Villafuerte discussed his path to Caltech and his research on batteries, including their role in sustainability solutions. Villafuerte works in the lab of Julia R. Greer, Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics and Medical Engineering; and Fletcher Jones Foundation Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute. His research focuses on a novel material known as a solid polymer electrolyte, which could potentially be used to create batteries that can store more energy than currently possible. [Caltech story]

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The Grid Gets Smart


Adaptive electric vehicle chargers and advanced battery designs are some of the ways Caltech researchers are building a more sustainable electric grid. Steven Low, Frank J. Gilloon Professor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences and Electrical Engineering, invented the Adaptive Charging Network (ACN). But Low and others warn that this grid is unprepared for the challenges of the 21st century. “The current grid will very soon hit a wall where, when we add renewable energy, it sits unused because the demand isn’t there at a time when the solar is running,” says Adam Wierman, Professor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences; Director, Information Science and Technology. That is why Caltech researchers are working on ways to break down that barrier to help empower an energy transformation. 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, is pushing the limits of the batteries themselves.  [Caltech story]

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What Is the Future of Wind Energy?


Humans have used windmills to capture the force of the wind as mechanical energy for more than 1,300 years. Unlike early windmills, however, modern wind turbines use generators and other components to convert energy from the spinning blades into a smooth flow of AC electricity. In this video, John Dabiri, Centennial Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering discusses the future of wind energy technology. [Caltech story]

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Nano-architected Material Refracts Light Backward—An Important Step Toward One Day Creating Photonic Circuits


A newly created nano-architected material exhibits a property that previously was just theoretically possible: it can refract light backward, regardless of the angle at which the light strikes the material. "Negative refraction is crucial to the future of nanophotonics, which seeks to understand and manipulate the behavior of light when it interacts with materials or solid structures at the smallest possible scales," says 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. [Caltech story]

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