California Institute of Technology

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California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology

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The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a private research university situated in Pasadena, California. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphasis on science and engineering. Its 124-acre primary campus is located approximately 11 mi northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Founded as a preparatory and vocational school by Amos G. Throop in 1891, the college attracted leading early 20th-century scientists such as Robert Andrews Millikan and George Ellery Hale. Despite its relatively small size, 31 Caltech alumni and faculty have won the Nobel Prize and 66 have won the United States National Medal of Science or Technology. There are 110 faculty members who have been elected to the National Academies. Caltech managed $333 million in sponsored research in 2011 and $1.76 billion for its endowment in 2012.

Caltech was ranked first in the 2012–2013 Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the second year running, as well as ranking first in Engineering & Technology and Physical Sciences.

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Caltech News

Caltech News

Stanford chemist and Nobel laureate William E. Moerner will give inaugural lectureNews Writer: Shayna Chabner McKinney Nobel laureate William E. MoernerCredit: Kevin Lowder

A collection of former students, research associates, colleagues, and family members joined together to establish, in 2017, the Harden M. McConnell Lectureship at Caltech. The annual lectureship, named in honor of McConnell (PhD '51)—who taught at Caltech for more than a decade and is widely recognized as one of the leading physical and biophysical chemists—aims to bring to the campus outstanding scientists to present on physical chemistry research.

The first McConnell Lecture will be given by Stanford chemist and Nobel laureate William E. Moerner on April 24. Sunney Chan—an honorary Caltech alumnus, supporter of the lectureship fund, former master of student houses, and currently Caltech's George Grant Hoag Professor of Biophysical Chemistry, Emeritus—will present opening remarks. Chan credits McConnell with dramatically altering the course of Chan's career by encouraging him to come to Caltech in the early 1960s.

"Harden McConnell was a remarkable scientist," said Jacqueline K. Barton, Caltech's John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry and holder of the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. "His contributions to physical chemistry were extraordinary, and much of his work and ideas are still practiced today.

"This lectureship is a fitting way to honor [McConnell] and to celebrate Caltech's great legacy of research and teaching in chemistry," Barton added. "We thank our alumni and friends who wanted to give back for making it possible."

For more about McConnell and the endowed lectureship, please read more on the Break Through campaign website.

 

Fri, 20 Apr 2018
Two-day series of lectures briefed attendees on the mechanisms driving climate changeNews Writer: Robert Perkins

To mark the start of Earth Week, Caltech hosted a two-day series of lectures about climate and climate change. The event—which organizers dubbed "climate school"—was a collaboration between the Resnick Sustainability Institute and the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, both of which have been searching for a way to increase the campus's understanding of climate science.

The event drew students, staff, and faculty, as well as alumni and Caltech Associates, to the Beckman Institute Auditorium, where lecturers offered primers on the underlying science and mechanisms that drive climate change.

"One of the things we learned was that the Caltech community really wants to help people who are not scientists to understand and to think critically about important issues like this," says Resnick Institute executive director Neil Fromer, who helped organize the event. "This is part of our mission at the Resnick institute."

The event kicked off on Monday, April 16, with a lecture by Jess Adkins, the Smits Family Professor of Geochemistry and Global Environmental Science, who discussed the forces that drive constant changes in the earth's climate, and how Earth scientists can find a record of those changes in the earth's rocks and ice. Adkins was followed by Joern Callies, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering, who explained the role of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in warming up the earth's climate, and how climate modelers take that warming into account when making predictions about the scale of climate change in the future.

"Don't confuse climate models, which are complex and used to provide best estimates for the future, with the understanding of physics that we have about what's going on," Callies said. "The models may be complex, but the basic physics that underlies global warming is relatively straightforward."

The lectures on Tuesday, April 17, began with a discussion of climate change and the ocean by Andrew Thompson, professor of environmental science and engineering. Thompson explained the 1,000-year journey that a given drop of water makes as it cycles around the globe through the earth's oceans, and how that process regulates the transfer of heat and carbon dioxide throughout the world. Finally, Austin Minnich, professor of mechanical engineering and applied physics, discussed how to engage in climate science outreach and education effectively.

"Instead of asking for people to trust us, we should ask them notto trust and instead give them guidance for how they can check out what's going on for themselves," Minnich said.

Each lecture included a question-and-answer session. "I was very encouraged by the level of engagement from the audience," Fromer says. "Every session ran long because people asked questions: specific technical questions about the data being shown, and general questions about what conclusions we can draw from that data. It was great."

The Resnick Institute will use data gathered by a survey sent to the event's attendees to shape future events, Fromer says. "Having events like this will help provide tools to better understand these important issues," he said.

Fri, 20 Apr 2018
Erika Ye wants to know what current quantum computers can doNews Writer: Robert Perkins Erika YeCredit: Courtesy of Erika Ye

Caltech graduate student Erika Ye has been awarded a Google PhD Fellowship that will support her work on quantum computing. Ye, who is in her third year at Caltech, is one of 39 recipients of the fellowship this year worldwide.

The program was started in 2009 "to recognize and support outstanding graduate students doing exceptional research in computer science and related disciplines," according to a post on the Google Research blog announcing the awarding of the fellowship.

Ye, who is co-advised by Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics Austin Minnich, Bren Professor of Chemistry Garnet Chan, and Bren Professor of Theoretical Physics Fernando Brandao, will attempt to discover what current quantum computers can do that classical computers cannot.

Taking advantage of the unique properties of quantum mechanics, quantum computers can, in theory, perform certain tasks faster and more efficiently than classical computers. Quantum computers have so-called quantum bits, or "qubits," that are capable of simultaneously representing the "1" and "0" bit values of classical computing language, a property known as superposition. In addition, qubits can become entangled with one another, such that knowing the state of one gives some knowledge of the states of the others. 

"There's been a lot of really good theoretical work on down-the-line algorithms that assume we have an infinite number of qubits, but right now we only have 50 to 100—and there are some big issues with dealing with quantum 'noise' that knocks qubits out of superposition," Ye says. "So, we have to ask, what can we do with these small-scale quantum computers?" 

Ye's approach is to find ways that quantum computers can enhance classical computation.

Right now, Ye is focusing on computational chemistry—particularly, calculating the behavior of electrons in complex molecules, which ultimately could provide detailed information about reaction rates or how enzymes in cells work.

"There are a lot of methods and approximations one can use that are good enough for most chemical systems. But there are many interesting materials that these methods cannot yet accurately capture. The hope is that with a quantum computer we can gain insight on the underlying physics of these more exotic materials," Ye says.

Ye's Google Fellowship will fund her work for the next two years. 

Related Links: Quantum Engineering: A New Frontier
Thu, 19 Apr 2018
The research "underlines the idea that cells are just computers, and they're just computing things"News Writer: Emily Velasco An artist's depiction of a bacterial cellCredit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/James Archer

In a first for machine-learning algorithms, a new piece of software developed at Caltech can predict behavior of bacteria by reading the content of a gene. The breakthrough could have significant implications for our understanding of bacterial biochemistry and for the development of new medications.

One thrust of modern pharmacology is focused on alleviating ailments by developing drugs that target specific proteins that reside in the membranes of our bodies' cells. These proteins, known as integral membrane proteins (IMP), act as receptors or "gates" that allow materials into and out of cells. Examples of IMPs are G-protein-coupled receptors, which relay information to a cell about its environment, and ion channels, which control the interior environment of a cell by acting as gatekeepers that selectively allow ions to pass in and out of the cell. IMPs are the targets of nearly 50 percent of all drugs on the market. Unfortunately, many IMPs are poorly understood.

"These are very important molecules our body makes that we just don't know enough about," says Bil Clemons, a professor of biochemistry at Caltech.

In order to gain a more complete understanding of an IMP, researchers need to generate large amounts of it for purification and detailed study. Typically, that's done by inserting the DNA for that protein into bacteria; the protein is then produced as a matter of course as the bacteria grows and multiplies. The problem is that not all bacteria are willing to cooperate and make only measly amounts of protein. Only a few bacteria end up making enough of the proteins to be useful, and, until now, there has been no way for researchers to know if a bacterium they're working with will be a hit or a dud.  

"One of the major limitations in studying membrane proteins is the lack of ability to express them in reasonable amounts," Clemons says. "We use these bacteria as factories to make things for us, but it's hit or miss ... mostly miss. Anecdotally, it's been about 10 percent successful."

All the trial and error involved in getting bacteria to cooperate wastes researchers' time and resources. Clemons wondered if it would be possible to use computers to predict how bacteria will react when asked to create a protein they normally don't produce. 

"We presumed bacterial cells were doing some quantitative reading of the DNA to determine how much of these proteins to make," he says. "We wanted to know if we could use computational tools to increase the success rate of finding bacteria that express proteins in useful amounts to help us characterize molecules important to medicine."

Clemons and his graduate student, Shyam Saladi, created that tool—a machine-learning software they've dubbed IMProve—that compares bacterial DNA with data about how much protein the bacteria produces. They then used a dataset for IMProve that cultured many samples of bacteria to see how well they produced the desired membrane proteins. The researchers trained IMProve by feeding those results and the genetic codes the bacteria rely on for expressing the proteins into IMProve so it could learn which DNA sequences were going to result in high protein production.

Once the software was trained, the researchers found that it predicted bacterial behavior so well they were able to double their rate of successfully picking bacteria that would express IMPs in large quantities.

"It surprised us because there was no guarantee that this approach was going to work," Clemons says. "Cells are extremely complex, and you're asking a relatively simple statistical model to predict what a cell is going to do. From that perspective, it was pretty shocking."

But, Clemons adds that, maybe their results aren't so surprising in hindsight. 

"This underlines the idea that cells are just computers, and they're just computing things," he says. 

IMProve is available to other researchers as a web tool by visiting http://clemonslab.caltech.edu/improve.html

The paper, titled "A statistical model for improved membrane protein expression using sequence-derived features," appears in the March 30 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Clemons' Caltech co-authors include Shyam M. Saladi, Nauman Javed, and Axel Muller. Their work was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center, and the Arthur A. Noyes SURF Endowment.

Wed, 18 Apr 2018
Michael Alvarez and Ellen Rothenberg, as well as two alumni, join 82 current Caltech faculty members as fellows of the prestigious honorary society.News Writer: Lori Dajose Michael AlvarezCredit: Caltech

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has elected two Caltech professors—Michael Alvarez and Ellen Rothenberg—as fellows. The American Academy is one of the nation's oldest honorary societies; this class of members is its 238th, and includes a total of 213 scholars and leaders representing such diverse fields as academia, business, public affairs, the humanities, and the arts.

R. Michael Alvarez is a professor of political science. His research focuses on public opinion and voting behavior, election technology and administration, electoral politics, political campaigns, and statistical and computational modeling. Since 2000, much of his work has related to the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, studying current voting technologies and election administration and procedures as well as developing ways to improve the current system.

Ellen Rothenberg is an Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology. Rothenberg investigates the regulatory mechanisms that control blood stem cell differentiation and the development of T lymphocytes—white blood cells that play an important role in immunity. She has been a member of the Caltech faculty since 1982 and has received numerous honors, including the 2016 Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

Alvarez and Rothenberg join 82 current Caltech faculty as members of the American Academy. Also included in this year's list are two alumni: James Demmel (BS '75) and Leonidas Guibas (BS '71, MS '71).

Founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, the academy aims to serve the nation by cultivating "every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people." The academy has elected as fellows and foreign honorary members "leading thinkers and doers" from each generation, including George Washington and Ben Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th, and Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 20th.

A full list of new members is available on the academy website at www.amacad.org/members.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony in October 2018 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Related Links: Three Caltech Faculty Named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of ScienceUsing Simulation and Optimization to Cut Wait Times for VotersRothenberg Wins Feynman PrizeOther Caltech Awards and Honors
Wed, 18 Apr 2018
News Writer: Robert Perkins Credit: Claire Bucholz

New Caltech faculty member Claire Bucholz is a globe-trotting field geologist studying igneous rocks from the transition between the Archean and Proterozoic eons 2.5 billion years ago, which roughly coincides with a time period known as the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE), when oxygen began appearing in the earth's atmosphere. She hopes to better understand what impact this had on the earth's crust and, in turn, how that may have impacted processes deep inside the planet. A native of Irving, Texas, Bucholz completed her undergraduate studies at Yale and earned a PhD through the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Joint Program in Cambridge in 2016. Recently, Bucholz answered a few questions about her research and the important clues about the earth's deep past that can be found in the rock record.

Can you tell us a little about your work?

I think about the composition and chemistry of igneous rocks from a field-based perspective. My studies all start with detailed field observations and then build up from there with layers of new data from microscopy, mineral and rock chemistry, isotopic analyses, geochronology, and more. Some of the big questions I am thinking about include how changes in conditions and the surface of the earth—for example, the rise of oxygen or the oxygenation of the deep oceans—may have been imprinted on the igneous rock record and how the continental crust is constructed.

How did you get into your field?

My mom jokes that I always wanted to be a "rock scientist" and was filling my pockets with rocks from the time I was able to toddle about. But what really got me excited about geology was a semester abroad in Switzerland in high school. Our science curriculum was geology. We conducted labs sitting on moraines overlooking vast glaciers or observing metamorphic rocks that had originally been part of the sea floor but are now at some of the highest peaks in the Alps. It was a surreal and totally engrossing experience. 

What do you find most exciting about your research?

As my research is based in detailed field studies, I get to travel to some amazing places to observe and collect rocks, then take these rocks back to the lab, analyze them, and synthesize all of the data into a larger picture. This process is a really unique way to connect with a place. It makes you feel a really close connection with the earth.

Why are you excited to be in Southern California?

I have to admit that I thought I made a terrible mistake when I first moved here. It was actually the one place I swore I would never move to. I remember driving over Cajon Pass and down into the Inland Empire in early September into the thick heat and smog. However, I've adjusted and am actually now a complete fan of Southern California. The weather, of course, is great, but the ability to get outside to the beach or to the mountains on the turn of a dime is incredible. There is a wealth of natural beauty here and such a visceral connection with geology that is unlike anything I have experienced in a big city before. 

What do you do outside of the lab?

I mostly try to keep the chaos of my two kids to a reasonable level. However, I'm an avid gardener and have been loving the Los Angeles climate. My family and I also enjoy exploring the San Gabriel Mountains and the coastline during the weekend.

Mon, 16 Apr 2018
More than 1,000 youngsters competed in April 7 eventNews Writer: Jon Nalick Emilia Ellegaard and Amy Wang, from Mesa Verde Middle School, prepare to launch their rubber-band-powered airplane; their goal was to have the airplane stay aloft as long as possible.Credit: Bob Paz for Caltech

Caltech hosted the Southern California State Science Olympiad Tournament on April 7, at which more than 1,000 K–12 students competed in science and engineering challenges.

Some 100 Caltech student and faculty volunteers helped run the event, which has served as one of the country's premier science competitions and has been fostering student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields since the 1980s.

Jeffrey Trail Middle School (Irvine, California) won the middle-school division of the competition. Troy High School (Fullerton, California) won the upper-grade division. Both teams are invited to attend the 34th Annual Science Olympiad National Tournament hosted on May 18–19, 2018, by Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

Miriam Sun, a Caltech sophomore biology major and member of the Science Olympiad planning team, says this was the third year Caltech hosted the Olympiad, which seems especially fitting considering the Institute's leadership position in STEM research: "Through this competition, we hope that Caltech can continue to help the next generation of scientists and engineers develop useful skills for the future."

Mon, 16 Apr 2018
Annual Caltech Y program provides unique opportunity for students to discover and volunteerNews Writer: Jon Nalick In Texas, junior Meera Krishnamoorthy installs drywall in partnership with All Hands All Hearts, an organization that rebuilds homes after natural disasters.

From helping baby green sea turtles survive their first walk to the ocean to volunteering in a storm-damaged Texas community, 30 of Caltech's undergraduate and graduate students recently took part in a unique program designed to make spring break a valuable learning experience.

For the past 30 years, the Caltech Y's Alternative Spring Break program has offered participants an opportunity to make tangible contributions to local communities while gaining a broader understanding of the world. This year, students split into three groups that traveled to Costa Rica, Texas, and San Francisco.

In Costa Rica, students volunteered with Osa Conservation, a group focused on the globally significant terrestrial and marine biological diversity of the Osa Peninsula. During their visit, the students learned about ecosystem stewardship and creating sustainable economic opportunities, and took part in shepherding baby green sea turtles across the sand to the ocean.

"This was my first Y international trip and a very memorable one," says student leader, Aishwarya Nene, who traveled to Costa Rica. "It was very gratifying to help the Osa Conservation research scientists on a multitude of projects and gain a deeper appreciation for the rainforest."

Another group visited the San Francisco Bay area to explore how technology affects society through informal discussions with staffers from Uber and Google, among others.

The third group trekked to Aransas Pass, Texas, to volunteer with All Hands and Hearts, a nonprofit organization serving the immediate and long-term needs of communities post natural disasters. Aransas Pass was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.

Sophomore Noelle Davis, who was the student leader of the group, says she was deeply affected by the plight of community members struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey but gratified by the opportunity to work on an elderly woman's home that had been ravaged by the storm.

She says seeing fellow volunteers "devoting their lives to helping those affected by natural disasters has motivated me to seek a career path with the same purposefulness. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an experience is worth a million."

Caltech Y Alternative Spring Break trips were made possible with generous funding from the George W. Housner Student Discovery Fund and the Frank and Elsie Stefanko Fund.

Mon, 16 Apr 2018
Signature event is culmination of efforts to "enroll the best and brightest STEM leaders"News Writer: Jon Nalick Prefrosh Weekend will feature dozens of academic and student-life panels and tours of the new Bechtel Residence.

Caltech will welcome 281 students—along with 280 family members—to campus from Thursday, April 19, through Saturday, April 21, for Prefrosh Weekend, the Institute's signature welcome event for newly admitted first-year students.

Prefrosh Weekend will feature dozens of academic and student-life panels, tours of the new Bechtel Residence, and many other events to give parents and students a feel for the Institute overall; these include the popular Caltech Club Fair, which will occur along the Olive Walk on Friday afternoon. In an effort to highlight the importance of diversity in the Caltech community, the admissions office is also sponsoring several sessions on the topic, including a few mixers at the CCD and a breakfast roundtable panel on women in STEM.

Admitted students have until May 1 to commit to Caltech; about 235 are expected to enroll.

Prefrosh Weekend represents a unique opportunity for the campus community to come together and welcome them to the Institute, says Jarrid Whitney, executive director of admissions and financial aid.

"This signature event is the culmination of our undergraduate admissions and financial aid efforts to enroll the best and brightest STEM leaders," he says. "It represents the collaborative efforts of students, faculty, and staff together to provide a representative view of Caltech's rich and distinctive undergraduate experience, and we hope that our visiting scholars will walk away with a better feel for Caltech's living and learning community."

Visitors participating in the event are being asked to park off campus or use ride-share programs to minimize the impact on on-campus parking facilities.

Sat, 14 Apr 2018
Annual event focuses on ways to celebrate and improve teachingNews Writer: Jon Nalick TeachWeek focuses on Caltech's recent efforts to create an innovative learning environment that changes the world through unique teaching techniques.Credit: Christophe Marcadé for Caltech Astronomy Outreach

TeachWeek 2018, a weeklong, campus-wide event designed to provide a forum on diverse and effective teaching practices at Caltech, kicks off April 23 with lectures, open classes, and a photographic exhibit looking back at 100 years of Caltech education.

Created by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (CTLO) in 2015, the event, which runs through April 27, is open to professors, graduate and undergraduate students, staff, postdocs, alumni, and other friends of Caltech interested in learning new methods for improving classroom education.

"Teaching is an activity that goes on behind closed classroom doors," says Cassandra Horii, CTLO director. "But TeachWeek literally opens those doors: we have open classes throughout the week where faculty and instructors invite guests to sit in and experience different approaches to teaching across the divisions. This builds an active, vocal, and visible community around this important part of Caltech's mission."

This year's events will feature keynotes by Shirley Malcom, a Caltech trustee and director of education and human resources programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and James Lang, author of multiple books and a monthly column in TheChronicle of Higher Education. Malcom will deliver her talk, "We Were Never Taught to Teach: Knowing Better, Doing Better," on Tuesday, April 24, at 4 p.m. in the Beckman Institute Auditorium. Lang will close the week's events with his talk, "Small Teaching: From Minor Changes to Major Learning," on Friday, April 27, at noon in Dabney Lounge.

On Monday, April 23, CTLO will open its display of more than 100 modern-day and archival images and manuscripts related to teaching, including examples of Nobel laureates' class notes, early problem set drafts and revisions, and the very first chemistry labs at Throop University together with recent views of classes, labs, and field-based and informal teaching. The display will be in the Center for Student Services, 3rd Floor, Brennan Conference Room, from noon to 1 p.m.

"Visitors will really get a chance to reflect on what has changed and what has not—sometimes in surprising ways—about teaching and writing at Caltech through the years," Horii notes.

She adds that the weeklong effort aims to inspire teachers. "We hope this enables faculty and TAs to exchange ideas and try new approaches year-round."

A complete schedule of the week's events can be found here.

Fri, 13 Apr 2018