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The Lead

Fighting parasites with their own genomes

March 3, 2015 7:47 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Tiny parasitic hookworms infect nearly half a billion people worldwide, almost exclusively in developing countries, causing health problems ranging from gastrointestinal issues to cognitive impairment and stunted growth in children. By sequencing and analyzing the genome of one particular hookworm species, Caltech researchers have uncovered new information that could aid the fight against these parasites.  

How iron feels the heat

February 13, 2015 1:34 pm | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

As you heat up a piece of iron, the arrangement of the iron atoms changes several times before...

Shedding light on structure of key cellular “gatekeeper”

February 13, 2015 8:22 am | by Jon Nalick, Caltech | News | Comments

Facing a challenge akin to solving a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle while blindfolded, and without...

Potassium salt outperforms precious metals as a catalyst

February 5, 2015 8:18 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

A team of Caltech chemists has discovered a method for producing a group of silicon-containing...

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Genetically engineered antibodies show enhanced HIV-fighting abilities

January 29, 2015 4:06 pm | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Capitalizing on a new insight into HIV's strategy for evading antibodies, Caltech researchers have developed antibody-based molecules that are more than 100 times better than our bodies' own defenses at binding to and neutralizing HIV, when tested in vitro. The work suggests a novel approach that could be used to engineer more effective HIV-fighting drugs.

Unusual light signal yields clues about elusive black hole merger

January 8, 2015 7:44 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

The central regions of many glittering galaxies, our own Milky Way included, harbor cores of impenetrable darkness—black holes with masses equivalent to millions, or even billions, of suns. What is more, these supermassive black holes and their host galaxies appear to develop together, or "co-evolve." Theory predicts that as galaxies collide and merge, growing ever more massive, so too do their dark hearts.

New technique could harvest more of the sun’s energy

December 1, 2014 8:32 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

As solar panels become less expensive and capable of generating more power, solar energy is becoming a more commercially viable alternative source of electricity. However, the photovoltaic cells now used to turn sunlight into electricity can only absorb and use a small fraction of that light, and that means a significant amount of solar energy goes untapped. A new technology epresents a first step toward harnessing that lost energy.

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Robotic ocean gliders aid study of melting polar ice

November 12, 2014 8:18 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

The rapidly melting ice sheets on the coast of West Antarctica are a potential major contributor to rising ocean levels worldwide. Although warm water near the coast is thought to be the main factor causing the ice to melt, the process by which this water ends up near the cold continent is not well understood. Using robotic ocean gliders, Caltech researchers now have a better understanding of the cause.

Heat transfer sets noise floor for ultra-sensitive electronics

November 11, 2014 8:10 am | by Ken Than, Caltech | News | Comments

A team of engineers and scientists has identified a source of electronic noise that could affect the functioning of instruments operating at very low temperatures, such as devices used in radio telescopes and advanced physics experiments. The findingscould have implications for the future design of transistors and other electronic components.

Unexpected findings change the picture of sulfur on early Earth

November 10, 2014 8:20 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Scientists believe that until about 2.4 billion years ago there was little oxygen in the atmosphere. Evidence in support of this hypothesis comes from studies of sulfur isotopes preserved in the rock record. But the sulfur isotope story has been uncertain because of the lack of key information that has now been provided by a new analytical technique developed by a team of Caltech geologists and geochemists.

How we get the nitrogen we need

October 28, 2014 8:42 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Nitrogen is an essential component of all living systems, playing important roles in everything from proteins and nucleic acids to vitamins. It is the most abundant element in Earth's atmosphere and is literally all around us, but in its gaseous state, N2, it is inert and useless to most organisms.

Sweeping air devices for greener planes

October 21, 2014 8:36 am | News | Comments

The large amount of jet fuel required to fly an airplane from point A to point B can have negative impacts on the environment and a traveler's wallet. With funding from NASA and the Boeing Company, engineers from Caltech and the Univ. of Arizona have developed a device that lets planes fly with much smaller tails, reducing the planes' overall size and weight, thus increasing fuel efficiency.

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Rock-dwelling microbes remove methane from deep sea

October 14, 2014 1:26 pm | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

Methane-breathing microbes that inhabit rocky mounds on the seafloor could be preventing large volumes of the potent greenhouse gas from entering the oceans and reaching the atmosphere, according to a new study. The rock-dwelling microbes represent a previously unrecognized biological sink for methane and as a result could reshape scientists' understanding of where this greenhouse gas is being consumed in subseafloor habitats.

Swimming sea-monkeys reveal how zooplankton may help drive ocean circulation

October 1, 2014 9:17 am | by Marcus Woo, Caltech | Videos | Comments

Brine shrimp, which are sold as pets known as sea-monkeys, are tiny—only about half an inch long each. With about 10 small leaf-like fins that flap about, they look as if they could hardly make waves. But get billions of similarly tiny organisms together and they can move oceans.

A new way to prevent the spread of devastating diseases

September 19, 2014 8:01 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | Videos | Comments

For decades, researchers have tried to develop broadly effective vaccines to prevent the spread of illnesses such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. While limited progress has been made along these lines, there are still no licensed vaccinations available that can protect most people from these devastating diseases. So what are immunologists to do when vaccines just aren't working?

Sensing neuronal activity with light

September 18, 2014 12:29 pm | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

For years, neuroscientists have been trying to develop tools that would allow them to clearly view the brain's circuitry in action. To get this complete picture, neuroscientists are working to develop a range of new tools to study the brain. Researchers at Caltech have developed one such tool that provides a new way of mapping neural networks in a living organism.

Slimy fish and the origins of brain development

September 15, 2014 8:09 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Lamprey—slimy, eel-like parasitic fish with tooth-riddled, jawless sucking mouths—are rather disgusting to look at, but thanks to their important position on the vertebrate family tree, they can offer important insights about the evolutionary history of our own brain development, a recent study suggests.

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Ceramics don’t have to be brittle

September 11, 2014 5:00 pm | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Imagine a balloon that could float without using any lighter-than-air gas. Instead, it could simply have all of its air sucked out while maintaining its filled shape. Such a material might be possible with a new method developed at the California Institute of Technology that allows engineers to produce a ceramic that contains about 99.9% air yet is strong enough to recover its original shape after being smashed by more than 50%.

Textbook theory behind volcanoes may be wrong

September 9, 2014 7:57 am | by Marcus Woo, Caltech | News | Comments

In the typical textbook picture, volcanoes, such as those that are forming the Hawaiian islands, erupt when magma gushes out as narrow jets from deep inside Earth. But that picture is wrong, according to a new study from researchers at Caltech and the Univ. of Miami. New seismology data are now confirming that such narrow jets don't actually exist.

Programmed to fold: RNA origami

August 21, 2014 8:27 am | by Katie Neith, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Researchers from Aarhus Univ. and Caltech have developed a new method for organizing molecules on the nanoscale. Inspired by techniques used for folding DNA origami, the team fabricated complicated shapes from DNA's close chemical cousin, RNA. Unlike DNA origami, whose components are chemically synthesized and then folded in an artificial heating and cooling process, RNA origami are enzymatically synthesized.

Study of aerosols stands to improve climate models

August 4, 2014 9:12 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Aerosols, tiny particles in the atmosphere, play a significant role in Earth's climate, scattering and absorbing incoming sunlight and affecting the formation and properties of clouds. Currently, the effect that these aerosols have on clouds represents the largest uncertainty among all influences on climate change.

“Comb-on-a-chip” powers new atomic clock design

July 24, 2014 7:52 am | News | Comments

Researchers from NIST and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have demonstrated a new design for an atomic clock that is based on a chip-scale frequency comb, or a microcomb. The microcomb clock, featured in Optica, is the first demonstration of all-optical control of the microcomb, and its accurate conversion of optical frequencies to lower microwave frequencies.

Future electronics may depend on lasers, not quartz

July 18, 2014 8:09 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Nearly all electronics require devices called oscillators that create precise frequencies. For nearly 100 years, these oscillators have relied upon quartz crystals to provide a frequency reference, much like a tuning fork is used as a reference to tune a piano. However, future high-end navigation systems, radar systems and even possibly tomorrow's consumer electronics will require references beyond the performance of quartz.

Watching nanoscale fluids flow

June 27, 2014 7:48 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

At the nanoscale, where objects are measured in billionths of meters and events transpire in trillionths of seconds, things do not always behave as our experiences with the macro world might lead us to expect. Water, for example, seems to flow much faster within carbon nanotubes than classical physics says should be possible. Now imagine trying to capture movies of these almost imperceptibly small nanoscale movements.

Growing unknown microbes one by one

June 24, 2014 8:26 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Trillions of bacteria live in and on the human body; a few species can make us sick, but many others keep us healthy by boosting digestion and preventing inflammation. Although there's plenty of evidence that these microbes play a collective role in human health, we still know very little about most of the individual bacterial species that make up these communities.

Earth-building bridgmanite

June 18, 2014 8:15 am | by Katie Neith, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Deep below the Earth's surface lies a thick, rocky layer called the mantle, which makes up the majority of our planet's volume. For decades, scientists have known that most of the lower mantle is a silicate mineral with a perovskite structure that is stable under the high-pressure and high-temperature conditions found in this region.

Stabilizing common semiconductors for solar fuels generation

May 30, 2014 8:17 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Researchers are trying to develop solar-driven generators that can split water, yielding hydrogen gas that could be used as clean fuel. Such a device requires efficient light-absorbing materials that attract and hold sunlight to drive the chemical reactions involved in water splitting. Semiconductors are excellent light absorbers. However, these materials rust when submerged in the type of water solutions found in such systems.

Miniature truss work

May 27, 2014 7:44 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Fancy Erector Set? Nope. The elaborate fractal structure shown at left is many, many times smaller than that and is certainly not child's play. It’s the latest example of a fractal nanotruss—nano because the structures are made up of members that are as thin as 5 nm; truss because they are carefully architected structures that might one day be used in structural engineering materials.

Supernova caught in the act by Palomar Transient Factory

May 22, 2014 7:52 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Supernovae are incredibly energetic, dynamic events. It’s easy to imagine that they are uncommon, but the universe is a big place and supernovae are actually fairly routine. The problem with observing supernovae is knowing just when and where one is occurring and being able to point a world-class telescope at it in the hours immediately afterward, when precious data about the supernova's progenitor star is available.

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