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The Lead

Unlocking a mystery of human disease in space

April 21, 2014 7:45 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Huntington's disease is a grim diagnosis. A hereditary disorder with debilitating physical and cognitive symptoms, the disease usually robs adult patients of their ability to walk, balance and speak. More than 15 years ago, researchers revealed the disorder's likely cause—an abnormal version of the protein huntingtin; however, the mutant protein's mechanism is poorly understood, and the disease remains untreatable.

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

April 17, 2014 11:54 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth...

Gravity measurements confirm subsurface ocean on Enceladus

April 7, 2014 9:18 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

In 2005, NASA's Cassini spacecraft sent pictures back to Earth depicting an icy Saturnian moon...

An equation to describe the competition between genes

March 17, 2014 8:08 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

In biology, scientists typically conduct experiments first, and then develop mathematical or...

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Research update: Battling infection with microbes

March 13, 2014 8:19 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

The human relationship with microbial life is complicated. At almost any supermarket, you can pick up both antibacterial soap and probiotic yogurt during the same shopping trip. Although there are types of bacteria that can make us sick, a California Institute of Technology team is most interested in the thousands of other bacteria, many already living inside our bodies, that actually keep us healthy.

Bending the light with a tiny chip

March 11, 2014 7:56 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Imagine that you are in a meeting with coworkers or at a gathering of friends. You pull out your cell phone to show a presentation or a video on YouTube. But you don't use the tiny screen; your phone projects a bright, clear image onto a wall or a big screen. Such a technology may be on its way, thanks to a new light-bending silicon chip developed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology.

Detection of water vapor in the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter

February 25, 2014 8:27 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Although liquid water covers a majority of Earth's surface, scientists are still searching for planets outside of our solar system that contain water. Researchers have used a new technique to analyze the gaseous atmospheres of such extrasolar planets and have made the first detection of water in the atmosphere of the Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the nearby star tau Boötis.

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Building artificial cells will be a noisy business

February 24, 2014 8:09 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Engineers like to make things that work. And if one wants to make something work using nanoscale components, the size of proteins, antibodies and viruses, mimicking the behavior of cells is a good place to start since cells carry an enormous amount of information in a very tiny packet.

A changing view of bone marrow cells

February 21, 2014 7:55 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

In the battle against infection, immune cells are the body's offense and defense. It has long been known that a population of blood stem cells that resides in the bone marrow generates all of these immune cells. But most scientists have believed that blood stem cells participate in battles against infection in a delayed way, replenishing immune cells on the front line only after they become depleted.

A new laser for a faster Internet

February 20, 2014 8:16 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

A new laser developed by a research group at Caltech holds the potential to increase by orders of magnitude the rate of data transmission in the optical-fiber network: the backbone of the Internet. The high-coherence new laser converts current to light using III-V material, but in a fundamental departure from S-DFB lasers, it stores the light in a layer of silicon, which does not absorb light.

Is natural gas a solution to mitigating climate change?

February 11, 2014 8:18 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Methane, a key greenhouse gas, has more than doubled in volume in Earth's atmosphere since 1750. Its increase is believed to be a leading contributor to climate change. But where is the methane coming from? Research by a California Institute of Technology atmospheric chemist suggests that losses of natural gas—our "cleanest" fossil fuel—into the atmosphere may be a larger source than previously recognized.

Method for delivering HIV-fighting antibodies proven promising

February 10, 2014 8:32 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

In 2011, biologists at Caltech demonstrated a highly effective method for delivering HIV-fighting antibodies to mice—a treatment that protected the mice from infection by a laboratory strain of HIV delivered intravenously. Now the researchers have shown that the same procedure is just as effective against a strain of HIV found in the real world, even when transmitted across mucosal surfaces.

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Pinpointing the brain’s arbitrator

February 6, 2014 8:30 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

We tend to be creatures of habit. In fact, the human brain has a learning system devoted to guiding us through routine, or habitual, behaviors. At the same time, the brain has a separate goal-directed system for the actions we undertake only after careful consideration of the consequences. We switch between the two systems as needed. But how does the brain know which system to give control to at any given moment? Enter The Arbitrator.

Researchers pinpoint neural circuitry that promotes stress-induced anxiety

February 3, 2014 8:01 am | by Katie Neith, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 18% of American adults suffer from anxiety disorders. Previous studies of anxiety in the brain have focused on the amygdala, an area known to play a role in fear. But a team of researchers had a hunch that understanding a different brain area, the lateral septum (LS), could provide more clues into how the brain processes anxiety.

A detailed look at HIV in action

January 31, 2014 9:45 am | by Katie Neith. California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

The human intestinal tract, or gut, is best known for its role in digestion. But this collection of organs also plays a prominent role in the immune system. In fact, it is one of the first parts of the body that is attacked in the early stages of an HIV infection. Knowing how the virus infects cells and accumulates in this area is critical to developing new therapies for the over 33 million people worldwide living with HIV.

Charting the slopes of sediment transport

January 29, 2014 7:48 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

In the Earth Surface Dynamics Lab at the California Institute of Technology the behavior of rivers is modeled through the use of artificial rivers—flumes—through which water can be pumped at varying rates over a variety of carefully graded sediments while drag force and acceleration are measured. The largest flume is a 12-m tilting version that can model many river conditions.

Star feedback results in less massive galaxies

January 23, 2014 11:17 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

For decades, astrophysicists have encountered a puzzling contradiction: although many galactic-wind models—simulations of how matter is distributed in our universe—predict that the majority of the "normal" matter exists in stars at the center of galaxies, in actuality these stars account for less than 10% of the matter in the universe. A new set of simulations offer insight into this mismatch between the models and reality.

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Bacterial syringe necessary for marine animal development

January 15, 2014 8:04 am | News | Comments

If you've ever slipped on a slimy wet rock at the beach, you have bacteria to thank. Those bacteria, nestled in a supportive extracellular matrix, form bacterial biofilms. For some marine organisms, these biofilms serve a vital purpose, flagging suitable homes for such organisms and actually aiding the transformation of larvae to adults. A new study is the first to describe a mechanism for this phenomenon.

First rock dating experiment performed on Mars

December 11, 2013 8:23 am | News | Comments

Although researchers have determined the ages of rocks from other planetary bodies, the actual experiments have been done on Earth. Now, for the first time, researchers have successfully determined the age of a Martian rock with experiments performed on Mars. The work could not only help in understanding the geologic history of Mars but also aid in the search for evidence of ancient life on the planet.

Probiotic therapy alleviates autism-like behavior in mice

December 6, 2013 9:52 am | News | Comments

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed when individuals exhibit characteristic behaviors that include repetitive actions, decreased social interactions and impaired communication. Curiously, many individuals with ASD also suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) issues, such as abdominal cramps and constipation. Using the co-occurrence of brain and gut problems in ASD as their guide, researchers are investigating a new therapy.

Peering through the intergalactic dust

November 26, 2013 10:47 am | News | Comments

Where do you go to look at the stars? Away from city lights, certainly. But if you're serious about peering far out into space, to the observable edges of our universe, at submillimeter wavelengths, you have to do a little better than that. You have to go farther and higher, up to where the atmosphere is thin. And if you want to look at the stars for more than a few nights a year, you also need some place that is very, very dry.

SlipChip counts molecules with chemistry and a cell phone

November 18, 2013 8:31 am | Videos | Comments

In developing nations, rural areas and even one's own home, limited access to expensive equipment and trained medical professionals can impede the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Many qualitative tests that provide a simple "yes" or "no" answer have been optimized for use in these resource-limited settings. But few quantitative tests can be done outside of a laboratory or clinical setting.

Overcoming brittleness: New insights into bulk metallic glass

November 18, 2013 8:06 am | News | Comments

From the production of tougher, more durable smartphones and other electronic devices, to a wider variety of longer lasting biomedical implants, bulk metallic glasses are poised to be mainstay materials for the 21st Century. Featuring a non-crystalline amorphous structure, bulk metallic glasses can be as strong or stronger than steel, as malleable as plastics, conduct electricity and resist corrosion.

Spirals of light may lead to better electronics

September 26, 2013 8:10 am | News | Comments

A group of researchers at Caltech has created the optical equivalent of a tuning fork: a device that can help steady the electrical currents needed to power high-end electronics and stabilize the signals of high-quality lasers. The work marks the first time that such a device has been miniaturized to fit on a chip and may pave the way to improvements in high-speed communications, navigation and remote sensing.

Made-to-order materials

September 6, 2013 7:40 am | News | Comments

The lightweight skeletons of organisms such as sea sponges display a strength that far exceeds that of manmade products constructed from similar materials. Scientists have long suspected that the difference has to do with the hierarchical architecture of the biological materials; the way the silica-based skeletons are built up from different structural elements. Now engineers at Caltech have mimicked such a structure.

Team produces squeezed light using silicon micromechanical system

August 7, 2013 2:04 pm | News | Comments

One of the many counter-intuitive and bizarre insights of quantum mechanics is that even in a vacuum all is not completely still. Low levels of noise (quantum fluctuations) are always present. Always, that is, unless you can pull off a quantum trick. And that's just what a Caltech team has done.

Engineers gain insight into turbulence formation and evolution in fluids

July 31, 2013 5:19 pm | by Katie Neith, Caltech | News | Comments

Wall turbulence develops when fluids—liquid or gas—flow past solid surfaces at anything but the slowest flow rates. Progress in understanding and controlling wall turbulence has been somewhat incremental because of the massive range of scales of motion involved, but recently engineers in the U.S. and the U.K. have developed a new and improved way of looking at the composition of turbulence near walls.

Researchers find stepping-stone for appearance of Earth’s oxygen

June 27, 2013 8:34 am | by Katie Neith, Caltech | News | Comments

Earth’s atmosphere did not always contain oxygen, and one of science's greatest mysteries is how and when oxygenic photosynthesis—the process responsible for producing oxygen on Earth through the splitting of water molecules—first began. A team has now found evidence of a precursor photosystem involving manganese that predates cyanobacteria, the first group of organisms to release oxygen into the environment via photosynthesis.  

Astronomers discover massive star factory in early universe

April 18, 2013 7:53 am | by Marcus Woo, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Smaller begets bigger. Such is often the case for galaxies, at least: The first galaxies were small, then eventually merged together to form the behemoths we see in the present universe. Now, a  team of astronomers has discovered a dust-filled, massive galaxy churning out stars when the cosmos was a mere 880 million years old—making it the earliest starburst galaxy ever observed.

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