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The Lead

Astronomers observe supernova colliding with its companion star

May 21, 2015 7:51 am | by Allie Akmal, Caltech | News | Comments

Type Ia supernovae, one of the most dazzling phenomena in the universe, are produced when small dense stars called white dwarfs explode with ferocious intensity. At their peak, these supernovae can outshine an entire galaxy. Although thousands of supernovae of this kind were found in the last decades, the process by which a white dwarf becomes one has been unclear.

New thin, flat lenses

May 11, 2015 7:35 am | by Adam Hadhazy, Caltech | News | Comments

Lenses appear in all sorts of everyday objects, from prescription eyeglasses to cell phone...

Lopsided star explosion holds key to supernova mysteries

May 8, 2015 10:34 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

New observations of a recently exploded star are confirming supercomputer model predictions made...

Tracking photosynthesis from space

May 5, 2015 7:55 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Watching plants perform photosynthesis from space sounds like a futuristic proposal, but a new...

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“Freezing a bullet” to find clues to ribosome assembly process

May 4, 2015 8:00 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Ribosomes are vital to the function of all living cells. Using the genetic information from RNA, these ribosomes build proteins by linking amino acids together in a specific order. Scientists have known that these cellular machines are themselves made up of about 80 different proteins, called ribosomal proteins, along with several RNA molecules and that these components are added in a particular sequence to construct new ribosomes.

Combing through terahertz waves

April 22, 2015 8:02 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Light can come in many frequencies, only a small fraction of which can be seen by humans. Between the invisible low-frequency radio waves used by cell phones and the high frequencies associated with infrared light lies a fairly wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum occupied by what are called terahertz, or sometimes submillimeter, waves.

Inhibitor for abnormal protein points way to more selective cancer drugs

April 16, 2015 8:20 am | by Dave Zobel, Caltech | News | Comments

Nowhere is the adage "form follows function" more true than in the folded chain of amino acids that makes up a single protein macromolecule. But proteins are very sensitive to errors in their genetic blueprints. One single-letter DNA "misspelling" (called a point mutation) can alter a protein's structure or electric charge distribution enough to render it ineffective or even deleterious.

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Camera chip provides superfine 3-D resolution

April 6, 2015 8:00 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Imagine you need to have an almost exact copy of an object. Now imagine that you can just pull your smartphone out of your pocket, take a snapshot with its integrated 3-D imager, send it to your 3-D printer and, within minutes, you have reproduced a replica accurate to within microns of the original object. This feat may soon be possible because of a new, tiny high-resolution 3-D imager developed at Caltech.

Research suggest solar system may have once harbored super-Earths

March 23, 2015 4:22 pm | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Long before Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars formed, it seems that the inner solar system may have harbored a number of super-Earths, planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. If so, those planets are long gone, broken up and fallen into the sun billions of years ago largely due to a great inward-and-then-outward journey that Jupiter made early in the solar system's history.

Cool process to make better graphene

March 18, 2015 8:05 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

A new technique invented at Caltech to produce graphene at room temperature could help pave the way for commercially feasible graphene-based solar cells and LEDs, large-panel displays and flexible electronics. With the new technique, researchers can grow large sheets of electronic-grade graphene in much less time and at much lower temperatures.

Thin film clears path to solar fuels

March 11, 2015 9:39 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

Caltech scientists, inspired by a chemical process found in leaves, have developed an electrically conductive film that could help pave the way for devices capable of harnessing sunlight to split water into hydrogen fuel. When applied to semiconducting materials such as silicon, the nickel oxide film prevents rust buildup and facilitates an important chemical process in the solar-driven production of fuels such as methane or hydrogen.

Research suggests brain’s melatonin may trigger sleep

March 6, 2015 8:01 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

If you walk into your local drug store and ask for a supplement to help you sleep, you might be directed to a bottle labeled "melatonin." The hormone supplement's use as a sleep aid is supported by anecdotal evidence and even some reputable research studies. However, our bodies also make melatonin naturally, and until a recent Caltech study using zebrafish, no one knew how melatonin contributed to our natural sleep.

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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 melting. This unusual behavior is one reason why steel, in which iron plays a starring role, is so sturdy and ubiquitous in everything from teapots to skyscrapers. But the details of just how and why iron takes on so many different forms have remained a mystery.

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 touching the pieces, many structural biochemists thought it would be impossible to determine the atomic structure of a massive cellular machine called the nuclear pore complex, which is vital for cell survival. But after 10 years of attacking the problem, a team recently solved almost a third of the puzzle.

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 organic chemicals without relying on expensive precious metal catalysts. Instead, the new technique uses as a catalyst a cheap, abundant chemical that is commonly found in chemistry labs around the world, potassium tert-butoxide, to help create a host of products ranging from new medicines to advanced materials.

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.

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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.

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.

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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