As part of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building construction project, workers will move the Wilson Court bungalows to a new location May 30–June 1.
The 1920s-era bungalows, at the southeast corner of Wilson Avenue and Del Mar Boulevard, will move two blocks to a site near the northeast corner of Catalina Avenue and San Pasqual Street.
The bungalows will be moved by truck between the hours of 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Wednesday, May 30 (three buildings); Thursday, May 31 (two buildings); and Friday, June 1 (two buildings). During these times, Wilson Avenue will be closed between Del Mar Boulevard and San Pasqual Street, and Caltech's two Wilson Avenue parking structures will be inaccessible.
During the move:
When the renovations are completed, the bungalows will once again serve as campus housing.
Ever since his parents bought him a chemistry kit in elementary school, Maxwell (Max) Robb has wanted to be a chemist. Now, as a new assistant professor of chemistry at Caltech, Robb possesses the grown-up equivalent of a chemistry kit—a new state-of-the-art laboratory for making materials, in particular plastics that respond to mechanical forces. Robb's research has important applications like sensing stress in plastics, where mechanically sensitive molecules could signal impending damage by changing color. But his passion lies in fundamental chemistry. "I like making new things and exploring the chemical world," he says.
Robb moved to Pasadena after a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his PhD in chemistry in 2014 from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the Colorado School of Mines in 2009.
We sat down with Robb to learn more about his research and why making plastics is not that different from cooking.
In my lab, we make new materials. We make small molecules as well as large molecules such as polymers, which are long chains of repeating units. You can think of a polymer as being like a spaghetti noodle. If you cook spaghetti, you end up with a tangled ball of noodles. The same is true for the materials we make in our lab—the polymers become tangled together, and this gives rise to many of their properties.
The research in my group focuses on functional polymers, or functional plastics. We're interested in tuning the structure of these materials, at the molecular level, so that when you apply a stimulus, by pulling on the material or applying a mechanical force, it causes some chemical reaction, some transformation, to take place. Such changes would provide a simple visual cue, for example, that would allow you to identify if a plastic component has been subjected to a potentially damaging stress. We are particularly interested in developing polymers that provide a visual readout of the amount of force a material has experienced.
This technology could be applied to personal protective equipment—helmets, for instance—to provide immediate information about the severity of an impact to the head. That feedback could then be used to inform medical treatment. For industrially relevant plastic components, we could identify stresses early on that would eventually cause the material to fail, so that the parts could be repaired or replaced before more significant damage occurs. We are also working on a type of "invisible ink" for polymeric materials—where mechanical force would be used to write a pattern that can be revealed later using a secondary stimulus.
Typically, we start with an idea for a new molecule or material and then we perform computational calculations to try to predict how the molecule will respond to mechanical force. From there, we go into the lab and synthesize the new materials. Sometimes we will modify existing molecules that we know behave in certain ways, and sometimes we'll develop completely new materials. However, the ability to design new mechanically responsive molecules from the ground up is still a big challenge in the field. My group is working on this by developing the fundamental framework for understanding how force is coupled to molecular reactivity.
The community aspect of Caltech is really special, coupled with the small size of the Institute. The people here are incredibly friendly, open, and supportive. People are collaborative, everyone is doing amazing science, and there are zero barriers to interacting with anyone on campus. And the students are absolutely amazing. I've been lucky to recruit an outstanding group of researchers.
I like hiking and exploring the outdoors. I love living near the mountains. I enjoy trying all the restaurants that Pasadena offers, but I also like to cook. Synthetic chemistry is a lot like cooking. I think there's a correlation between being a good synthetic chemist and being a good cook at home. I wish I had more time to be creative in the kitchen. Watching a good TV show or movie is one of my guilty pleasures.
Since its public launch in April 2016, Break Through: The Caltech Campaign has broken Institute fundraising records.
While Break Through looks to secure Caltech's future as a source of discovery for the world, the campaign already is making an imprint on campus and beyond by supporting Caltech people who are pursuing big questions and bold ideas.
Roohi Dalal, a senior majoring in astrophysics and history, has received a Fulbright fellowship to travel to the Netherlands and study what the distribution of galaxies in space can tell us about fundamental properties of the universe.
The Fulbright Scholar Program, created by the U.S. Congress in 1946, is a cultural exchange program that offers grants to Americans who wish to perform research or pursue creative activities abroad. Over 150 countries are involved in the program, which sends approximately 1,200 Americans abroad each year.
At Leiden University in the Netherlands, Dalal will work with Alessandra Silvestri, a theoretical cosmologist, and postdoc Matteo Martinelli, to study how galaxies are distributed throughout the universe, and how this relates to fundamental questions in physics, such as how general relativity affects the universe on a grand scale. Dalal's research involves determining how to design galaxy surveys that can extract the most information about the nature of gravity at these large scales.
"I really like applying mathematical methods to these big, fundamental questions we're trying to answer," she says. "I think everyone wants to know where and how the universe started."
This will be Dalal's second trip to the Netherlands to conduct research. She spent two months last summer in an undergraduate research program, also at Leiden University.
"I really enjoyed it there," she says. "The research group environment was very collaborative, and I enjoyed living in Leiden, but I didn't feel like two months gave me a complete picture of life in the Netherlands. This is a great opportunity to be in a new environment, experience another culture, and learn how academia works in a different part of the world."
Dalal says her interest in astronomy began at a very early age.
"I grew up in New Hampshire, where the night sky was really beautiful because you could see a lot of stars," she says. "My parents got me a telescope and by first grade I decided I wanted to be an astronomer. Somehow, I stuck with it."
During her time at Caltech, Dalal has conducted research into dark matter and dark energy— as-yet-undetected forms of energy and matter believed to make up most of the universe—with the "Dark Sector" research group at JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA. She is currently working on a project with Olivier Dor
For the sixth season of MACH 33, the Festival of New Science-Driven Plays, Caltech Theater is partnering with the Pasadena Playhouse to present three staged readings beginning on April 30.
Each year, MACH 33—which engages students and staff at Caltech and JPL in the selection, development, and performance of new science-driven plays—culminates in staged readings and fully produced shows in the spring. This year, two of the readings will be performed on the Pasadena Playhouse main stage, and one reading will be held in Caltech's Ramo Auditorium. Each reading will include a post-show discussion with the playwright.
The three plays this season are:
• Theory of Nothing, written by Lolly Ward and directed by Nike Doukas. Pasadena Playhouse; Monday, April 30, at 8 p.m.Max, a condensed matter physicist, and Sugar, a designer, return to their childhood home to pack up the house on the eve of the divorce of their parents: tough-as-nails physicist Brit and sculptor Chuck. When the characters reveal shocking truths about themselves, the entire family is forced to confront questions of honesty, allegiance, and madness.
• Out There Right Here, written by Anna Nicholas and directed by Brian Brophy. Pasadena Playhouse; Monday, May 7, at 8 p.m.It's Autumn, the Santa Anas are blowing, and L.A. is on fire again. Jasper Molloy is an aging Apollo astronaut diagnosed with Alzheimer's; daughter Lucie used to be an archeologist until she found the Lord; and son Hubble is a SETI researcher and atheist who spends his days searching for life in the multiverse. Out There Right Heretakes place at the intersection of science and faith, and asks, "What does it mean to believe in anything?"
• Lie After Lie After Lie, written by Steven Dierkes and directed by Susan Dalian. Ramo Auditorium, Caltech;Monday, May 14, at 8 p.m.In the late 1840s, a Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis found that the simple expedient of hand washing could help physicians reduce maternal death by up to 90 percent. His discovery was rejected by his superiors—indeed by the whole Western world—and he went mad. Lie After Lie After Lieexplores his story and broader topics in science and society overall.
Tickets for all three shows are available individually or as a group on the Pasadena Playhouse webpage. Tickets are $18 for each reading. A three-show discount package is available for $25 by calling the Playhouse at (626) 356-PLAY and using the code THREEPACK.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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