Building Artificial Cells Will Be a Noisy Business
Erik Winfree, Professor of Computer Science, Computation and Neural Systems, and Bioengineering, explains, "I tend to think of cells as really small robots. Biology has programmed natural cells, but now engineers are starting to think about how we can program artificial cells. When I program my computer, I can think entirely in terms of deterministic processes. But when I try to engineer what is essentially a program at the molecular scale, I have to think in terms of probabilities and stochastic (random) processes. This is inherently more difficult, but I like challenges. And if we are ever to succeed in creating artificial cells, these are the sorts of problems we need to address." [Caltech Release]
Computer Science Senior Judy Mou has been working with K. Mani Chandy and Julian Bunn to develop an Android phone and tablet application that could be used to keep communities informed about crisis situations, such as local earthquakes, fires, and pollution hazards. Her application, called a situational awareness application, combines this hazard information with dynamically updated, individualized content, such as traffic on the user's commute, campus events, or news feeds that the user has subscribed to. "The test-case for the application that she is building is whether her classmates and housemates use the application," Chandy says. "She knows that she is building something valuable, and she's excited about it. That's one of the things I like best about working with her." [Learn More]
An Engineering Art Exhibit
Hillary Mushkin, Visiting Professor of Art and Design in Mechanical and Civil Engineering, worked with a group of students taking her new media art history seminar (E/H/Art 89 - the first Caltech course cross-listed in engineering and humanities) to conceptualize, design and fabricate their own original new media artwork using technologies and fabrication methods of their own choice. Students created electroencephalogram (EEG) art, automatic drawing machines, conceptual art-inspired visualizations of mathematical concepts, interactive video projections, electronic instruments and other novel forms. [Photos of the exhibit]
Alumnus Receives 2012 Simons Graduate Fellowships in Theoretical Computer Science
Christopher Beck (BS '09 Computer Science and Mathematics) is a recipient of a 2012 Simons Graduate Fellowship. The fellowships are given to graduate students in theoretical computer science with outstanding track records of research accomplishments. Beck’s work seeks to establish the limits of how efficiently we can solve computational problems. One of his papers studies a popular class of algorithms known as SAT solvers and shows that if their memory is restricted, then they can require exponential running time. Another result concerns how well we can approximately sample from certain distributions when our computation must be small depth, that is, highly parallelizable. Beck and his co-authors showed that even exponentially large bounded depth circuits cannot sample with even exponentially small success from a certain simple distribution.