News & Events


Tapio Schneider and Colleagues Discover Storms in the Tropics of Titan


Tapio Schneider, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, and his colleagues have discover storms on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which is generally "a very bland place, weatherwise," says Mike Brown, Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor and Professor of Planetary Astronomy. "The first cloud was seen near the tropics and was caused by a still-mysterious process, but it behaved almost like an explosion in the atmosphere, setting off waves that traveled around the planet, triggering their own clouds. Within days a huge cloud system had covered the south pole, and sporadic clouds were seen all the way up to the equator." Schneider, an expert on atmospheric circulations, was instrumental in helping to sort out the complicated chain of events that followed the initial outburst of cloud activity. [Caltech Press Release]

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Paul Wennberg and John Seinfeld Show How Organic Carbon Compounds Emitted by Trees Affect Air Quality


Paul Wennberg, the R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering and director of the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, and John Seinfeld, the Louis E. Nohl Professor and professor of chemical engineering, have shown that biogenic emissions—organic carbon compounds given off by plants and trees— affect air quality. Wennberg states that, "if you mix emissions from the city with emissions from plants, they interact to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere." Seinfeld adds, "particles in the atmosphere have been shown to impact human health, as they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs of people. Also, aerosols impact Earth's climate through the scattering and absorption of solar radiation and through serving as the nuclei on which clouds form. So it is important to know where particles come from." [Caltech Press Release]

Tags: research highlights health ESE Paul Wennberg John Seinfeld

EAS Faculty Cited in Discover Magazine's 50 Best Brains in Science Issue


Discover magazine recently published its annual 50 Best Brains in Science issue, and the "20 Under 40" list which highlights "a new generation of innovators changing the way we think about everything from theoretical mathematics to cancer therapy." Four researchers from Caltech (three from EAS) were cited: Michael Elowitz (Assistant Professor of Biology and Applied Physics; Bren Scholar; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute), Sarkis Mazmanian (Assistant Professor of Biology), Tapio Schneider (Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering), and Changhuei Yang (Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering).

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Man-made Reef Named in Memory Wheeler North


A man-made reef designed to grow into a self-sustaining 175-acre kelp forest - the biggest environmental project of its kind in the United States - has been named in memory Wheeler North (1922–2002), professor of environmental science at Caltech who pioneered the study of kelp and what makes for a healthy reef. The Wheeler North Kelp Reef is located off the coast near San Clemente. [OC Register Article]

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Simona Bordoni and Tapio Schneider Offer New Explanation for Monsoon Development


Tapio Schneider, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, has come up with a new explanation for the formation of monsoons. Schneider and colleague Simona Bordoni, who will start as an assistant professor at Caltech in 2009, propose an overhaul of a theory about the cause of the seasonal pattern of heavy winds and rainfall that essentially had held firm for more than 300 years. [Caltech Press Release]

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Chemistry of Airborne Particulate—Lung Interactions Revealed by Agustin Colussi and Colleagues


Agustin J. Colussi, senior research associate in environmental science and engineering, and colleagues have found that airborne particulates impair the lungs' naturaldefenses against ozone. Their research focused on what happens when air meets the thin layer of antioxidant-rich fluid that covers our lungs, protecting them from ozone, an air pollutant that pervades major cities. "We found new chemistry at the interfaces separating gases from liquids using a technique that continuously monitors the composition of these interfaces," Colussi says. Under normal physiological conditions, ascorbic acid instantly scavenges ozone, generating innocuous byproducts. However, the researchers discovered that when the fluid is acidic, a pathological condition found in asthmatics, ascorbic acid instead reacts with ozone to form potentially harmful compounds called ozonides.

Tags: research highlights health ESE Agustin Colussi

New Center to Study the Global Environment


To address the complex issue of global climate change from a wide range of disciplines, Ronald and Maxine Linde have established an $18 million endowment for the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, uniting faculty from chemistry, engineering, geology, environmental science, and other fields. The initiative will help Caltech achieve its vision of having an integrated program in global environmental science, spanning the many disciplines that must make up such a program. Edward Stolper, Caltech's provost, explains that the Linde Center "will provide a central home and focus for researchers and students working on understanding natural variations in and the impact of human activity on the global environment. These are among the most important and most difficult problems facing our society." [Caltech Press Release]

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Uncovering Genetic Underpinnings of Wood Digestion


Wood is made of three tightly intertwined compounds; taking it apart is a challenge, and termites are among the few known animals that can do it. Professor Jared Leadbetter led a team of researchers from other universities, private industry, and the Department of Energy (DOE) in uncovering the genetic underpinnings and the roles of bacteria in wood digestion by "higher termites." These insects abound in tropical and subtropical ecosystems. What the team found, says Leadbetter, is "a comprehensive set of blueprints for the bacteria that help dismantle wood." This has recently become a focus of interest for those interested in developing an effective, industrial method to convert wood into ethanol. [Caltech Press Release]

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