Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Materials Science

News & Events


Solar Loops and Space Weather


Paul M. Bellan, Professor of Applied Physics, and colleagues have reproduced plasma loops in the laboratory to help understand solar physics. "We're studying how these solar loops work, which contributes to the knowledge of space weather," says Professor Bellan, who compares the research to studying hurricanes. For example, you can't predict a hurricane unless you know more about the events that precede it, like high-pressure and low-pressure fronts. The same is true for solar flares. "It takes some time for the plasma to get to Earth from the sun, so it's possible that with more research, we could have up to a two-day warning period for massive solar flares." [Caltech Release] [E&S Article]

Tags: APhMS energy research highlights Paul Bellan

Professor Daraio Wins Presidential Early Career Award


Chiara Daraio, Professor of Aeronautics and Applied Physics, has won a 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Daraio was recognized for her "pioneering contributions to nonlinear mechanical phenomena in acoustic crystals, granular material, and multifunctional nanostructures, and for mentoring women and providing research opportunities for high school and undergraduate students."

"The entire Caltech community is proud to see Professor Daraio recognized with this presidential honor, not only for her pioneering research accomplishments, but also for her commitment to students and diversity," says Chair Ares Rosakis. "Even though she is near the beginning of her career she already embodies the key attributes of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech." [Caltech Release]

Tags: APhMS honors Chiara Daraio GALCIT PECASE

Material's Spacing is Key to Brittle-to-ductile Transition


Julia R. Greer, her postdoctoral scholar Dr.Dongchan Jang, and colleagues have used experiments and atomistic simulations of nano-twinned metals (which have the unique combined effect of being strong and ductile) to decipher the specific role of the twin boundaries. They have found that it is the spacing between the twin boundaries that determines whether a material is brittle or ductile as opposed to the sample size, as would be expected. Greer states "this is probably the first study that truly isolated the twin boundaries by making samples which contained only twin boundaries, periodically spaced throughout the sample, and then tested them in tension. This understanding will help in the design of better structural materials and provide a certain amount of predictability in doing so, which has not been possible to date." [Nature Nanotechnology Article and Movies]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Julia Greer Dongchan Jang postdocs

Demonstrating the Quantum World at Macroscopic Scales


Keith Schwab, Professor of Applied Physics, and colleagues describe how, aided by optical cavities and superconducting circuits, researchers are coaxing ever-larger objects to wiggle, shake, and flex in ways that are distinctly quantum mechanical. [Physics Today Article] [Institute for Quantum Information and Matter]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Keith Schwab

Professor Haile Receives International Ceramics Prize


Sossina M. Haile, Carl F Braun Professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering, is the 2012 recipient of the World Academy of Ceramics International Ceramics Prize for Research & Innovation. The Prize, which is only given out every four years, recognizes Professor Haile's work in using reactive oxides for creating solar fuels, and for advancing solid oxide fuel cells. [Past Recipients]

Tags: APhMS honors energy Sossina Haile

The Physics of Going Viral


Rob Phillips, Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology, and colleagues have measured the rate of DNA transfer from viruses to bacteria. They wanted to find out whether pressure plays a dominant role in transferring the DNA. Instead, he says, "What we discovered is that the thing that mattered most was not the pressure in the bacteriophage, but how much DNA was in the bacterial cell." When the bacteriophages try to inject their DNA into the cells, the factor that limits the rate of transfer is how jam-packed those cells are.  "In this case," Phillips says, "it had more to do with the recipient, and less to do with the pressure that had built up inside the phage." [Caltech Press Release]

Tags: APhMS research highlights health Rob Phillips

Winners of the 2012 Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes Announced


The student winners of the 2012 Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Prizes were announced at a special luncheon with the Demetriades - Tsafka – Kokkalis family. Philip Romero received the prize in Biotechnology for his work on developing statistical models of proteins with Frances Arnold. Michael Mello was the recipient of the prize in Seismo-Engineering, Prediction, and Protection for his work with Ares Rosakis on developing a novel methodology for identifying the unique ground motion signatures of supershear earthquakes. Leslie O’Leary received the prize in Environmentally Benign Renewable Energy Sources for her pathbreaking work on the properties of semiconductor interfaces with Nate Lewis and Bob Grubbs. This year there were two winners for the prize in Nanotechnology. One winner was Andrew Jennings for his experimental and modeling work in nanomechanics with Julia Greer. The other winner of the Nanotechnology prize was Jordan Raney who has worked with Chiara Daraio to develop new chemical synthesis methods to control the properties of carbon nanotubes.

Tags: APhMS honors research highlights Chiara Daraio GALCIT MCE Nate Lewis Julia Greer Ares Rosakis Demetriades - Tsafka - Kokkalis Philip Romero Frances Arnold. Michael Mello Leslie O’Leary Bob Grubbs Andrew Jennings Jordan Raney

APhMS and EE Students Engineer a One-of-a-kind Machine


Applied Physics graduate student, Peter Hung, along with Electrical Engineering undergraduate students Julie Jester, Jeff Sherman, and Sean Keenan, worked with a team of engineering students from across the country to create a one-of-a-kind machine for sharing a Coke.

Tags: APhMS EE Peter Hung Julie Jester Jeff Sherman Sean Keenan

Better, Stronger, Lighter Armor


Kaushik Bhattacharya, Howell N. Tyson, Sr., Professor of Mechanics and Professor of Materials Science, is the Caltech lead on a $90 million U.S. Army Research Laboratory funded program to improve protective gear and vehicles for soldiers. "…studying materials in very extreme conditions is an area where Caltech engineering really stand out," says Bhattacharya. "The tools we bring, on both the theoretical and experimental sides uniquely bridge deep fundamental principles with unprecedented application.” [Caltech Feature]

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Tags: APhMS GALCIT MCE Guruswami Ravichandran Julia Greer William Goddard Michael Ortiz Dennis Kochmann Kaushik Bhattacharya

Professor Atwater Receives ENI Award


Harry A. Atwater, Jr., Howard Hughes Professor and Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science; as well as Director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute, and colleague Albert Polman of the Dutch Research Institute AMOLF have been awarded the ENI Award in Renewable and Nonconventional Energy for research on high-efficiency solar cells based on nanophotonic design.

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Tags: APhMS honors Harry Atwater