Variability Keeps The Body In Balance


By combining heart rate data from real athletes with a branch of mathematics called control theory, John Doyle, Jean-Lou Chameau Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems, Electrical Engineering, and Bioengineering and colleagues have devised a way to better understand the relationship between reduced heart rate variability (HRV) and health.

"A familiar related problem is in driving," Doyle says. "To get to a destination despite varying weather and traffic conditions, any driver—even a robotic one—will change factors such as acceleration, braking, steering, and wipers. If these factors suddenly became frozen and unchangeable while the car was still moving, it would be a nearly certain predictor that a crash was imminent. Similarly, loss of heart rate variability predicts some kind of malfunction or 'crash,' often before there are any other indications," he says. [Caltech Release] [Read the Paper]

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Programmed to Fold: RNA Origami


Paul Rothemund, Senior Research Associate in Bioengineering, Computer Science, and Computation and Neural Systems, and colleagues have fabricated complicated shapes from DNA's close chemical cousin, RNA. "RNA origami is still in its infancy," says Rothemund. "Nevertheless, I believe that RNA origami, because of their potential to be manufactured by cells, and because of the extra functionality possible with RNA, will have at least as big an impact as DNA origami." [Caltech Release]

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Engineering and Art


Students in Professor Hillary Mushkin’s new media arts seminar (E/H/Art 89 New Media Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries) have put on a unique exhibition highlighting art and engineering. The course provides a platform for an expanded understanding of engineering and an active, project-based engagement with art history. [List of all projects]

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Building Artificial Cells Will Be a Noisy Business


Erik Winfree, Professor of Computer Science, Computation and Neural Systems, and Bioengineering, explains, "I tend to think of cells as really small robots. Biology has programmed natural cells, but now engineers are starting to think about how we can program artificial cells. When I program my computer, I can think entirely in terms of deterministic processes. But when I try to engineer what is essentially a program at the molecular scale, I have to think in terms of probabilities and stochastic (random) processes. This is inherently more difficult, but I like challenges. And if we are ever to succeed in creating artificial cells, these are the sorts of problems we need to address." [Caltech Release]

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Brainlike Computers, Learning From Experience


A recent New York Times' Science article about a new computing approach based on the nervous system mentions Carver Mead, Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus. The new processors used in this approach consist of electronic components that can be connected by wires that mimic biological synapses. Because they are based on large groups of neuron-like elements, they are known as neuromorphic processors, a term credited to Carver Mead, who pioneered the concept in the late 1980s. [New York Times Article] [ENGenious Article about Carver Mead]

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Senior Spotlight


Computer Science Senior Judy Mou has been working with K. Mani Chandy and Julian Bunn to develop an Android phone and tablet application that could be used to keep communities informed about crisis situations, such as local earthquakes, fires, and pollution hazards. Her application, called a situational awareness application, combines this hazard information with dynamically updated, individualized content, such as traffic on the user's commute, campus events, or news feeds that the user has subscribed to. "The test-case for the application that she is building is whether her classmates and housemates use the application," Chandy says. "She knows that she is building something valuable, and she's excited about it. That's one of the things I like best about working with her." [Learn More]

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Stephen Wolfram Receives Caltech 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award


Stephen Wolfram (PhD '80 in Theoretical Physics) has been recognized by Caltech with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor regularly bestowed by the Institute, for his contributions to the fields of computation and physics. Drawing upon his research and discoveries, Wolfram created Mathematica, now considered a standard software-language environment for scientific, technical, and algorithmic computation and software development.  [Caltech Release]

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An Engineering Art Exhibit


Hillary Mushkin, Visiting Professor of Art and Design in Mechanical and Civil Engineering, worked with a group of students taking her new media art history seminar (E/H/Art 89 - the first Caltech course cross-listed in engineering and humanities) to conceptualize, design and fabricate their own original new media artwork using technologies and fabrication methods of their own choice. Students created electroencephalogram (EEG) art, automatic drawing machines, conceptual art-inspired visualizations of mathematical concepts, interactive video projections, electronic instruments and other novel forms. [Photos of the exhibit]

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EAS Division Welcomes New Deputy Chair


Peter Schröder, Professor of Computer Science and Applied and Computational Mathematics, is the new Deputy Chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. "I look forward to working with Peter over the next several years as we continue with our quest to remain a unique collaborative community of isolated singularities that sets a compelling model as a research and teaching institution," says Chair Ares Rosakis.

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Alumnus Receives 2012 Simons Graduate Fellowships in Theoretical Computer Science


Christopher Beck (BS '09 Computer Science and Mathematics) is a recipient of a 2012 Simons Graduate Fellowship. The fellowships are given to graduate students in theoretical computer science with outstanding track records of research accomplishments. Beck’s work seeks to establish the limits of how efficiently we can solve computational problems. One of his papers studies a popular class of algorithms known as SAT solvers and shows that if their memory is restricted, then they can require exponential running time. Another result concerns how well we can approximately sample from certain distributions when our computation must be small depth, that is, highly parallelizable. Beck and his co-authors showed that even exponentially large bounded depth circuits cannot sample with even exponentially small success from a certain simple distribution.

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