Jet Propulsion Laboratory Pasadena, California
J. CHRISTOPHER LOVE
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
New technologies and tools often provide the critical foundations for new discoveries in science. Revolutions in instrumentation for observing and measuring intrinsic characteristics and behaviors of natural systems are often followed by periods of prolific scientific activity. For example, telescopes and microscopes are tools that enabled us to look at systems that are much larger and much smaller than those that fit into our conventional frame of reference. They provided the means to develop many fundamental ideas about how matter is organized, how it interacts, and how it empowers the processes of life. Similar to the advent of tools for observing the world around us (i.e., telescopes and microscopes), tools for modeling and simulating processes by computational and mathematical methods have provided a structure for integrating knowledge gained from observational science and predicting future responses or outcomes.
The four presentations in this session highlight recent advances in technologies that have opened new windows into how systems comprising discrete members organize and interact. The speakers will cover systems that range in scale from nanoscale systems to natural oceanic and environmental systems.
In the first presentation, Vinothan Manoharan explains how very simple systems of micro- or nano-particles can assemble themselves into ordered structures.
Understanding the mechanisms of self-assembly is essential to building new kinds of optical materials and photonic devices. At the level of individual organisms, Sean Wiggins describes how situating listening devices at various locations around the world enables scientists to track the behavior of marine mammals and determine how these sound-dependent creatures are affected by their increasingly noisy environment.
On a much different scale, Riley Duren introduces us to the Kepler space telescope, which helps answer fundamental questions about the formation of solar systems and the frequencies of Earth-like planets. Finally, Carla Gomes describes advances in the new field of computational sustainability that can contribute to the health of the environment, the success of our economy, and human well-being. For instance, this work shows how we can stabilize tuna populations by changing the way diminishing natural resources are allocated, and how we can transition to ethanol fuel without destabilizing food production.
The connecting thread among these talks is an understanding of how systems made up of discrete members organize themselves and interact and how engineering tools can support that understanding.