News & Events



Tools and Techniques to Track and Study Methane


Methane is less prevalent in the atmosphere than fellow greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), but it presents more difficult challenges for researchers attempting to study it. Professor Wennberg, is working with colleagues from across Caltech to study methane and its effects on the globe and to pioneer tools and techniques needed to identify, track, and characterize the gas and its sources. One such colleague is Professor Vahala who has paved the way for the miniaturization of high-resolution spectrometers. His new soliton-based system is the basis for a new collaboration with Professor Frankenberg to apply dual-comb spectrometer to methane tracking and analysis. [Caltech story]

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James J. Morgan Symposium


On Friday September 23rd, 2016 the Environmental Science and Engineering Department hosted a day-long tribute to James J. Morgan, Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Environmental Engineering Science, Emeritus. The symposium featured a series of presentations by his former students and leaders in the field of aquatic chemistry. Professor Morgan’s teaching and research centered on aquatic chemistry; major themes comprised rates of abiotic manganese oxidation on particle surfaces and flocculation of natural water particles, and chemical speciation proved the key. He came to Caltech as Associate Professor of Environmental Health Engineering in 1965 and became the Goldberger Professor of Environmental Engineering Science in 1987. He has served Caltech in a variety of capacities including Academic Officer for Environmental Engineering Science, Dean of Students, Executive Officer for Environmental Engineering Science, Acting Dean of Graduate Studies, and Vice President for Student Affairs. [A Conversation with James J. Morgan] [Symposium program]

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Professors Newman and Orphan Named MacArthur Fellows


Environmental Science and Engineering Professors Dianne Newman and Victoria Orphan have been selected as 2016 MacArthur Fellows. Professor Newman's research focuses on microbial stress responses, with an emphasis on mechanisms of energy generation and survival when oxygen is scarce. Professor Orphan studies the molecular microbial ecology of anaerobic communities with a particular focus on microorganisms that live in deep-ocean sediment beds and consume large quantities of methane released from seeps in the ocean floor. [Caltech story]

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Aliso Canyon, Methane, and Global Climate


The Aliso Canyon underground storage facility for natural gas in the San Fernando Valley—the fourth largest of its kind in the United States—had one of its wells blow out on October 23, 2015, leading to a large release of methane. In a recent conversation, Professor Paul Wennberg discusses enormous methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and their troubling implications for global climate. “If we could really knock the methane emissions back to what they were before people started emitting methane, it would be a large change. It would be a half a watt per meter squared. The total global warming would drop by around 25 percent,” Professor Wennberg explains. [Caltech story]

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Solar Powered, Electrochemical, Wastewater Treatment System


Cody Finke, Environmental Science and Engineering graduate student, and Justin Jasper, Resnick Sustainability Institute Prize Postdoctoral Scholar, are the runner ups for the Dow Resnick Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) at Caltech. They have been working Professor Michael Hoffmann to enhance a modular, solar powered, electrochemical, on-site wastewater treatment system created by their group for toilets in the developing and developed world. With an operating cost of less than 5 US cents per day, this wastewater treatment technology meets benchmarks for affordability in the developing world. It also has the potential to protect human health and ecosystem well-being in communities most at risk to disease and resource-loss through environmental pollution. [Resnick Institute story]

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Extending a Battery's Lifetime with Heat


The research of alumnus Asghar Aryanfar (’15 PhD, ME) along with Professors Goddard and Hoffmann has shown that heat can break down the damaging branch-like structures that grow inside batteries, which may possibly be used to extend battery lifetimes. [Learn more] [Read the paper]

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A Winning Sanitation Solution


The inventors of the solar-powered toilet, a unit developed by a team led by Professor Michael Hoffmann, have a new award winning project. Project Seva, which means "service" in Hindi. It was named the first place winner of the Vodafone's Wireless Innovation program. The Seva team realized that because the solar toilet and other sanitation systems like it are relatively simple, inexpensive sensors could be used to monitor the status of those systems' parts. Combining that insight with the knowledge that more than three-quarters of the world's people have access to a mobile phone, the team decided to design a self-diagnosing maintenance system for sanitation solutions that could alert designated local operators of a malfunction via cell phone message. [Caltech story]

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Tracking Photosynthesis from Space


Professor Paul Wennberg and colleagues have developed a new technique to analyze plant productivity using data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite. To perform photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in leaves absorbs sunlight and a small fraction of the absorbed light is reemitted as near-infrared light. This reemitted light makes the plants appear to glow—a property called solar induced fluorescence (SIF). "The measurements of SIF from OCO-2 greatly extend the science of this mission", says Professor Wennberg. "OCO-2 was designed to map carbon dioxide, and scientists plan to use these measurements to determine the underlying sources and sinks of this important gas. The new SIF measurements will allow us to diagnose the efficiency of the plants—a key component of the sinks of carbon dioxide." [Caltech story]

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Professor Bordoni Receives Young Investigator Award in Environmental Sciences


Simona Bordoni, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, has received a Young Investigator Award in Environmental Sciences from the Italian Scientists and Scholars in North America Foundation (ISSNAF). The award is given to early stage investigators working in North America whose commitment to their discipline of study is innovative, impactful, and honors their country of origin. Professor Bordoni received the award for her research in fundamental monsoon dynamics, specifically aquaplanet monsoons and their response to climate changes. She has also received a medal from the President of the Italian Republic, "Medaglia di Rappresentanza del Presidente della Repubblica Italiana." [Research abstract]

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Professor Seinfeld Elected to the National Academy of Sciences


Professor John H. Seinfeld has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. His research has revealed the role of organic species in aerosols and the process by which vapor molecules become incorporated into particles. Currently his work focuses on the effects of aerosols on cloud formation and Earth's climate. [Caltech Release]

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Environmental Science and Engineering