The 75-faculty-strong Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) Division at Caltech may be home to the biggest group of faculty at the Institute, but it is tiny compared to the other famous engineering schools around the world. In order to compete and thrive with such numbers, we have adopted two basic principles. First, by design, we don't cover all areas in engineering and applied science. We dynamically choose only the ones that we consider the most important and we are ready to retire the ones that are not intellectually stimulating. Our faculty does not represent a continuum of research interests and specialties. We are, in the words of my old Caltech mentors, Professors Jim Knowles and Eli Sternberg, a collection of isolated singularities. However, in order for these isolated areas of excellence to be effective, the second principle has to be introduced. This principle dictates that the barriers between disciplines, Departments, and even Divisions remain very low so that both faculty and students can cross them, if they wish, without spending unnecessary energy. This is a principle that is also shared throughout the Institute and necessitates the existence of a truly interdisciplinary culture in which turf and labels become secondary to intellectual exchange. Other major engineering schools speak of the value of interdisciplinary research; our difference is that we have practiced it since our founding over 100 years ago. It was simply critical to our survival.1

In the above analogy, the isolated singularities of excellence represent our chosen disciplinary strengths in research and teaching while our interdisciplinary research groups and centers can be viewed as sparks created between the disciplines. These energetic sparks of interdisciplinary brilliance may or may not be short-lived, but they are triggered by our desire to tackle society's big problems and are facilitated by low barriers to enter new fields. New challenges, such as renewable energy, and new ideas, such as bioinspired engineering, create new and sometimes unexpected sparks. Long-standing problems, such as terrestrial hazards involving both the fluid and the solid earth, represent longer-lasting sparks. I, for example—a solid mechanician and aerospace and mechanical engineer by training—now spend much of my time in research interacting with geophysicists and seismologists working on shockwave-induced ground motion generated by super-shear earthquakes. The sparks between these particular disciplines have the potential for great societal impact in California and other seismogenic areas around the world. Indeed, engineers do best when they tackle and mitigate humanity's biggest calamities and problems.

This issue of ENGenious features a number of our faculty, alumni, and students who are tackling the biggest problems facing and challenging humanity. As you read, I encourage you to think about EAS and Caltech's greatest achievement—the creation of new schools of thought. These schools of thought reflect our combined achievements and excellence in both research and education. It starts with the faculty's dedication and commitment to train their students in their singularities of excellence supported by mastery of the fundamentals. Then these students become the next generation of academics, researchers, technologists, and leaders who in turn train their own students and associates, and in the process they influence industry, the economy, and even government policy and societal perceptions. They are the inheritors and carriers of both our educational and our research philosophies.

Ares J. Rosakis
Theodore von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Chair, Division of Engineering and Applied Science

1One of the fruits of these strategies, sustained over decades, is that Caltech is one of the top universities worldwide. Indeed, Caltech was just rated number-one in the 2011–2012 Times Higher Education world university rankings of the top 200 universities. In addition, it has been ranked first in the subject of engineering and technology.

Earthquake generated in the laboratory illustrating the transition from Sub-Rayleigh to supershear rapture speeds. Note the creation of the shear wave mach cones in the solid. Inset: Photo of F-22 Raptor crossing the sound barrier and illustrating the pressure wave mach cone effect in air. For more information, visit

Cover image: This research image is a topographical height map of a compound semiconductor material called gallium phosphide (GaP) that is grown on a silicon (Si) microwire array. This semiconductor structure is designed to absorb sunlight and split water to generate solar fuels in a photoelectrochemical cell. Warmer colors represent higher regions of GaP, and cooler colors depict lower regions. The image width is 77 microns, and the rainbow color scale covers 15 microns in height. It was created by graduate student Andrew Leenheer, working with Professor Harry Atwater, as well as postdoctoral scholar Nicholas Strandwitz, working with Professor Nathan Lewis. The image was obtained using a confocal microscope.

The Caltech Division of Engineering and Applied Science consists of seven Departments and is home to more than 75 faculty who form an interconnected web of researchers creating the frontiers of modern science and engineering. Their students and postdoctoral colleagues have access to world-renowned educational resources, as well as unparalleled opportunities for both basic and applied research.

We invite you to learn more about the Division through our website,


Message From The Chair

Ares Rosakis

Snap Shots

The Highest Decoration of the French Republic;
Solar Decathlon;
Team Voyager Wins Caltech Space Challenge;

New Faculty

Whos New: New Faculty

EAS Feature

It's About Societal Impact
Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech

Alumni Profile

Arati Prabhakar
Leaving the Conventional Trajectory

Above: Multi-university team working with Rob Summers.

Progress Report

The Next Step
Stimulating Electrode Array Assists Paraplegic Man to Stand and to Move Legs Voluntarily
by Joel W. Burdick

Idea Flow

Creating an Energy Roadmap to Maximize Societal Benefit

Alumni Profile

From Grasshoppers and Mice to Monkeys and His Sister?
What Inspired David W. Thompson to Start a Rocket Company

Research Note

Ruling Out Bad Behavior
Designing Software to Make Extremely Dangerous Consequences Not Just "Unlikely" but "Impossible"

Campus Resource

The Caltech Center for Diversity
Providing a Real Pathway to Membership for Underrepresented Students at Caltech


Trity Pourbahrami

Design & Photography

Vicki Chiu


Leona Kershaw
Tina Rutch

Copy Editors

Sara Arnold
Kathleen Hand

Contributing Writers

Julian Camillieri
Eric Iberri

Special Thanks

Marcia Brown
Kathy Svitil

Image Credits

pg. 4: Research images—Courtesy of Ares Rosakis; F-22 Raptor, 2009—U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 1st Class Ronald Dejarnet
pgs. 5, 9 (Minnich), 33: Briana Ticehurst
pgs. 6 (Elachi), 13 (Hassibi): Bill Youngblood
pg. 6: Solar Decathlon—Stefano Paltera/U.S. Dept. of Energy
pg. 7: Space Challenge—Courtesy of Keck Institute for Space Studies
pg. 8: Inhwa Choo
pg. 9 (Kochmann): Lance Hayashida
pg. 17: Bob Paz
pg. 18: Patrick Windham
pg. 20: Implanted electrode array—The Lancet; Electrical leads implanted in the paraplegic patient—Medtronic, Inc.
pg. 22: University of Louisville
pg. 28: Dawn—Courtesy of JPL/NASA, McREL; Ceres—Courtesy of JPL/NASA, Hubble telescope
pgs. 28–29: Cygnus and Taurus II—Courtesy of Orbital Sciences Corporation
pg. 30: MGS—Courtesy of JPL/NASA, Corby Waste
Inside Back Cover: John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects