One Step at a Time: A Conversation with Professor Ames


Aaron Ames, Bren Professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering, handbuilds bipedal robots and designs the algorithms that govern how they walk. These algorithms couple efficiency equations with boundary constraints to teach robots to generate their own walking gait. [Interview with Professor Ames]

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Computing with Biochemical Circuits Made Easy


Lulu Qian, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, is working to create circuits using not the usual silicon transistors but strands of DNA. "A DNA circuit could add 'smarts' to chemicals, medicines, or materials by making their functions responsive to the changes in their environments," Qian says. "Importantly, these adaptive functions can be programmed by humans." [Caltech story]

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A Conversation with Lior Pachter


Lior S. Pachter, Bren Professor of Computational Biology, applies computational methods to biology problems. He has interests in both the development of computational methods and in answering specific biology questions, primarily related to the function of RNA, a molecule central to the function of cells. [Caltech story]

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Robot Drone That Mimics Bat Flight


Soon-Jo Chung, Associate Professor of Aerospace and Bren Scholar; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Research Scientist, and colleagues have recreated the key flight mechanisms of bats with unprecedented fidelity in the Bat Bot—a self-contained robotic bat with soft, articulated wings. [Caltech story]

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Taking Flight: Professor Soon-Jo Chung


Soon-Jo Chung, Associate Professor of Aerospace and Bren Scholar; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Research Scientist, has wide research interests ranging from the creation of a robotic bat with flexible wings and realistic flight dynamics to the control of swarms of small satellites to the development of computer-vision-based navigation systems. [Interview with Professor Soon-Jo Chung]

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A Birder in the Hand: Mobile Phone App Can Recognize Birds From Photos


Pietro Perona, Allen E. Puckett Professor of Electrical Engineering, and colleagues have developed the Merlin Bird Photo ID mobile app which uses machine-learning technology to identify hundreds of North American bird species it "sees" in photos. "This app is the culmination of seven years of our students' hard work and is propelled by the tremendous progress that computer-vision and machine-learning scientists are making around the world," says Professor Perona. "A machine that recognizes objects in images, like humans do, was a distant dream when I was a graduate student and now it's finally happening." [Caltech story]

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Visualization Brings Data to Life


Students participating in Caltech's Data Visualization program aim to tackle cumbersome data-manipulation problem such as how to drive a rover on Mars from a command room on Earth. One of the goals of the program is to develop innovative software to streamline the ways in which scientists and engineers visually manipulate their data. "We use a human-centered design methodology," Professor Mushkin says. "Design students create sketches and ask the researchers to 'interact' with them by pointing, talking, shuffling, and annotating the paper, while computer science students create rough drafts of a variety of possible approaches to coding the visualization." [Caltech story]

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Practical Mathematics: An Interview with Andrew Stuart


Professor Andrew Stuart is interested in how the current era of data acquisition interacts with centuries of human intellectual development of mathematical models that describe the world around us. His research is informed by—and has applications for—diverse arenas such as weather prediction, carbon sequestration, personalized medicine, and crowd forecasting. [Interview with Prof. Stuart]

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Improving Computer Graphics with Quantum Mechanics


The Schrödinger equation, the basic description of quantum mechanical behavior, can be used to describe the motion of superfluids—fluids, supercooled to temperatures near absolute zero, that behave as though they are without viscosity. Professor Peter Schröder and his colleagues realized that the same equation with some small modifications can also be used to describe vorticity dominated phenomena of fluids at the macroscopic level--from smoke gently rising from a flame to the concentrated vorticity of a twister. [Caltech story & video]

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Counting L.A.’s Trees


Professor Pietro Perona, has developed a method using Google Earth and Google Street View to count the trees in the city of Los Angeles. The process of counting the trees using human tree counters is very expensive and would cost about $3 million today. The last time the city did such counting was more than two decades ago and at the time there were 700,000 street trees. Perona has tested the methodology in a section of Pasadena where the city recently commissioned a sidewalk survey. By comparing the results to the known inventory, he determined that the computer was about 80% accurate. [LA Times story] [KPCC story]

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