Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tech Trails: Beavers Ride Wave to More SURFs

Tech Trails tracks summer plans of Caltech basketball players -- from SURFs (summer undergraduate research fellowships) to related work in the fields of math, science, and engineering.

Two more players will be SURFing this summer on campus. (artwork by Caltech tennis player Michelle Jiang '11)

Arjun Chandar, a freshman guard from Miami, Florida, will be researching Modern American politics and Christianity under Erik Snowberg. The project aims to investigate the factors that lead Christian preachers to deliver political sermons in modern times (since 1995).

Chandar, who is often referred to as "Mr. President" by the the team because of his leadership and communication skills, will be collecting sermons from church websites and classifying them as political or nonpolitical based upon the results of a computer program as well as manual inspection -- of course, he will write the program.

"I expect to learn more about programming and important political drivers in modern American culture," said Chandar. "Hopefully, my research can shed some light on how politics influences Christianity and, possibly, how Christianity can influence politics."

Chandar, along with fellow classmate Ethan Boroson, was voted Citizen of the Year this past season by teammates.

Ziying Wang, a junior guard from SoCal's Rowland Heights, is set to research Nano-scale chemistry application in atrophic age-related macular degeneration with Robert Grubbs, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2005. End-stage atrophic age-related macular degeneration is a disease that causes middle-aged and elderly patients to go blind.

"The goal of my research," said Wang, "is to come up with nano-particle systems that can potentially replace some of the dead ganglion cells' photoreceptors to return vision to the patient."

Wang is a 3-year player and a double major in chemistry and BEM (business economics management).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Edwards and Elmquist Honored by Caltech

Congratulations to Mike Edwards and Ryan Elmquist. Mike was named Freshman Male Athlete of the Year and Ryan was recognized as Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year at Caltech's Annual All-Sports Awards Show on Saturday.

Both Edwards and Elmquist ranked among the best in the SCIAC and set myriad records this season.

Click here for the official release.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tech Trails: Freshmen Propelled to JPL

Tech Trails tracks summer plans of Caltech basketball players -- from SURFs (summer undergraduate research fellowships) to related work in the fields of math, science, and engineering.

Three more first-year basketball players will be working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory this summer.

Mike Edwards (18.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.8 spg) will have a role in developing new platinum-based alloys for use in hydrogen-air fuel cells. He will also have his own sub-project while collaborating with a group of students on the main assignment.

"I expect to learn how to perform a modified sputtering system for preparing thin films," said Edwards, a mechanical engineering major. "I'm very excited to get a chance to work at JPL."

Collin Murphy (3.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.4 spg) has an internship working with instruments for Mars missions.

"This is my first glimpse into practical applications for my major," said Murphy, who is studying bioengineering. "Working at JPL will also give me a chance to continue working with really smart and experienced people throughout the summer."

Pan Wang (3.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg), an electrical engineering major, will be involved in a highly structured SURF under Steve Chien of JPL, entitled Onboard automated processing of SAR data for autonomous unpiloted vehicles and autonomous spacecraft.

Wang will investigate and implement approaches for transforming SAR data into readable images and study their accuracy in comparison to other satellite imaging. These algorithmic procedures will take SAR data and create classification maps or statistical summaries like soil-moisture estimations, glacial surges, fire-scars, and forest biomass.

"Essentially, I'll gain experience turning raw data into programmable data," explained Wang.

The concentration will be on approaches that can be efficiently implemented onboard autonomous aircraft or spacecraft so that vehicles operated by UAVSAR and DESDynI can engage in onboard automated processing of data.

"It will be great to work with a new group of scientists," said Wang.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Caltech in Hollywood ... and Vice Versa

It isn't rare for movie and television producers to collaborate with the minds at Caltech. Or even ask for help in filming shows (see Numb3rs by the Numbers) to substantiate scientific claims. Even in a blockbuster film like Iron Man 2, much goes into the science of movie making. And Caltech physicist Mark Wise had a hand -- really a head -- in guiding the all important particle accelerator production that Iron Man needs.
"They wanted to use the science to show what it (a particle accelerator) would really look like and they also wanted to do it in a way that was entertaining," said Wise. "They even wanted to know the behind-the-scenes stuff -- stuff that you wouldn’t see."
Fascinating ideas from Pasadena to Hollywood. And the other way around, too. James Cameron, director of Avatar, was recently on campus discussing possibilities of a real Pandora.

And if all the talk of avatars and accelerators isn't enough, how about the logistics of time travel? It's not as far fetched as one may originally think. In fact, another Caltech physicist, Kip Thorne, built upon the Einstein-Rosen bridge theory:
If you can build a wormhole, you can also turn it into a time machine. By dragging one of the mouths of the wormhole around space at nearly the speed of light, we can create a two-way tunnel connecting two points in time. Even better, you don't need to worry about mucking up history. A time machine built from the laws of general relativity is necessarily self-consistent, and thus your history will remain safely as you left it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tech Trails: Elmquist Gets a Bite of Apple

Tech Trails tracks summer plans of Caltech basketball players -- from SURFs (summer undergraduate research fellowships) to related work in the fields of math, science, and engineering.

Junior captain Ryan Elmquist, a computer science major, will be SURFing in Cupertino, CA this summer, at Apple. Elmquist secured an internship with Apple's graphics team and is looking forward to a new learning experience.

"In addition to the specific knowledge I'll gain (about graphics), I want to understand the similarities and differences in working in industry and academia," Elmquist said. "This will be a great opportunity to see what working in a competitive industry environment is like."

Elmquist, a member of the 2010 SCIAC all-academic squad, spent his previous two summers working with Nobel Laureate Robert Grubbs in chemistry (2008) and at the University of Minnesota where he was involved with autonomous navigation of mobile robot teams (2009).

At Apple, he'll have the opportunity to live in the Bay Area and work in a non-lab setting, a change of pace he anticipates will be exciting and open even more doors.

"Apple is a company involved in constant innovation," he added. "The (future) job interviewers always love hearing about past experiences, so this will hopefully be great for that."

Elmquist, who owns the Caltech record for blocked shots in one season and led the conference in the category, averaged 13 points and six rebounds a game for the 2009-10 Beavers.