Education & Outreach

Seeing the World in a Grain of Sand - Watson Lecture

For almost 80 years, the California Institute of Technology has offered its Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series. The late Caltech physicist Earnest Watson conceived the series as a public lecture program designed to explain science to the local community. 

In this Watson Lecture, Prof. José Andrade describes the cutting edge research done by his group at Caltech (Computational Geomechanics Laboratory), and the relevance of this work, as well as, some important applications. All in a very simple, didactic and interesting way.

SURF Program

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program gives undergraduate students the chance to conduct intensive academic research under the mentorship of a professor in their chosen field. Over a ten-week session of focused work in close collaboration with the mentor, students gain an in-depth understanding of their field of study while generating and analyzing experimental results that can directly support ongoing research and, potentially, publications from their group.

The Computational Geomechanics Group is sponsoring two SURF students for the summer of 2011 to conduct experiments and produce necessary physical data on the life-cycles of avalanches to support a computational model employing the discrete element method (DEM). By conducting precise, focused experiments and carefully analyzing the resultant images like the one below, they will develop comprehensive and conclusive physical data to corroborate simulations and computations already conducted by the group, providing the experimental evidence necessary to support the mentor's theoretical work.

Affordable and Accessible Experiments with Visualization (AAEVs)

Affordable and accessible experiments with visualization (AAEVs) are simple, yet highly visual experiments that allow students to learn through an inquiry-based approach. They are structured to give students the possibility of 'seeing' fundamental geotechnical concepts in their classrooms, thus providing a strong source of motivation and increasing students' intuition of the concepts being taught. Their simple and inexpensive setup makes AAEVs highly accessible and ideal for widespread classroom use. Designed by undergraduate and high school students (see "Working on AAEVs: The High School Student Experience"), these experiments and corresponding simulations will become valuable learning tools by providing students with the opportunity of actually 'seeing' how theory and experiment match well.

Currently, the following students have worked on AAEVs: Winston Luo (Glenbrook South High School, summer 2007), Andrew Jacobs and Michael Tarczon (Glenbrook South High School, summer 2008) and Jeffrey Gellis (REU, summer 2008).

Below is a list of AAEVs that are finalized or currently in progress:

The Tank: Water Flow Through Porous Media

The Tank: Water flow through porous media models water flow through a saturated porous media and introduces the Laplace equation and its application to water flow. The picture above shows the setup of this AAEV. As shown below, the results from both the tank experiment and the Laplace simulation match very well.

Consolidation of a Saturated Porous Medium Experience

The Consolidation of a Saturated Porous Medium Experience introduces the concepts of consolidation (setup shown left) and Terzaghi's equation. As shown below, pore pressure variation, obtained from a simulation involving Terzaghi's equation, matches well with experimental observations.

Working on AAEVs: The High School Student Experience

Winston Luo (summer 2007)

"[The experience] was a great introduction to a number of scientific methods..."

"...the idea of finite differences helped give a lot of insight to various other problems I've worked on..."

Andrew Jacobs (summer 2008)

"I look forward to studying engineering, in large part due to what I saw and learned [during the experience] last summer."

Michael Tarczon (summer 2008)

"I think this experience helped me understand engineering methods and ideas and will lead me to consider some kind of engineering major in college."

"The best thing about the project was working in a group of people at different levels. I worked with a professor, a post-doc, an undergraduate student, and another high school student.  Everyone has a different amount of knowledge and contributes something different."