Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Applied Physics

News & Events


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

Winners of the 2022 Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes Announced


The student winners of the 2022 Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes were announced at the end of this academic year. Ida Qin, advised by Professor Joel Burdick has received the prize in Biotechnology. Her research is in comprehensive temporal understanding and state estimation during robot-assisted surgery. Alan Gu, advised by Professor Michael R. Hoffmann has received the prize in Entrepreneurship. His research is in capturing CO2 at point emission sources to accelerate reaching a goal of carbon neutrality. Joeson Wong, advised by Professor Harry A. Atwater has received the prize in Nanotechnology. His research is focused on the optoelectronic physics and engineering of atomically thin photovoltaics. Fengyu Zhou, advised by Professor Steven Low has received the prize in Environmentally Benign Renewable Energy Sources. His research involves the global optimality and relaxation exactness of the Optimal Power Flow problem in single-phase and multi-phase networks. Stacy Larochelle, advised by Professor Jean-Philippe Avouac and Professor Nadia Lapusta has received the prize in Seismo-Engineering, Prediction, and Protection. Her research uses geodesy, data analysis and modeling to further the understanding of mechanical interactions between water and the solid Earth, from fluid-induced earthquakes to groundwater extraction.

Tags: APhMS honors MCE Harry Atwater CMS Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes Nadia Lapusta Jean-Philippe Avouac Steven Low Joel Burdick Ida Qin Stacy Larochelle Fengyu Zhou

Artificial Skin Gives Robots Sense of Touch and Beyond


A new artificial skin can now give robots the ability to sense temperature, pressure, and even toxic chemicals through a simple touch. The multimodal robotic-sensing platform, dubbed M-Bot, was developed in the lab of Wei Gao, Assistant Professor of Medical Engineering; Investigator, Heritage Medical Research Institute; Ronald and JoAnne Willens Scholar. It aims to give humans more precise control over robots while also protecting the humans from potential hazards. "I think we have shown a proof of concept," says Gao. "But we want to improve the stability of this robotic skin to make it last longer. By optimizing new inks and new materials, we hope this can be used for different kinds of targeted detections. We want to put it on more powerful robots and make them smarter, more intelligent." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights MedE Wei Gao You Yu Jiahong Li Samuel Solomon Jihong Min Changhao Xu Jiaobing Tu Yu Song

Nanofabrication Courses Let Caltech Undergraduates Get Hands-on at the Smallest Scales


The course combines topical lectures that give the students a preview of what they will be doing in the cleanroom along with hands-on practical training. Both components are conducted as a team effort between Scherer and the KNI technical staff. The first two lectures of the term were presented by KNI’s microscopist, Dr. Annalena Wolff, who lectured on scanning electron and focused ion beam microscopy. Additional lectures were presented by KNI’s Associate Director of Technical Operations, Dr. Guy DeRose, on electron beam lithography.

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Tags: APhMS EE research highlights MedE Axel Scherer KNI Changsoon Choi Paromita Mitchell Annalena Wolff Guy DeRose Bert Mendoza Alex Wertheim Kelly McKenzie

Böttger Luster: Solving an Artistic Cold Case


In the 18th century, a new purple overglaze enamel emerged from a factory near Dresden, Germany. Named after a German pioneer of porcelain and supposed alchemist, Johann Friedrich Böttger, this iridescent glaze became known as Böttger luster. Why this porcelain overglaze exhibited iridescence when other purple glazes of the time lacked a lustrous shine remained a mystery until now. The research that started at Northwestern University over a decade ago recently finished at Caltech under the leadership of Katherine Faber, Simon Ramo Professor of Materials Science. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights KNI Katherine Faber Celia Chari Zane Taylor Sujing Xie Anikó Bezur

Pioneering New Frontiers in Topological Physics


A team of engineers led by Alireza Marandi, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics, recently opened a new frontier in topological physics, which is the field that seeks to understand the topological properties that arise in coupled systems based on how they are organized and coupled. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS EE research highlights Alireza Marandi James Williams Midya Parto

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]

Tags: APhMS research highlights MedE MCE Julia Greer Fernando Villafuerte

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]

Tags: EE research highlights CMS Julia Greer Adam Wierman Steven Low Kimberly See

Startup Company Captura Receives XPRIZE Award


Caltech-based startup company Captura, which captures carbon dioxide (CO2) from ocean water to combat climate change, has been awarded $1 million from the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition. Captura was co-founded by 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, and Chengxiang "CX" Xiang, Research Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science. It has the potential to scale up to harvesting gigatons of carbon dioxide—that is, billions of tons—from the ocean every year. "As far as we can tell, Captura is one the very few companies that is doing carbon capture from ocean water," Xiang says. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Harry Atwater Chengxiang Xiang

Professor Goddard and Team Find the Simplest Form of a Catalyst


William A. Goddard, Charles and Mary Ferkel Professor of Chemistry, Materials Science, and Applied Physics, is part of research team which finds that an electron is the simplest form of a catalyst. A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction by lowering the barriers from reactants to products. Traditionally, most catalysts contain transition metal as the source of activity. The most recent Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan for the discovery of pure organic compounds as catalyst for asymmetric organic synthesis. Is there any catalyst simpler than small organic compounds? Yes, in an article published in the latest edition of Nature, a team of Northwestern University and Caltech discovered that an electron itself can play the role of catalyst for the process of molecular recognition. [Nature Article]

Tags: APhMS research highlights William Goddard