Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Applied Physics

News & Events


Michael Elowitz and Avigdor Eldar Show How Evolution Can Allow for Large Developmental Leaps


Michael Elowitz, Associate Professor of Biology and Applied Physics; Bren Scholar, and Avigdor Eldar, Postdoctoral Scholar, show how evolution can allow for large developmental leaps. Most volutionary changes happen in tiny increments: an elephant grows a little larger, a giraffe's neck a little longer. Elowitz and Eldar's team have shown that such changes may at least sometimes be the result of noise, working alongside partial penetrance. Eldar, states "if you take a bunch of cells and grow them in exactly the same environment, they'll be identical twin brothers in terms of the genes they have, but they may still show substantial differences in their behavior". Elowitz adds that "noise—these random fluctuations of proteins in the cell—is not just a nuisance in this system; it's a key part of the process that allows genetically identical cells to do very different things." [Caltech Press Release]

Tags: APhMS health Michael Elowitz Avigdor Eldar postdocs

Oskar Painter Developes a Nanoscale Device


Oskar Painter, Associate Professor of Applied Physics, has developed a nanoscale device that can be used for force detection, optical communication, and more. The nanoscale device is called a zipper cavity because of the way its dual cantilevers-or nanobeams, as Painter calls them-move together and apart when the device is in use. "If you look at it, it actually looks like a zipper," Painter notes. The device exploits the mechanical properties of light to create an optomechanical cavity in which interactions between light and motion are greatly strengthened and enhanced. These interactions are the largest demonstrated to date. [Caltech Press Release]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Oskar Painter

Michael Winterrose and Brent Fultz Use High-Pressure "Alchemy" to Create Nonexpanding Metals


Graduate student Michael Winterrose, and Brent Fultz, professor of materials science and applied physics, and colleagues, describe the exotic behavior of materials existing at high pressures in a paper in the June 12th issue of Physical Review Letters. By squeezing a typical metal alloy at pressures hundreds of thousands of times greater than normal atmospheric pressure, the material does not expand when heated, as does nearly every normal metal, and acts like a metal with an entirely different chemical composition. This insight into the behavior of materials existing at high pressures becomes doubly interesting when you consider that some 90 percent of the matter in our solar system exists at these high pressures. [Caltech Press Release]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Brent Fultz

DOE Names Harry Atwater as Director of EFRC Focusing on Light-Material Interactions


DOE Names Harry Atwater as Director of EFRC Focusing on Light-Material Interactions. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science has announced that it will fund the creation of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) over the next five years, including one that will be housed at Caltech. That $15 million EFRC will be headed by Harry Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science.

Tags: APhMS energy Harry Atwater

EAS Remembers Thomas McGill


Thomas McGill, professor of applied physics, emeritus, passed away on March 19. An expert in nanostructures, he discovered how to stack silicon layers on chips in a way that could lead to significant new advances in silicon-based electronics. [Caltech Press Release]

Tags: APhMS EAS history

Niles Pierce and Michael Elowitz on Nature List of Favourite Articles


The editors of Nature have published a list of 22 of their favourite articles from 2008 - including Programming biomolecular self-assembly pathways by Niles Pierce, Associate Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Bioengineering, and colleagues, and Frequency-modulated nuclear localization bursts coordinate gene regulation by Michael Elowitz, Assistant Professor of Biology and Applied Physics and Bren Scholar, and colleagues. 

Tags: APhMS research highlights CMS Niles Pierce Michael Elowitz

Douglas Hofmann and Colleagues Create Titanium-Based Structural Metallic-Glass Composites


Visiting scientist Douglas Hofmann (MS '06) and and colleagues, including William Johnson, Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, have created structural metallic-glass composites, based in titanium, that are lighter and less expensive than any the group had previously created, while still maintaining their toughness and ductility--the ability to be deformed without breaking. They are among the toughest engineering materials that currently exist. [Caltech Press Release]

Tags: APhMS research highlights William Johnson Douglas Hofmann

Professor Michael Elowitz Receives PECASE


Michael Elowitz, Assistant Professor of Biology and Applied Physics and Bren Scholar, has received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. The PECASE awards recognize outstanding scientists and engineers who, early in their careers, show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of knowledge.

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Michael Elowitz, Long Cai, and Chiraj Dalal Find Cells Coordinate Gene Activity with FM Bursts


How a cell achieves the coordinated control of a number of genes at the same time, a process that's necessary for it to regulate its own behavior and development, has long puzzled scientists. Michael Elowitz, assistant professor of biology and applied physics, along with postdoctoral research scholar Long Cai, and graduate student Chiraj Dalal, have discovered a surprising answer. Just as human engineers control devices ranging from dimmer switches to retrorockets using pulsed--or frequency modulated (FM)--signals, cells tune the expression of groups of genes using discrete bursts of activation. [Caltech Press Release]

Tags: APhMS research highlights health Michael Elowitz postdocs

Kerry Vahala Wins Alexander Von Humboldt Research Award


Kerry Vahala, Ted and Ginger Jenkins Professor of Information Science and Technology and Professor of Applied Physics, has won an Alexander Von Humboldt Research Award. The Humboldt award recognizes academics whose fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements. Vahala has also been awarded and the IEEE David Sarnoff Award for exceptional contributions to electronics, and in particular, "for seminal contributions to improved dynamics of quantum well semiconductor lasers."

Tags: APhMS honors Kerry Vahala