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Tue, 13 Feb 2018 00:57:07 +0000
Caltech Students Win Prestigious Churchill Scholarship
News Writer: 
Whitney Clavin
Matthew Weidner and Aishwarya Nene
Matthew Weidner and Aishwarya Nene at Caltech
Credit: Caltech

Two Caltech seniors have been awarded the Churchill Scholarship, which will fund their graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. The two students, Aishwarya Nene and Matthew Weidner, are among 15 to be awarded the prestigious scholarship this year.

Nene, 21, a chemistry major from San Jose, California, has been doing research in a variety of labs at Caltech. Working with Viviana Gradinaru, assistant professor of biology and biological engineering, she conducted research to aid our understanding of the neural circuits underlying Parkinson's disease. During her summers, Nene did research at UC San Francisco (UCSF), studying the disease mechanisms behind classical lissencephaly, a brain disorder characterized by abnormally smooth brain tissue and developmental delays in children, and at a UCSF-affiliated company called Neurona Therapeutics, where she worked on stem-cell therapies for epilepsy.

"I am looking forward to Aishwarya's contributions in the field of neurodegeneration, an area she was exposed to early in her undergraduate years though research in our lab on the role of cholinergic circuits in Parkinson's disorder," says Gradinaru.

Nene is returning to Cambridge after spending a portion of her junior year there as part of a Caltech study-abroad exchange program with the university. She will pursue a degree in translational biomedical research, studying the protein abnormalities behind Alzheimer's disease with chemistry professor Christopher Dobson. After her fellowship year at Cambridge, she plans to attend medical school.

"I want to work in academic medicine and find new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases," she says.

Weidner, 22, is a math major from Topton, Pennsylvania, whose research focuses on theoretical computer science and number theory—the use of mathematical structures to solve equations.

Working with Anand Kumar Narayanan, a former postdoctoral fellow at Caltech now at Sorbonne University, Weidner researched error-correcting codes, which are used in satellite and other types of communication to protect data from errors. "It turns out that one can use number theory to make very good error-correcting codes, but the computer programs that encode and decode them are not yet fast enough to be practical. We want to develop faster programs," he says.

"Matthew is a very talented undergraduate student," says Xinwen Zhu, who was an adviser to Weidner. "Even as a freshman, he had proved beautiful results in modern number theory. He learns new things at lightning speed and at the same time grasps the essence of them. His writings and presentations are also wonderful. Working with him is one of my best memories in recent years."

Weidner will pursue a master's in advanced computer science at Cambridge. After Cambridge, he plans to earn a PhD in computer science and further study error-correcting codes as well as cryptography—in particular, new cryptographic protocols based on number theory that may be unbreakable by quantum computers of the future.

"I'm excited to study some new topics at Cambridge, such as algebraic internet routing, a unique way to describe internet traffic mathematically," says Weidner. "Cambridge offers studies on topics like this that aren't as well represented in the U.S."

According to the Winston Churchill Foundation's website, the Churchill Scholarship program "offers American citizens of exceptional ability and outstanding achievement the opportunity to pursue graduate studies in engineering, mathematics, or the sciences at Cambridge. One of the newer colleges and founded in 1960 by royal charter at the University of Cambridge, Churchill College was built as the national and Commonwealth tribute to Sir Winston, who in the years after the Second World War presciently recognized the growing importance of science and technology for prosperity and security. Churchill College focuses on the sciences, engineering, and mathematics."

Each year, 112 universities designated by the Churchill Foundation nominate two graduating seniors for the Churchill Scholarship. Churchill Scholars pursue either taught or research master's degrees at the University of Cambridge. The Churchill Scholarship is worth between $50,000 and $60,000, depending on the exchange rate. It covers all university and college fees, living costs, and roundtrip travel. Churchill Scholars live in the college during their studies at Cambridge and take part in the full Churchill College experience in addition to special activities planned only for the 15 Churchill Scholars.

The first Churchill Scholarships were awarded in 1963. There have been about 500 Churchill Scholars to date, with 23 being from Caltech.

"We had an exceptional group of applicants at Caltech this year for the Churchill," says Lauren Stolper, director of Fellowships Advising, Study Abroad and the Career Development Center. "Each Churchill Scholarship-designated university must select only two students to go on to the national level of selection for the scholarship. It is rare for a university or college to have two students win in one year."

Caltech's nominating committee consisted of scientists who were Churchill Scholars themselves, including Alan Cummings, senior research scientist at the Space Radiation Laboratory; John Brady, Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering; Eric Rains, professor of mathematics; and Mitchio Okumura, professor of chemical physics.


Wed, 07 Feb 2018 19:35:54 +0000
Networking with Tech Leaders
Students meet with science and tech luminaries from Chicago
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum discuss the role of science and technology in government at a lunch with students and faculty on Monday. Emanuel, along with a delegation of Chicago business leaders, visited Caltech as

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum discuss the role of science and technology in government at a lunch with students and faculty on Monday. Emanuel, along with a delegation of Chicago business leaders, visited Caltech as part of a tour of campuses to promote the city's technology industry.


Thu, 01 Feb 2018 23:39:48 +0000
Graduate Students Dip Their Toes into Industry
Rosen Center helps prepare biotechnology-focused graduate students for possible industry careers
News Writer: 
Whitney Clavin
Students at Craig Venter Institute
Caltech students in the NIH Biotechnology Leadership Predoctoral Training Program visit the J. Craig Venter Institute.
Credit: Photo courtesy of the Rosen Center for Bioengineering at Caltech

For graduate students in the chemical and biological sciences, the question of what comes next career-wise is not always easy to answer. Often, students waffle between staying in academia or moving on to jobs at pharmaceutical or other companies.

At Caltech, graduate students in fields related to biotechnology can find answers through an industry-based training program, funded by the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and administered by Caltech's Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center. The Rosen Center, established in 2008 through a gift from the Benjamin M. Rosen Family Foundation, is a hub for bioengineering disciplines across campus, including applied physics, chemical engineering, synthetic biology, and computer science. It funds faculty members with interdisciplinary research projects in addition to graduate fellows in the training program.  

"We saw that there was a gap for graduate students in receiving biotechnology industry training and experience," says Frances H. Arnold, director of the Rosen Center and Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry and Bioengineering at Caltech. "The training exposes students to industrially relevant research questions and experimental techniques early in their graduate careers, and lets them experience what it's like to translate academic research into technology and products useful in medicine."

The program, called the NIH Biotechnology Leadership Predoctoral Training Program, is now in its third year and offers selected graduate students—about five each year—the chance to complete internships in industry, participate in career development workshops, and visit biotechnology workplaces. For example, in February of 2017, 11 students visited Illumina and the J. Craig Venter Institute, both in the San Diego area.

Joshua Brake, a Caltech graduate student in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS), did his internship in 2016 at Instrumentation Laboratory, a medical device company in Massachusetts, where he worked on developing new technologies for benchtop blood diagnostic tools—or, as Brake calls them, "Star Trek-like tricorders" for emergency rooms. "I feel lucky to have participated in this program because it's somewhat rare to have the opportunity to take industry internships as part of PhD programs in science," he says. The experience, he adds, gave him a taste of what industry jobs are like—and helped confirm his preference toward academic positions after graduation.

"I like the cutting-edge aspect of academia," Brake says, "This is where we innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible. From this perspective, the internship will really help me in future partnerships between academia and industry—now I've experienced how they think."

Another graduate student in the program, Zach Shao, who is in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering (BBE), is leaning in the opposite direction: toward industry. He interned at Roche Sequencing Solutions in Pleasanton, California, where he worked on personalized medicines for cancer treatments—a method that involves sequencing the DNA of patients.

"In industry, you really have to think about a problem from all angles to make sure everything is safe before moving into patients," he says. "Having this internship helped me realize that my personal research interests are a great fit for industry."

Shao says that the program's workshops and monthly lunches are a valuable way to meet scientists in other divisions. Currently, the program includes students in BBE, EAS, and the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

"One of the missions of the Rosen Center is to spawn collaborations between different disciplines," says Kim Mayer, executive director of the Rosen Center. "The trainees in this program meet regularly to discuss their research, and they learn to recognize areas with potential for collaboration and take those ideas back to their own labs across campus."

To learn more about the Rosen Center—which has also awarded pilot grants to 18 faculty members across disciplines so far—visit http://www.rosen.caltech.edu.

To read more about NIGMS biotechnology predoctoral training programs, visit https://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training/InstPredoc/Pages/PredocDesc-Biotechnology.aspx.

 

 

 


Thu, 01 Feb 2018 21:00:20 +0000
Caltech Ushers in A New Era in Residential Life with Bechtel Residence

After a year of robust community discussion, Joseph Shepherd (PhD '81), Caltech's vice president for student affairs, unveiled on February 1 a plan for the use of the Institute's newest undergraduate residence and for overall changes to its residential life system.

The Bechtel Residence, which will officially open to students in September 2018, will be a multi-use residence that will be able to accommodate 212 undergraduate students from all classes, freshman through senior, from day one. With a mix of single rooms and suites in a complex of six interconnected buildings including a 220-seat dining hall, all arranged around a large courtyard, Bechtel is expected to provide students greater flexibility in shaping their residential experience.

The addition of the new residence—named for Caltech life trustee Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr.—will also make it possible, for the first time in Caltech's history, for nearly all undergraduates to live on campus for all four years. It also provides the Institute with the opportunity to expand the housing options available to graduate students by freeing up Caltech-owned, off-campus apartments and houses for their use. Both steps have been longtime goals for enhancing residential life.

"The introduction of a major new residence provides opportunities and challenges for our community," Shepherd says. "We have the opportunity to provide a distinctive residential life experience in Bechtel that will make available new choices for living and learning at Caltech. We have the challenge of integrating this into the legacy of our current House system to create a harmonious and inclusive residential community that is appropriate for the 21st century."

Engaging the community in determining how best to use Bechtel, while also appropriately considering the impact the new residence will have on the current and future residential life system, has been a primary goal throughout the process, Shepherd notes. Small-group discussions, campus town hall meetings, webinars, and an on-the-road series with alumni around the country, as well as numerous consultations with trustees, faculty, and administrators, provided hundreds of individuals an opportunity to express their views on Caltech's housing and residential life program. Furthermore, three separate working committees composed of faculty, Student Affairs staff, and students were all asked to assess potential models and systems, evaluate Caltech's existing programs, and ultimately provide recommendations for a path forward.

The 16-member student committee, known as the COUCH (Committee on Undergraduate Caltech Housing), delivered a hundred-page report in December with their research and recommendations. Their work, taken together with the information and perspective provided by interactions with the other stakeholders, significantly shaped Shepherd's final plan, which he says ultimately balances individuals' views and wants and the good of the current and future community.

"There has been a lot of thoughtful and intensive discussion to try and find a good path forward," says Caltech professor Antonio Rangel (BS '93), who participated in the faculty working committee. "I was really impressed by the student leadership. The COUCH committee really took this problem head on and, through their research and report, I learned things about the student experience that were ultimately really important in changing my mind and shaping my recommendations."

In talking about her role as the chair of the COUCH committee as well as the chair of Caltech's Interhouse Committee, undergraduate student Rachael Morton, a senior, said how appreciative she was to be included in the process.

"It was really interesting to be involved with a decision of this magnitude, that will potentially affect so many future generations of students," Morton says. "Caltech is unique in that it allows a system of shared governance between students and administration."

Fellow committee member Janice Jeon, also a Caltech senior, further emphasized how seriously she and her peers took the responsibility of representation. Their work included everything from helping to articulate a set of shared principles for residential life—principles that include intellectual growth, mentorship, diversity, identity, support, choice, and the Honor Code—to listening to a wide range of views on topics such as safety nets, board plan, and the Houses.

"It is not as simple as plopping people into a new building," Jeon says. "It really takes a great amount of thought and collaboration to create a vision for a new residence hall that will be integrated into and will thrive within the existing community."

It is in these particular areas—the full integration of Bechtel into the existing residential community and the continued refinement, assessment, and enhancement of Caltech's residential life system overall—that Student Affairs will continue to focus attention. In addition to specifying a plan for the use of Bechtel, Shepherd's decision—described in The Plan for the Future of Residential Life and Opening the Bechtel Residence—detailed a series of reforms to the current residential life system. Those changes, meant to reinforce the students' guiding principles for residential life, include updating the process for assigning students to residences, Houses, and rooms, modifying how students are represented in governance and leadership, increasing the Institute's investment in residential life, and expanding the Faculty-in-Residence program.

The details regarding how each of these changes will be implemented and, ultimately, evaluated and assessed for effectiveness moving forward are still to be finalized. A newly established Advisory Committee on Residential Life, which will include representatives from the student and faculty bodies as well as Student Affairs staff members, will be the primary body responsible for ensuring that new ideas for Bechtel and residential life programs are advanced, tested, and evaluated.

"It's become clear that after the decision comes out, students will continue to work with faculty and staff over the years. And we look forward to being continually involved in the process," Morton says.

By applying Caltech's core mission of advancing discovery and inquiry into new ideas to the residential life system, Shepherd says, the Institute and its students should be able to build a living and learning experience that will continue to evolve and adapt to the community and its needs.

"As a former undergraduate, a student House president, and an IHC chair, I am very enthusiastic about all of the conversations around student life and how to allow students to explore different types of residential experiences during their time at Caltech," says Caltech professor Richard Murray (BS '85), who also served on the faculty working committee. "The Bechtel Residence presents a great opportunity for the students, faculty, and staff at Caltech to make the undergraduate experience an even better one than it is today."

For more details about the plan and the process for moving forward, visit the Bechtel and Residential Life website.

Joseph Shepherd is also the C. L. "Kelly" Johnson Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering; Richard Murray is the Thomas E. and Doris Everhart Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems and Bioengineering; and Antonio Rangel is the Bing Professor of Neuroscience, Behavioral Biology, and Economics.


Wed, 24 Jan 2018 21:34:15 +0000
A Tabletop Approach to Probing Fundamental Laws of Physics
Nick Hutzler's new lab at Caltech will look for hidden fundamental particles and forces of nature using laser-based experiments.
News Writer: 
Whitney Clavin
Nick Hutzler
Nick Hutzler, assistant professor of physics at Caltech.
Credit: Caltech

Nick Hutzler, a new assistant professor of physics, is returning to Caltech after 10 years of probing the fundamental laws of physics at Harvard University. He earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics from Caltech in 2007, then switched to physics, earning his PhD from Harvard in 2014 and completing a postdoctoral fellowship, also at Harvard, in 2017.

Hutzler uses tabletop experiments to study the fundamental particles and laws of nature. Unlike particle accelerator experiments, where atoms are smashed together, he uses laser beams to carefully probe atoms and molecules and look for the hidden influences of never-before-seen particles and "broken symmetries" in the laws of physics.

We sat down with Hutzler to talk about his move back to Caltech and the advantages his tabletop technique brings to particle physics.

What made you switch from mathematics to physics?

I was a math major at Caltech, but I did a lot of physics. During my freshman year I was a SURF [Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship] student at JPL and then my sophomore year I started doing research with Brad Filippone [the Francis L. Moseley Professor of Physics]. I continued doing research with Brad until I left for Harvard. I still use math every day, but now as an experimental physicist, I also get to hit stuff in the lab with a hammer and shoot lasers!

How are you able to probe matter at the most fundamental levels with tabletop experiments?

My goal is to look for the signature of new physics interacting with regular matter—in particular, atoms and molecules. If you can perform very precise measurements of the properties of atoms or molecules, you can actually see signatures of the same types of particles found in particle accelerator experiments.

In our experiments, we take atoms or molecules and put them in an ultrahigh vacuum chamber so that there's nothing, such as background gas atoms, bumping into them. You cool them down so that you don't have to worry about thermal effects or the molecules bouncing into each other. And then you shoot a laser at the molecules to push around the electrons and nuclei and see what happens.

What kinds of signals are you looking for?

We're looking for effects that violate fundamental symmetries in the laws of physics, meaning that we're looking for something that shouldn't actually be there at all. For example, we know the universe is made out of matter and not antimatter, which means that some kind of symmetry was broken in the laws of physics—otherwise, we would have the same amounts of matter and antimatter. This is called the baryon asymmetry problem. We're looking for signatures of this same type of symmetry breaking in the atoms and molecules in an electromagnetic field, specifically by looking for energy shifts that violate the symmetry rules found in textbooks on electromagnetism and quantum physics.

Are other scientists doing these same types of experiments?

It's not a big field. There are a handful of people taking this specific approach of using atoms and molecules. There are other people at Caltech looking for these symmetry violations with similar experiments but in different particles; for example, Brad Filippone is looking in neutrons, and Ryan Patterson [professor of physics] is looking in neutrinos. Also, Frank Porter [professor of physics] and David Hitlin [professor of physics] search for symmetry violations in heavy, unstable particles called mesons.

What drew you back to Caltech?

What drew me to Caltech as an undergrad and as faculty is that it's pretty unique. It's small and overwhelmingly focused on science and engineering, and has lots of world-class research going on. There are not very many places that offer all of that and none that offer it in the way that Caltech does.

Our lab on the first floor of Downs-Lauritsen is just about completed, and we're excited to get to work. That's one of the nice things, in my opinion, about this tabletop approach to looking for new particles: you can do this all here. You don't have to go to an accelerator or a telescope. We can just do it all on the first floor of Downs-Lauritsen.  


Tue, 23 Jan 2018 19:39:24 +0000
Bonafede Named Division III National Coach of the Year
Coach is one of 12 ever to receive the honor from the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches
Caltech men's water polo head coach Jon Bonafede
Caltech men's water polo head coach Jon Bonafede
Credit: Caltech

Caltech men's water polo head coach Jon Bonafede has been named Division III National Coach of the Year by the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC).

The award recognizes coaches who demonstrate exemplary leadership and the ability to help aid in their teams' growth and improvement. Bonafede, who was honored in December, is the 12th coach to receive the award since its inception in 1997 and is one of five current Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) coaches to have been so recognized.

Bonafede says the award "speaks to the patience, resilience, and good decision making my coaching staff and I exhibited this season. I am so proud of my team for their hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. It is an honor to represent Caltech and the amazing scholar-athletes
who compete and study here."

Under Bonafede, the men's water polo team won eight games in the 2017 season—one of the team's best seasons in recent history. Caltech earned its first SCIAC victory since 2001 over Occidental College last September, then went on to sweep Oxy, first with a victory at the Gary Troyer Tournament, then with another victory in Eagle Rock. The Beavers also increased their margin of victory with each Oxy win, which Bonafede says showcases the team's growth over the course of the season.

The ACWPC exists to promote the development and advancement of collegiate water polo and acts as the sport's national ranking system. All awards and recognitions are selected based on nominations and voting by the head coaches of all Division III water polo programs.

The honor marks Bonafede's second coaching award of the season. In November, the third-year coach received recognition from the SCIAC with the SCIAC Men's Water Polo Coach of the Year.


Wed, 10 Jan 2018 17:12:59 +0000
Taking the Pulse of Planets and Stars
New faculty member Jim Fuller talks about the inner workings of cosmic spheres
Jim Fuller
Jim Fuller, assistant professor of theoretical astrophysics at Caltech.
Credit: Caltech

New faculty member Jim Fuller, assistant professor of theoretical astrophysics, studies vibrating cosmic spheres, such as stars with "heartbeats," and the gas giant Saturn, whose pulsations propagate through its rings. He is a theorist who uses math, physics, and numerical simulations to tackle astronomy problems, in particular those related to a planet's or star's internal structure and evolution. Fuller says he fell in love with astronomy when he was young and realized he could use his imagination. 

"In astronomy, you think about things you don't encounter in your everyday life, like stars, where you really need to use your imagination because the scale is so large," he says. "But at the same time, astronomy is concrete. There is really something happening out there, and we are applying math and physics to real situations to learn more about our universe."

Fuller received his bachelor's degree from Whitman College in 2008, and his PhD in astronomy and space sciences in 2014 from Cornell University. He joined Caltech as a DuBridge Postdoctoral Fellow in 2013 and joined the Caltech faculty in 2017. 

Below Fuller describes, in his own words, some of the movies he has made to illustrate how to "take the pulse" of planets and stars.

Heartbeat Stars

The pulsing orbs in this movie are known as "heartbeat" stars. These are binary star systems with very eccentric orbits. At closest approach, which occurs at around seven seconds into the movie, the stars come within a few stellar radii of each other. Their mutual gravitational forces distort the stars into elliptical shapes, changing their observed cross section and apparent brightness. This creates a heartbeat-like pulse in the light curve below the stars. 

The brightness changes caused by these so-called tidal distortions have been detected by NASA's Kepler space telescope, leading to the discovery of hundreds of these heartbeat-star systems. Some heartbeat stars do not relax back to their original shape after their closest approach, and they continue to pulsate throughout their orbits as illustrated in this movie. These stellar oscillations cause the stars to dissipate orbital energy, which causes their orbits to circularize. You can also "hear" a heartbeat star below, where I have converted the light curve detected by Kepler into sound and sped things up by a factor of 5 million.

I'm trying to better understand the evolution of heartbeat stars' orbits through a combination of theory and observations.

Saturn's Inner Pulse

Like stars, gaseous planets such as Jupiter and Saturn are continually distorted by their own minute pulsations. With Saturn, we cannot see these pulsations directly, but we have learned to use its rings as a giant seismograph. The small gravitational variations caused by pulsations of Saturn exert small torques on orbiting ring particles, generating spiral waves within the rings. These ring disturbances were detected using NASA's Cassini satellite, which later plunged into Saturn in September 2017. 

This movie shows an exaggerated example of a pulsation from Saturn propagating around the equator of the planet. The pulsation causes a spiral density wave in the rings that propagates at the same rate. The motion of these spiral patterns then tells us the frequency at which Saturn pulsates, and this can be used to measure properties of the interior of Saturn. My work suggests that Saturn's interior is more complex than previously believed, with an "outer core" composed of a mix of the icy/rocky core material and the gaseous material found in the outer envelope.

Starquakes

Stars in a later stage of evolution, called red giants, exhibit minute pulsations caused by continual "starquakes." Like terrestrial oscillations that occur after earthquakes, starquakes can be used to measure properties of the internal structures of stars because they result from sound waves that propagate through the stellar interior and carry information back to the surface. The movie illustrates a path that a wave would take on its journey between the core and surface of a star if it was able to travel unimpeded. By studying the theory of how waves travel through stars along with some observations of the phenomenon, I helped discover something new about red giants: magnetic fields disrupt the propagation of waves near the core of the star, causing the stellar pulsations to be suppressed. This suppression phenomenon has since been observed in thousands of red giants, suggesting strong internal magnetic fields are more common than we previously believed.

 


Wed, 20 Dec 2017 20:52:05 +0000
CTLO Celebrates Five Years of Success
Since its inception, the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Outreach has launched dozens of innovative programs
News Writer: 
Jon Nalick
More than 85 percent of the Institute's new and established faculty have participated in at least one the CTLO’s programs, and almost half of all faculty now participate in programs annually.
More than 85 percent of the Institute's new and established faculty have participated in at least one CTLO program, and almost half of all faculty now participate in programs annually.
Credit: Max Gerber for Caltech

Tucked away on the third floor of the Center for Student Services on Holliston Avenue, an office with five full-time employees has quietly transformed the ways Caltech teaches its students and future scientists.

Created in 2012, the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Outreach (CTLO) was launched with ambitious goals: to improve the quality of teaching on campus, bolster instructional opportunities for students, and engage K–12 schools in educational outreach. At the time, Caltech lacked a center specifically devoted to those ends.

Joseph Shepherd, vice president for student affairs, notes that five years later, though still small, CTLO has amassed a portfolio of several dozen programs that have had an outsized impact on education on campus and established itself "as an integral part of the Institute."

Cindy Weinstein, vice provost of education, notes that "the inaugural team impact award was awarded to the CTLO because it has worked effectively with faculty, students, and postdocs to enhance teaching and learning at Caltech."

The office has played a key role in improving the undergraduate core curriculum by updating teaching methods and seeking regular feedback from faculty and students about the approaches that worked best. The office also brings core and other faculty members together to discuss ways to improve the students' experience.

Several programs focus on training for faculty members and teaching assistants—including the annual fall Teaching Conference, TeachWeek, and the Faculty Summer Short Course. Other programs offer seminars and workshops featuring speakers, such as Caltech Feynman Teaching Prize winners and other guest speakers, to help teachers become more effective.

Timothy Liu, a senior in electrical engineering who was the student government's Academics and Research Committee chair for the 2016–17 academic year, says CTLO "has played a critical role in supporting and improving classroom instruction. Programs like TA training and cross-departmental discussions organized by CTLO have helped improve the classroom experience for students. Undergraduates can definitely see some of these newer ideas in teaching appear in the lecture hall and classroom."

More than 85 percent of the Institute's new and established faculty have participated in at least one the office's programs, says Cassandra Horii, who is a scientist by training and has served as director of CTLO since its inception in 2012. Horii adds that almost half of all faculty now participate in programs annually, showing "Caltech's depth of commitment to discussing meaningful questions about how students learn, something we're doing along with a lot of other universities in light of emerging research on effective teaching."

Xie Chen, associate professor of theoretical physics, is one of them. In January 2016, she sought help from CTLO to improve her Physics 129 b class.

"I was pretty new, and, after teaching the class once, I wanted to get my students more motivated and interested—I didn't want them to fall asleep," she jokes.

CTLO's assistant director for instructional practice & technology, Jennifer Weaver, sat in on a class and talked with Chen extensively on which active learning techniques would work for incorporation into her classroom. For example, they decided that Chen would break up her lecture by engaging students with thoughtful questions, allowing them time to consider, confer and respond.

Chen credits the experience with boosting her confidence and improving her students' interest and attendance—and also, in part, for her receiving a graduate student teaching award for her winter 2016–17 course.

"When I started, I was never systematically trained as a teacher. But CTLO helped me at a time when I really needed it," she adds.

CTLO's reach also extends into the community, where its programs cast students in the roles of teachers as part of educational outreach efforts that engaged about 17,500 local K–12 students and teachers last year. These popular programs include Visiting Scientists, which features graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who volunteer in local schools to conduct hands-on science lessons, and Science Night, in which Caltech undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars conduct science demonstrations for students and parents at local schools.

As part of the Visiting Scientists program, Cecilia Sanders, a second-year graduate student in geological and planetary sciences, recently coached a second-grade class at Pasadena Unified School District's Cleveland Elementary School through a hands-on exercise using color-coded paper representing genes to teach how snippets of DNA can determine an animal's color, size, and shape.

Sanders says she gained at least as much from the classroom experience as the children did. "I think it actually makes me a better scientist and thinker," she says. "You don't really understand something until you can explain it to a 6-year-old and get them to retain it."

In addition to in-person outreach, CTLO supports digital community outreach as well through massive open online courses (MOOCs) taught by Caltech faculty that have engaged more than 740,000 people all over the world.

Antonio Rangel, the Bing Professor of Neuroscience, Behavioral Biology, and Economics, says CTLO has had a significant impact on his teaching and research, and has been instrumental in creating and gradually improving his Ec 11 course, which has been using a flipped classroom model for the last four years and is also offered as an online course for non-Caltech students.

Working with the office, he says, gave him insights into "how to teach effectively on different media and led me to completely change the way I teach inside Caltech and online."

On-campus enrollment in Rangel's course has increased by about 80 percent, he says, and objective measures of learning, such as final test scores, have increased by about 20 percent.

Mitch Aiken, associate director for educational outreach, says CTLO's focus on outreach supports researchers' efforts to demonstrate the potential societal benefits of their work. Locally, CTLO programs offer assistance ranging from training high school students and teachers in rigorous research and data collection techniques to helping create and staff the 3-D Printing and Fracture Mechanics course for Muir High School's Engineering & Environmental Science Academy students. Caltech's Community Science Academy programs and the National Science Foundation-funded Pulsar Search Collaboratory have also prompted local students to seek careers in science—as well as an education at Caltech.

In the new year, CTLO will welcome a visit by Physics Nobel Prize winner Carl Wieman in February, who will speak about STEM education research. In April, Shirley Malcom, Caltech trustee and director of education and human resources programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will speak at TeachWeek about national changes in science education.

Horii says that, going forward, CTLO aims to deepen its collaboration with academic divisions and work to create more discipline-specific resources and programs: "We're really excited about partnerships that meet faculty and TAs where they are, and we're always looking for new ways to empower Caltech's community of educators."


Fri, 15 Dec 2017 22:58:09 +0000
New Faculty Join Caltech in 2017
photo of wistaria on Arms Laboratory at Caltech
Credit: Caltech

In 2017, Caltech welcomed 20 new faculty members to the Institute's six divisions—specialists in fields ranging from entomology to quantum physics. This year's class of incoming faculty deepens Caltech's academic bench in a variety of key fields, from computational biology to machine learning to political science.

Division of Biology and Biological Engineering

Lior Pachter, Bren Professor of Computational Biology and Computing and Mathematical Sciences. 

Pachter (BS '94) uses computational biology methods to study the function of RNA, a molecule critical to many cellular functions. Pachter spent his childhood in Israel, South Africa, and California, and then came to Caltech to study math as an undergraduate. During his PhD at MIT, Pachter became interested in the intersections of mathematics and biology, leading him to focus his research on computational biology. He's completed a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley and was named professor of mathematics, molecular and cell biology, and computer science, and he eventually held the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Chair in Computational Biology before leaving Berkeley for Caltech.

Joseph Parker, Assistant Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering.

Parker, an entomologist, focuses his research on a fundamental question in biology: How predictable is evolution, and to what extent is evolutionary change predetermined by ancestral conditions? He has established a unique model system to address this question: rove beetles that live symbiotically inside colonies of ants and termites. Parker, a native of Wales, studied zoology during his undergraduate education at Imperial College London and received a PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2006. Prior to arriving at Caltech, he held a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship and an Ellison Medical Foundation scholarship at Columbia University.

Matt Thomson, Assistant Professor of Computational Biology. 

Thomson is a computational biologist, studying the decisions that cells make—for example, within tissues of a developing organism or within our immune system. He develops mathematical models to ask how cellular regulatory networks generate the vast diversity of cell types that exist in the human body and applies these models to engineer and rewire cellular physiology to synthesize new types of cells that do not exist in nature. He received his undergraduate degree in physics in 2001 and a doctorate in biophysics in 2011, both from Harvard University. Prior to coming to Caltech, Thomson was a fellow at UC San Francisco.

Rebecca Voorhees, Assistant Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering; Investigator, Heritage Medical Research Institute. 

Voorhees aims to understand the molecular mechanisms of protein biogenesis—that is, how proteins are formed—and the cellular quality-control processes that recognize and degrade proteins, and messenger RNA molecules that fail at any step during biogenesis. To explore these problems, she uses structural and functional techniques, including X-ray crystallography and single-particle cryoelectron microscopy. Voorhees received bachelor's and master's degrees from Yale University in 2007. After completing her PhD in molecular biology from the University of Cambridge in 2011, she became a Sir Henry Wellcome Fellow at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Alison Ondrus, Assistant Professor of Chemistry. 

Ondrus is interested in small molecules and the roles they play in biological pathways. She focuses on the Hedgehog signaling pathway, which is responsible for many basic functions in animals including development and organization of the overall body plan. Mutations in Hedgehog pathway genes can lead to congenital deformities as well as both juvenile and adult cancers. In particular, Ondrus studies how small molecules, such as cholesterol, control the activity of the Hedgehog protein during the development of embryos. Ondrus received her bachelor's degree from the University of Alberta in 2003 and her PhD in organic chemistry from MIT in 2009.

Maxwell Robb, Assistant Professor of Chemistry. 

Robb studies topics at the intersection of synthetic organic chemistry and polymer science. He and his group develop new chemistry for the development of functional, stimuli-responsive soft materials. They use multifaceted strategies to develop mechanically sensitive molecules called mechanophores that, for example, change color, generate light, or produce reactive functional groups when under stress. Robb earned his bachelor's degree from the Colorado School of Mines in 2009 and his PhD in chemistry from UC Santa Barbara in 2014.

Kimberly See, Assistant Professor of Chemistry. 

See takes an interdisciplinary approach to tackle fundamental questions related to electrochemical devices, such as batteries. She and her group combine expertise in materials chemistry, analytical chemistry, and electrochemistry to elucidate the structure of active materials during and as a result of charge-transfer processes in batteries and other materials—work that will further the fundamental knowledge of redox processes and enable better materials design and ultimately more efficient devices. She earned her bachelor's degree from the Colorado School of Mines in 2009 and her PhD in chemistry from UC Santa Barbara in 2014.

Division of Engineering and Applied Science

Aaron Ames, Bren Professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering and Control and Dynamical Systems.

An expert in bipedal robotics, Ames runs the Advanced Mobility Laboratory at the Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST), where he hand-builds robots and prosthetic limbs, and also designs the algorithms that govern how they walk. These algorithms couple efficiency equations (how can I walk most efficiently?) with so-called boundary constraints (how can I not fall over?) to teach robots to generate their own walking gait. Ames received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2001, a master's in mathematics and a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer sciences from UC Berkeley in 2006.

Anima Anandkumar, Bren Professor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences.

Anandkumar's research focuses on machine learning and artificial intelligence, investigating how to make them fast and practical for real-world use. Born in Mysore, India, Anandkumar received her Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and her PhD from Cornell University. She was a postdoctoral researcher at MIT from 2009 to 2010 and an assistant professor at UC Irvine from 2010 to 2016, and worked as a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research New England in 2012 and 2014. Since 2016, she has been a principal scientist at Amazon Web Services, working on the practical aspects of deploying machine learning at scale using the cloud infrastructure.

Wei Gao, Assistant Professor of Medical Engineering.

Gao, who is interested in the future of personalized and precision medicine, currently works on the next generation of wearable health monitors and nanomachines that could enable rapid and hyper-localized drug delivery and surgery. Originally from China, Gao received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Huazhong University of Science & Technology and his master's in precision instruments from Tsinghua University. In 2014, he earned a doctorate in chemical engineering from UC San Diego.

Lihong Wang, Bren Professor of Medical Engineering and Electrical Engineering

In early 2017, Wang and 30 members of his lab group moved from Washington University in St. Louis into a newly renovated 8,000-square-foot lab in the Andrew and Peggy Cherng Department of Medical Engineering at Caltech. Using a combination of light and sound, Wang is noninvasively peering deeper inside biological tissues than previously possible. His novel imaging technologies—three-dimensional photoacoustic microscopy and functional photoacoustic computed tomography—generate detailed color images of tumors and other structures inside the body. Born in China, Wang earned his PhD at Rice University in Houston.

Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences

Claire Bucholz, Assistant Professor of Geology

Bucholz is investigating a variety of petrologic problems pertaining to the formation of the continental crust, mass transfer occurring at subduction zones, and temporal variations in the chemistry and character of igneous rocks. She has worked at far-flung sites throughout the world, including the Gobi Altai region of Mongolia, the Shetland Islands, the Indian Himalayas, and far northern Ontario, Canada. Bucholz earned her doctorate in geochemistry through a joint program of MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, where from 2012 to 2015 she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

J



Professor Hoffmann Elected to Chinese Academy of Engineering
The CAE is the foremost engineering academy in China
photo of Michael R. Hoffmann
Michael R. Hoffmann

Michael R. Hoffmann, Theodore Y. Wu Professor of Environmental Science, has been elected to the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE). Professor Hoffman was one of 18 foreign experts, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who were inducted into the CAE which is the foremost engineering academy in China.

Read the announcement here.


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