Object Lesson: Crushing it
What happens when you take a Styrofoam cup, put it in a basket on a deep-sea submersible, and take it down to a depth of a thousand or so meters? It shrinks. A lot. This tiny treasure was given to Nathan Dalleska, director of the Environmental Analysis Center at Caltech, by then-graduate student Abbie Green Saxena (PhD ‘13), who had the opportunity to go down in the submarine Alvin for a project on which the two were collaborating.
The cup had nothing to do with the project. It was just taken along for the ride, to create a fun memento of the dive. And how exactly did it end up so crushed? “A Styrofoam cup is a mass of solidified polystyrene bubbles fluffed up by a gas called a ‘blowing agent,’” Dalleska explains. “When you subject it to very high pressure, the bubbles are squeezed down and down so the whole object shrinks. The cup material never returns to its original shape.”
Dalleska has it on display, he says, “because I like the story and have fond memories of that particular collaboration. The usual reaction is curiosity, people wondering what it is, and then no small amount of amazement when they find out where it has been.”
Work is well underway on the Bechtel Residence, Caltech’s newest undergraduate housing facility. A student committee and Student Affairs staff members are both currently exploring how to best use the 95,000-square-foot residence—named for Caltech life trustee Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr.—which is slated to open in the fall of 2018.