The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a private research university in Pasadena, California. The university is known for its strength in science and engineering, and is among a small group of institutes of technology in the United States which is primarily devoted to the instruction of pure and applied sciences. Caltech is ranked among the best academic institutions in the world and is among the most selective in the U.S.
The institution was founded as a preparatory and vocational school by Amos G. Throop in 1891 and began attracting influential scientists such as George Ellery Hale, Arthur Amos Noyes, and Robert Andrews Millikan in the early 20th century. The vocational and preparatory schools were disbanded and spun off in 1910 and the college assumed its present name in 1920. In 1934, Caltech was elected to the Association of American Universities, and the antecedents of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which Caltech continues to manage and operate, were established between 1936 and 1943 under Theodore von Kármán.
Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphasis on science and engineering, managing $332 million in 2011 in sponsored research. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. First-year students are required to live on campus, and 95% of undergraduates remain in the on-campus House System at Caltech. Although Caltech has a strong tradition of practical jokes and pranks, student life is governed by an honor code which allows faculty to assign take-home examinations. The Caltech Beavers compete in 13 intercollegiate sports in the NCAA Division III's Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC).
Scientists and engineers at or from the university have played an essential role in many modern scientific breakthroughs and innovations, including advancements in sustainability science, quantum physics, earthquake monitoring, protein engineering, and soft robotics. As of October 2020, there are 76 Nobel laureates who have been affiliated with Caltech, including 40 alumni and faculty members (41 prizes, with chemist Linus Pauling being the only individual in history to win two unshared prizes); in addition, 4 Fields Medalists and 6 Turing Award winners have been affiliated with Caltech. There are 8 Crafoord Laureates and 56 non-emeritus faculty members (as well as many emeritus faculty members) who have been elected to one of the United States National Academies, 4 Chief Scientists of the U.S. Air Force and 71 have won the United States National Medal of Science or Technology. Numerous faculty members are associated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as well as NASA. According to a 2015 Pomona College study, Caltech ranked number one in the U.S. for the percentage of its graduates who go on to earn a PhD.
Caltech started as a vocational school founded in present-day Old Pasadena on Fair Oaks Avenue and Chestnut Street on September 23, 1891, by local businessman and politician Amos G. Throop. The school was known successively as Throop University, Throop Polytechnic Institute (and Manual Training School) and Throop College of Technology before acquiring its current name in 1920. The vocational school was disbanded and the preparatory program was split off to form the independent Polytechnic School in 1907.
At a time when scientific research in the United States was still in its infancy, George Ellery Hale, a solar astronomer from the University of Chicago, founded the Mount Wilson Observatory in 1904. He joined Throop's board of trustees in 1907, and soon began developing it and the whole of Pasadena into a major scientific and cultural destination. He engineered the appointment of James A. B. Scherer, a literary scholar untutored in science but a capable administrator and fund-raiser, to Throop's presidency in 1908. Scherer persuaded retired businessman and trustee Charles W. Gates to donate $25,000 in seed money to build Gates Laboratory, the first science building on campus.
In 1910, Throop moved to its current site. Arthur Fleming donated the land for the permanent campus site. Theodore Roosevelt delivered an address at Throop Institute on March 21, 1911, and he declared:
I want to see institutions like Throop turn out perhaps ninety-nine of every hundred students as men who are to do given pieces of industrial work better than any one else can do them; I want to see those men do the kind of work that is now being done on the Panama Canal and on the great irrigation projects in the interior of this country—and the one-hundredth man I want to see with the kind of cultural scientific training that will make him and his fellows the matrix out of which you can occasionally develop a man like your great astronomer, George Ellery Hale.
In the same year, a bill was introduced in the California Legislature calling for the establishment of a publicly funded "California Institute of Technology", with an initial budget of a million dollars, ten times the budget of Throop at the time. The board of trustees offered to turn Throop over to the state, but the presidents of Stanford University and the University of California successfully lobbied to defeat the bill, which allowed Throop to develop as the only scientific research-oriented education institute in southern California, public or private, until the onset of the World War II necessitated the broader development of research-based science education. The promise of Throop attracted physical chemist Arthur Amos Noyes from MIT to develop the institution and assist in establishing it as a center for science and technology.
With the onset of World War I, Hale organized the National Research Council to coordinate and support scientific work on military problems. While he supported the idea of federal appropriations for science, he took exception to a federal bill that would have funded engineering research at land-grant colleges, and instead sought to raise a $1 million national research fund entirely from private sources. To that end, as Hale wrote in The New York Times:
Throop College of Technology, in Pasadena California has recently afforded a striking illustration of one way in which the Research Council can secure co-operation and advance scientific investigation. This institution, with its able investigators and excellent research laboratories, could be of great service in any broad scheme of cooperation. President Scherer, hearing of the formation of the council, immediately offered to take part in its work, and with this object, he secured within three days an additional research endowment of one hundred thousand dollars.
Through the National Research Council, Hale simultaneously lobbied for science to play a larger role in national affairs, and for Throop to play a national role in science. The new funds were designated for physics research, and ultimately led to the establishment of the Norman Bridge Laboratory, which attracted experimental physicist Robert Andrews Millikan from the University of Chicago in 1917. During the course of the war, Hale, Noyes and Millikan worked together in Washington on the NRC. Subsequently, they continued their partnership in developing Caltech.
Under the leadership of Hale, Noyes, and Millikan (aided by the booming economy of Southern California), Caltech grew to national prominence in the 1920s and concentrated on the development of Roosevelt's "Hundredth Man". On November 29, 1921, the trustees declared it to be the express policy of the institute to pursue scientific research of the greatest importance and at the same time "to continue to conduct thorough courses in engineering and pure science, basing the work of these courses on exceptionally strong instruction in the fundamental sciences of mathematics, physics, and chemistry; broadening and enriching the curriculum by a liberal amount of instruction in such subjects as English, history, and economics; and vitalizing all the work of the Institute by the infusion in generous measure of the spirit of research". In 1923, Millikan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. In 1925, the school established a department of geology and hired William Bennett Munro, then chairman of the division of History, Government, and Economics at Harvard University, to create a division of humanities and social sciences at Caltech. In 1928, a division of biology was established under the leadership of Thomas Hunt Morgan, the most distinguished biologist in the United States at the time, and discoverer of the role of genes and the chromosome in heredity. In 1930, Kerckhoff Marine Laboratory was established in Corona del Mar under the care of Professor George MacGinitie. In 1926, a graduate school of aeronautics was created, which eventually attracted Theodore von Kármán. Kármán later helped create the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and played an integral part in establishing Caltech as one of the world's centers for rocket science. In 1928, construction of the Palomar Observatory began.
Millikan served as "Chairman of the Executive Council" (effectively Caltech's president) from 1921 to 1945, and his influence was such that the institute was occasionally referred to as "Millikan's School." Millikan initiated a visiting-scholars program soon after joining Caltech. Notable scientists who accepted his invitation include Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Hendrik Lorentz and Niels Bohr. Albert Einstein arrived on the Caltech campus for the first time in 1931 to polish up his Theory of General Relativity, and he returned to Caltech subsequently as a visiting professor in 1932 and 1933.
During World War II, Caltech was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program which offered students a path to a Navy commission. The United States Navy also maintained a naval training school for aeronautical engineering, resident inspectors of ordinance and naval material, and a liaison officer to the National Defense Research Committee on campus.
From April to December 1951, Caltech was the host of a federal classified study, Project Vista. The selection of Caltech as host for the project was based on the university's expertise in rocketry and nuclear physics. In response to the war in Korea and the pressure from the Soviet Union, the project was Caltech's way of assisting the federal government in its effort to increase national security. The project was created to study new ways of improving the relationship between tactical air support and ground troops. The Army, Air Force, and Navy sponsored the project; however, it was under contract with the Army. The study was named after the hotel, Vista del Arroyo Hotel, which housed the study. The study operated under a committee with the supervision of President Lee A. DuBridge. William A. Fowler, a professor at Caltech, was selected as research director. More than a fourth of Caltech's faculty and a group of outside scientists staffed the project. Moreover, the number increases if one takes into account visiting scientists, military liaisons, secretarial, and security staff. In compensation for its participation, the university received about $750,000.
From the 1950s to 1980s, Caltech was the home of Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman, whose work was central to the establishment of the Standard Model of particle physics. Feynman was also widely known outside the physics community as an exceptional teacher and a colorful, unconventional character.
During Lee A. DuBridge's tenure as Caltech's president (1946–1969), Caltech's faculty doubled and the campus tripled in size. DuBridge, unlike his predecessors, welcomed federal funding of science. New research fields flourished, including chemical biology, planetary science, nuclear astrophysics, and geochemistry. A 200-inch telescope was dedicated on nearby Palomar Mountain in 1948 and remained the world's most powerful optical telescope for over forty years.
Caltech opened its doors to female undergraduates during the presidency of Harold Brown in 1970, and they made up 14% of the entering class. The portion of female undergraduates has been increasing since then.
Protests by Caltech students are rare. The earliest was a 1968 protest outside the NBC Burbank studios, in response to rumors that NBC was to cancel Star Trek. In 1973, the students from Dabney House protested a presidential visit with a sign on the library bearing the simple phrase "Impeach Nixon". The following week, Ross McCollum, president of the National Oil Company, wrote an open letter to Dabney House stating that in light of their actions he had decided not to donate one million dollars to Caltech. The Dabney family, being Republicans, disowned Dabney House after hearing of the protest.
Since 2000, the Einstein Papers Project has been located at Caltech. The project was established in 1986 to assemble, preserve, translate, and publish papers selected from the literary estate of Albert Einstein and from other collections.
In fall 2008, the freshman class was 42% female, a record for Caltech's undergraduate enrollment. In the same year, the Institute concluded a six-year-long fund-raising campaign. The campaign raised more than $1.4 billion from about 16,000 donors. Nearly half of the funds went into the support of Caltech programs and projects.
In 2010, Caltech, in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and headed by Professor Nathan Lewis, established a DOE Energy Innovation Hub aimed at developing revolutionary methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight. This hub, the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, will receive up to $122 million in federal funding over five years.
Jean-Lou Chameau, the eighth president, announced on February 19, 2013, that he would be stepping down to accept the presidency at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Thomas F. Rosenbaum was announced to be the ninth president of Caltech on October 24, 2013, and his term began on July 1, 2014.
In 2019, Caltech received a gift of $750 million for sustainability research from the Resnick family of The Wonderful Company. The gift is the largest ever for environmental sustainability research and the second-largest private donation to a US academic institution (after Bloomberg's gift of $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University in 2018).
On account of President Robert A. Millikan's affiliation with the Human Betterment Foundation, in January 2021, the Caltech Board of Trustees authorized the removal of Millikan's name (and the names of five other historical figures affiliated with the Foundation), from campus buildings.
Caltech's 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located in Pasadena, California, approximately 11 miles (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. It is within walking distance of Old Town Pasadena and the Pasadena Playhouse District and therefore the two locations are frequent getaways for Caltech students.
In 1917 Hale hired architect Bertram Goodhue to produce a master plan for the 22 acres (8.9 ha) campus. Goodhue conceived the overall layout of the campus and designed the physics building, Dabney Hall, and several other structures, in which he sought to be consistent with the local climate, the character of the school, and Hale's educational philosophy. Goodhue's designs for Caltech were also influenced by the traditional Spanish mission architecture of Southern California.
During the 1960s, Caltech underwent considerable expansion, in part due to the philanthropy of alumnus Arnold O. Beckman. In 1953, Beckman was asked to join the Caltech Board of Trustees.: 282 In 1964, he became its chairman.: 275 Over the next few years, as Caltech's president emeritus David Baltimore describes it, Arnold Beckman and his wife Mabel "shaped the destiny of Caltech".: 288
In 1971 a magnitude-6.6 earthquake in San Fernando caused some damage to the Caltech campus. Engineers who evaluated the damage found that two historic buildings dating from the early days of the Institute—Throop Hall and the Goodhue-designed Culbertson Auditorium—had cracked.
New additions to the campus include the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology, which opened in 2009, and the Warren and Katherine Schlinger Laboratory for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering followed in March 2010. The institute also concluded an upgrading of the South Houses in 2006. In late 2010, Caltech completed a 1.3 MW solar array projected to produce approximately 1.6 GWh in 2011.
Organization and administration
Caltech is incorporated as a non-profit corporation and is governed by a privately appointed 46-member board of trustees who serve five-year terms of office and retire at the age of 72. The trustees elect a president to serve as the chief executive officer of the institute and administer the affairs on the institute on behalf of the board, a provost who serves as the chief academic officer of the institute below the president, and ten other vice presidential and other senior positions. Thomas F. Rosenbaum became the ninth president of Caltech in 2014. Caltech's endowment is governed by a permanent trustee committee and administered by an investment office.
The institute is organized into six primary academic divisions: Biology and Biological Engineering, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Science, Geological and Planetary Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy. The voting faculty of Caltech include all professors, instructors, research associates and fellows, and the University Librarian. Faculty are responsible for establishing admission requirements, academic standards, and curricula. The Faculty Board is the faculty's representative body and consists of 18 elected faculty representatives as well as other senior administration officials. Full-time professors are expected to teach classes, conduct research, advise students, and perform administrative work such as serving on committees.
Founded in 1930s, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) owned by NASA and operated as a division of Caltech through a contract between NASA and Caltech. In 2008, JPL spent over $1.6 billion on research and development and employed over 5,000 project-related and support employees. The JPL Director also serves as a Caltech Vice President and is responsible to the President of the Institute for the management of the laboratory.
Caltech is a small four-year, highly residential research university with slightly more students in graduate programs than undergraduate. The institute has been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges since 1949. Caltech is on the quarter system: the fall term starts in late September and ends before Christmas, the second term starts after New Year's Day and ends in mid-March, and the third term starts in late March or early April and ends in early June.
For 2020, U.S. News & World Report ranked Caltech as tied for 12th in the United States among national universities overall, 8th for most innovative, and 11th for best value. U.S. News & World Report also ranked the graduate programs in chemistry and earth sciences first among national universities.
Caltech was ranked 1st internationally between 2011 and 2016 by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Caltech was ranked as the best university in the world in two categories: Engineering & Technology and Physical Sciences. It was also found to have the highest faculty citation rate in the world.
For the Class of 2026 (enrolled Fall 2022), Caltech received approximately 17,000 applications and accepted 2% of applicants; 235 enrolled. The class included 44% women and 56% men. 32% were of underrepresented ancestry (which includes students who self-identify as American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American, and/or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander), and 6% were foreign students.
Admission to Caltech is extremely rigorous and required the highest test scores in the nation. The middle 50% range of SAT scores for enrolled freshmen for the class of 2023 were 740–780 for evidence-based reading and writing and 790–800 for math, and 1530–1570 total. The middle 50% range ACT Composite score was 35–36. The SAT Math Level 2 middle 50% range was 800–800. The middle 50% range for the SAT Physics Subject Test was 760–800; SAT Chemistry Subject Test was 760–800; SAT Biology Subject Tests was 760–800. In June 2020, Caltech announced a test-blind policy where they would not require nor consider test scores for the next two years; in July 2021, the moratorium was extended by another year.
Tuition and financial aid
Undergraduate tuition for the 2021–2022 school year was $56,394 and total annual costs were estimated to be $79,947 excluding the Caltech Student Health Insurance Plan. In 2012–2013, Caltech awarded $17.1 million in need-based aid, $438k in non-need-based aid, and $2.51 million in self-help support to enrolled undergraduate students. The average financial aid package of all students eligible for aid was $38,756 and students graduated with an average debt of $15,090.
The full-time, four-year undergraduate program emphasizes instruction in the arts and sciences and has high graduate coexistence. Caltech offers 28 majors (called "options") and 12 minors across all six academic divisions. Caltech also offers interdisciplinary programs in Applied Physics, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Computation and Neural Systems, Control and Dynamical Systems, Environmental Science and Engineering, Geobiology and Astrobiology, Geochemistry, and Planetary Astronomy. The most popular options are Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Physics.
Prior to the entering class of 2013, Caltech required students to take a core curriculum of five terms of mathematics, five terms of physics, two terms of chemistry, one term of biology, two terms of lab courses, one term of scientific communication, three terms of physical education, and 12 terms of humanities and social science. Since 2013, only three terms each of mathematics and physics have been required by the institute, with the remaining two terms each required by certain options.
A typical class is worth 9 academic units and given the extensive core curriculum requirements in addition to individual options' degree requirements, students need to take an average of 40.5 units per term (more than four classes) to graduate in four years. 36 units is the minimum full-time load, 48 units is considered a heavy load, and registrations above 51 units require an overload petition. Approximately 20 percent of students double-major. This is achievable since the humanities and social sciences majors have been designed to be done in conjunction with a science major. Although choosing two options in the same division is discouraged, it is still possible.
First-year students are enrolled in first-term classes based upon results of placement exams in math, physics, chemistry, and writing and take all classes in their first two terms on a Pass/Fail basis. There is little competition; collaboration on homework is encouraged and the honor system encourages take-home tests and flexible homework schedules. Caltech offers co-operative programs with other schools, such as the Pasadena Art Center College of Design and Occidental College.
According to a 2018 PayScale study, Caltech graduates earn a median early career salary of $83,400 and $143,100 mid-career, placing them in the top 5 among graduates of US colleges and universities. The average net return on investment over a period of 20 years is $887,000, the tenth-highest among US colleges.
The graduate instructional programs emphasize doctoral studies and are dominated by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. The institute offers graduate degree programs for the Master of Science, Engineer's Degree, Doctor of Philosophy, BS/MS and MD/PhD, with the majority of students in the PhD program. The most popular options are Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Electrical Engineering and Chemical Engineering. Applicants for graduate studies are required to take the GRE. GRE Subject scores are either required or strongly recommended by several options. A joint program between Caltech and the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, and the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine grants MD/PhD degrees. Students in this program do their preclinical and clinical work at USC or UCLA, and their PhD work with any member of the Caltech faculty, including the Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering and Applied Sciences Divisions. The MD degree would be from USC or UCLA and the PhD would be awarded from Caltech.
The research facilities at Caltech are available to graduate students, but there are opportunities for students to work in facilities of other universities, research centers as well as private industries. The graduate student to faculty ratio is 4:1.
Approximately 99 percent of doctoral students have full financial support. Financial support for graduate students comes in the form of fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships or a combination of fellowship and assistantship support.
Graduate students are bound by the honor code, as are the undergraduates, and the Graduate Honor Council oversees any violations of the code.
Caltech is classified among "R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity". Caltech was elected to the Association of American Universities in 1934 and remains a research university with "very high" research activity, primarily in STEM fields. Caltech manages research expenditures of $270 million annually, 66th among all universities in the U.S. and 17th among private institutions without medical schools for 2008. The largest federal agencies contributing to research are NASA, National Science Foundation, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, and Department of Energy. Caltech received $144 million in federal funding for the physical sciences, $40.8 million for the life sciences, $33.5 million for engineering, $14.4 million for environmental sciences, $7.16 million for computer sciences, and $1.97 million for mathematical sciences in 2008.
The institute was awarded an all-time high funding of $357 million in 2009. Active funding from the National Science Foundation Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Science (MPS) for Caltech stands at $343 million as of 2011, the highest for any educational institution in the nation, and higher than the total funds allocated to any state except California and New York.
In 2005, Caltech had 739,000 square feet (68,700 m2) dedicated to research: 330,000 square feet (30,700 m2) to physical sciences, 163,000 square feet (15,100 m2) to engineering, and 160,000 square feet (14,900 m2) to biological sciences.
In addition to managing JPL, Caltech also operates the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, the Owens Valley Radio Observatory in Bishop, California, the Submillimeter Observatory and W. M. Keck Observatory at the Mauna Kea Observatory, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory at Livingston, Louisiana and Richland, Washington, and Kerckhoff Marine Laboratory in Corona del Mar, California. The Institute launched the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at Caltech in 2006, the Keck Institute for Space Studies in 2008, and is also the current home for the Einstein Papers Project. The Spitzer Science Center (SSC), part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center located on the Caltech campus, is the data analysis and community support center for NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.
Caltech partnered with UCLA to establish a Joint Center for Translational Medicine (UCLA-Caltech JCTM), which conducts experimental research into clinical applications, including the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer.
Caltech operates several TCCON stations as part of an international collaborative effort of measuring greenhouse gases globally. One station is on campus.
Undergraduates at Caltech are also encouraged to participate in research. About 80% of the class of 2010 did research through the annual Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program at least once during their stay, and many continued during the school year. Students write and submit SURF proposals for research projects in collaboration with professors, and about 70 percent of applicants are awarded SURFs. The program is open to both Caltech and non-Caltech undergraduate students. It serves as preparation for graduate school and helps to explain why Caltech has the highest percentage of alumni who go on to receive a PhD of all the major universities.
The licensing and transferring of technology to the commercial sector is managed by the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT). OTT protects and manages the intellectual property developed by faculty members, students, other researchers, and JPL technologists. Caltech receives more invention disclosures per faculty member than any other university in the nation. As of 2008, 1891 patents were granted to Caltech researchers since 1969.
During the early 20th century, a Caltech committee visited several universities and decided to transform the undergraduate housing system from fraternities to a house system. Four South Houses (or Hovses, as styled in the stone engravings) were built: Blacker House, Dabney House, Fleming House and Ricketts House. In the 1960s, three North Houses were built: Lloyd House, Page House, and Ruddock House, and during the 1990s, Avery House. The four South Houses closed for renovation in 2005 and reopened in 2006. The latest addition to residential life at Caltech is Bechtel Residence, which opened in 2018. It is not affiliated with the house system. All first- and second-year students live on campus in the house system or in the Bechtel Residence.
On account of Albert B. Ruddock's affiliation with the Human Betterment Foundation, in January 2021, the Caltech Board of Trustees authorized the removal of Ruddock's name from campus buildings. Ruddock House was renamed as the Grant D. Venerable House.
Caltech has athletic teams in baseball, men's and women's basketball, cross country, men's and women's soccer, swimming and diving, men's and women's tennis, track and field, women's volleyball, and men's and women's water polo. Caltech's mascot is the Beaver, a homage to nature's engineer. Its teams are members of the NCAA Division III and compete in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), which Caltech co-founded in 1915.
On January 6, 2007, the Beavers' men's basketball team snapped a 207-game losing streak to Division III schools, beating Bard College 81–52. It was their first Division III victory since 1996. Until their win over Occidental College on February 22, 2011 the team had not won a game in SCIAC play since 1985. Ryan Elmquist's free throw with 3.3 seconds in regulation gave the Beavers the victory. The documentary film Quantum Hoops concerns the events of the Beavers' 2005–06 season.
On January 13, 2007, the Caltech women's basketball team snapped a 50-game losing streak, defeating the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens 55–53. The women's program, which entered the SCIAC in 2002, garnered their first conference win. On the bench as honorary coach for the evening was Dr. Robert Grubbs, 2005 Nobel laureate in Chemistry. The team went on to beat Whittier College on February 10, for its second SCIAC win, and placed its first member on the All Conference team. The 2006–2007 season is the most successful season in the history of the program.
In 2007, 2008, and 2009, the women's table tennis team (a club team) competed in nationals. The women's Ultimate club team, known as "Snatch", has also been very successful in recent years, ranking 44 of over 200 college teams in the Ultimate Player's Association.
On February 2, 2013, the Caltech baseball team ended a 228-game losing streak, the team's first win in nearly 10 years.
The school also sponsored a football team prior to 1976, which played part of its home schedule at the Rose Bowl, or, as Caltech students put it, "to the largest number of empty seats in the nation".
Performing and visual arts
The Caltech/Occidental College Orchestra is a full seventy-piece orchestra composed of students, faculty, and staff at Caltech and nearby Occidental College. The orchestra gives three pairs of concerts annually, at both Caltech and Occidental College. There are also two Caltech Jazz Bands and a Concert Band, as well as an active chamber music program. For vocal music, Caltech has a mixed-voice Glee Club and the smaller Chamber Singers. The theater program at Caltech is known as TACIT, or Theater Arts at the California Institute of Technology. There are two to three plays organized by TACIT per year, and they were involved in the production of the PHD Movie, released in 2011.
Student life traditions
Every Halloween, Dabney House conducts the infamous "Millikan pumpkin-drop experiment" from the top of Millikan Library, the highest point on campus. According to tradition, a claim was once made that the shattering of a pumpkin frozen in liquid nitrogen and dropped from a sufficient height would produce a triboluminescent spark. This yearly event involves a crowd of observers, who try to spot the elusive spark. The title of the event is an oblique reference to the famous Millikan oil-drop experiment which measured e, the elemental unit of electrical charge.
On Ditch Day, the seniors ditch school, leaving behind elaborately designed tasks and traps at the doors of their rooms to prevent underclassmen from entering. Over the years this has evolved to the point where many seniors spend months designing mechanical, electrical, and software obstacles to confound the underclassmen. Each group of seniors designs a "stack" to be solved by a handful of underclassmen. The faculty have been drawn into the event as well, and cancel all classes on Ditch Day so the underclassmen can participate in what has become a highlight of the academic year.
Another long-standing tradition is the playing of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" at 7:00 each morning during finals week with the largest, loudest speakers available. The playing of that piece is not allowed at any other time (except if one happens to be listening to the entire 14 hours and 5 minutes of The Ring Cycle), and any offender is dragged into the showers to be drenched in cold water fully dressed.
The two most famous in recent history are the changing of the Hollywood Sign to read "Caltech", by judiciously covering up certain parts of the letters, and the changing of the scoreboard to read Caltech 38, MIT 9 during the 1984 Rose Bowl Game. But the most famous of all occurred during the 1961 Rose Bowl Game, where Caltech students altered the flip-cards that were raised by the stadium attendees to display "Caltech", and several other "unintended" messages. This event is now referred to as the Great Rose Bowl Hoax.
In recent years, pranking has been officially encouraged by Tom Mannion, Caltech's Assistant VP for Student Affairs and Campus Life. "The grand old days of pranking have gone away at Caltech, and that's what we are trying to bring back," reported the Boston Globe.
In December 2011, Caltech students went to New York and pulled a prank in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. The prank involved making The Cube sculpture look like the Aperture Science Weighted Companion Cube from the video game Portal.
Caltech pranks have been documented in three Legends of Caltech books, the most recent of which was edited by alumni Autumn Looijen '99 and Mason Porter '98 and published in May 2007.
Rivalry with MIT
In 2005, a group of Caltech students pulled a string of pranks during MIT's Campus Preview Weekend for admitted students. These include covering up the word Massachusetts in the "Massachusetts Institute of Technology" engraving on the main building façade with a banner so that it read "That Other Institute of Technology". A group of MIT hackers responded by altering the banner so that the inscription read "The Only Institute of Technology." Caltech students also passed out T-shirts to MIT's incoming freshman class that had MIT written on the front and "... because not everyone can go to Caltech" along with an image of a palm tree on the back.
MIT retaliated in April 2006, when students posing as the Howe & Ser (Howitzer) Moving Company stole the 130-year-old, 1.7-ton Fleming House cannon and moved it over 3,000 miles to their campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts for their 2006 Campus Preview Weekend, repeating a similar prank performed by nearby Harvey Mudd College in 1986. Thirty members of Fleming House traveled to MIT and reclaimed their cannon on April 10, 2006.
On April 13, 2007 (Friday the 13th), a group of students from The California Tech, Caltech's campus newspaper, arrived and distributed fake copies of The Tech, MIT's campus newspaper, while prospective students were visiting for their Campus Preview Weekend. Articles included "MIT Invents the Interweb", "Architects Deem Campus 'Unfortunate'", and "Infinite Corridor Not Actually Infinite".
In December 2009, some Caltech students declared that MIT had been sold and had become the Caltech East campus. A "sold" banner was hung on front of the MIT dome building and a "Welcome to Caltech East: School of the Humanities" banner over the Massachusetts Avenue Entrance. Newspapers and T-shirts were distributed, and door labels and fliers in the infinite corridor were put up in accordance with the "curriculum change."
In September 2010, MIT students attempted to put a TARDIS, the time machine from the BBC's Doctor Who, onto a roof. Caught in midact, the prank was aborted. In January 2011, Caltech students in conjunction with MIT students helped put the TARDIS on top of Baxter. Caltech students then moved the TARDIS to UC Berkeley and Stanford.
In April 2014, during MIT's Campus Preview Weekend, a group of Caltech students handed out mugs emblazoned with the MIT logo on the front and the words "The Institute of Technology" on the back. When heated, the mugs turn orange, display a palm tree, and read "Caltech The Hotter Institute of Technology." Identical mugs continue to be sold at the Caltech campus store.
Life in the Caltech community is governed by the honor code, which simply states: "No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community." This is enforced by a Board of Control, which consists of undergraduate students, and by a similar body at the graduate level, called the Graduate Honor Council.
The honor code aims at promoting an atmosphere of respect and trust that allows Caltech students to enjoy privileges that make for a more relaxed atmosphere. For example, the honor code allows professors to make the majority of exams as take-home, allowing students to take them on their own schedule and in their preferred environment.
Through the late 1990s, the only exception to the honor code, implemented earlier in the decade in response to changes in federal regulations, concerned the sexual harassment policy. Today, there are myriad exceptions to the honor code in the form of new Institute policies such as the fire policy and alcohol policy. Although both policies are presented in the Honor System Handbook given to new members of the Caltech community, some undergraduates regard them as a slight against the honor code and the implicit trust and respect it represents within the community. In recent years, the Student Affairs Office has also taken up pursuing investigations independently of the Board of Control and Conduct Review Committee, an implicit violation of both the honor code and written disciplinary policy that has contributed to further erosion of trust between some parts of the undergraduate community and the administration.
As of October 2020, Caltech has 40 Nobel laureates to its name awarded to 24 alumni, which includes 5 Caltech professors who are also alumni (Carl D. Anderson, Linus Pauling, William A. Fowler, Edward B. Lewis, and Kip Thorne), and 16 non-alumni professors. The total number of Nobel Prizes is 41 because Pauling received prizes in both Chemistry and Peace. Eight faculty and alumni have received a Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, while 58 have been awarded the U.S. National Medal of Science, and 11 have received the National Medal of Technology. One alumnus, Stanislav Smirnov, won the Fields Medal in 2010. Other distinguished researchers have been affiliated with Caltech as postdoctoral scholars (for example, Barbara McClintock, James D. Watson, Sheldon Glashow and John Gurdon) or visiting professors (for example, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Edward Witten).
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Caltech enrolled 987 undergraduate students and 1,410 graduate students for the 2021–2022 school year. Women made up 45% of the undergraduate and 33% of the graduate student body. The racial demographics of the school substantially differ from those of the nation as a whole.
The four-year graduation rate is 79% and the six-year rate is 92%, which is low compared to most leading U.S. universities, but substantially higher than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Students majoring in STEM fields traditionally have graduation rates below 70%.
There are 22,930 total living alumni in the U.S. and around the world. As of October 2020, 24 alumni and 16 non-alumni faculty have won the Nobel Prize. The Turing Award, the "Nobel Prize of Computer Science", has been awarded to six alumni, and one has won the Fields Medal.
Many alumni have participated in scientific research. Some have concentrated their studies on the very small universe of atoms and molecules. Nobel laureate Carl D. Anderson (BS 1927, PhD 1930) proved the existence of positrons and muons, Nobel laureate Edwin McMillan (BS 1928, MS 1929) synthesized the first transuranium element, Nobel laureate Leo James Rainwater (BS 1939) investigated the non-spherical shapes of atomic nuclei, and Nobel laureate Douglas D. Osheroff (BS 1967) studied the superfluid nature of helium-3. Donald Knuth (PhD 1963), the "father" of the analysis of algorithms, wrote The Art of Computer Programming and created the TeX computer typesetting system, which is commonly used in the scientific community. Bruce Reznick (BS 1973) is a mathematician noted for his contributions to number theory and the combinatorial-algebraic-analytic investigations of polynomials. Narendra Karmarkar (MS 1979) is known for the interior point method, a polynomial algorithm for linear programming known as Karmarkar's algorithm.
Other alumni have turned their gaze to the universe. C. Gordon Fullerton (BS 1957, MS 1958) piloted the third Space Shuttle mission. Astronaut (and later, United States Senator) Harrison Schmitt (BS 1957) was the only geologist to have ever walked on the surface of the moon. Astronomer Eugene Merle Shoemaker (BS 1947, MS 1948) co-discovered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (a comet which crashed into the planet Jupiter) and was the first person buried on the moon (by having his ashes crashed into the moon). Astronomer George O. Abell (BS 1951, MS 1952, PhD 1957) while a grad student at Caltech participated in the National Geographic Society-Palomar Sky Survey. This ultimately resulted in the publication of the Abell Catalogue of Clusters of Galaxies, the definitive work in the field.
Undergraduate alumni founded, or co-founded, companies such as LCD manufacturer Varitronix, Hotmail, Compaq, MathWorks (which created Matlab), and database provider Imply, while graduate students founded, or co-founded, companies such as Intel, TRW, and the non-profit educational organization, the Exploratorium.
Arnold Beckman (PhD 1928) invented the pH meter and commercialized it with the founding of Beckman Instruments. His success with that company enabled him to provide seed funding for William Shockley (BS 1932), who had co-invented semiconductor transistors and wanted to commercialize them. Shockley became the founding Director of the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory division of Beckman Instruments. Shockley had previously worked at Bell Labs, whose first president was another alumnus, Frank Jewett (BS 1898). Because his aging mother lived in Palo Alto, California, Shockley established his laboratory near her in Mountain View, California. Shockley was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956, but his aggressive management style and odd personality at the Shockley Lab became unbearable. In late 1957, eight of his researchers resigned and with support from Sherman Fairchild formed Fairchild Semiconductor. Among the "traitorous eight" was Gordon E. Moore (PhD 1954), who later left Fairchild to co-found Intel. Other offspring companies of Fairchild Semiconductor include National Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices, which in turn spawned more technology companies in the area. Shockley's decision to use silicon instead of germanium as the semiconductor material, coupled with the abundance of silicon semiconductor related companies in the area, gave rise to the term "Silicon Valley" to describe that geographic region surrounding Palo Alto.
Caltech alumni also held public offices, with Mustafa A.G. Abushagur (PhD 1984) the Deputy Prime Minister of Libya and Prime Minister-Elect of Libya, James Fletcher (PhD 1948) the 4th and 7th Administrator of NASA, Steven Koonin (PhD 1972) the Undersecretary of Energy for Science, and Regina Dugan (PhD 1993) the 19th director of DARPA. The 20th director for DARPA, Arati Prabhakar, is also a Caltech alumna (PhD 1984) as well as Charles Elachi (Phd 1971), former director of the Jet Propulsion Lab. Arvind Virmani is a former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India. In 2013, President Obama announced the nomination of France Cordova (PhD 1979) as the director of the National Science Foundation and Ellen Williams (PhD 1982) as the director for ARPA-E.
Nobel laureate Douglas D. Osheroff, BS 1967
Nobel laureate Edwin McMillan, BS 1928, MS 1929
Nobel laureate Vernon Smith, BS 1949
Turing Award laureate Fernando J. Corbató, BS 1950
Astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton, BS 1957, MS 1958
Libyan Deputy Prime Minister & Libyan Prime Minister-Elect Mustafa A.G. Abushagur, PhD 1984
Faculty and staff
Richard Feynman was among the most well-known physicists associated with Caltech, having published the Feynman Lectures on Physics, an undergraduate physics text, and popular science texts such as Six Easy Pieces for the general audience. The promotion of physics made him a public figure of science, although his Nobel-winning work in quantum electrodynamics was already very established in the scientific community. Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel-winning physicist, introduced a classification of hadrons and went on to postulate the existence of quarks, which is currently accepted as part of the Standard Model. Long-time Caltech President Robert Andrews Millikan was the first to calculate the charge of the electron with his well-known oil-drop experiment, while Richard Chace Tolman is remembered for his contributions to cosmology and statistical mechanics. 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics winner H. David Politzer is a current professor at Caltech, as is astrophysicist and author Kip Thorne and eminent mathematician Barry Simon. Linus Pauling pioneered quantum chemistry and molecular biology, and went on to discover the nature of the chemical bond in 1939. Seismologist Charles Richter, also an alumnus, developed the magnitude scale that bears his name, the Richter magnitude scale for measuring the power of earthquakes. One of the founders of the geochemistry department, Clair Patterson was the first to accurately determine the age of the Earth via lead:uranium ratio in meteorites. In engineering, Theodore von Kármán made many key advances in aerodynamics, notably his work on supersonic and hypersonic airflow characterization. A repeating pattern of swirling vortices is named after him, the von Kármán vortex street. Participants in von Kármán's GALCIT project included Frank Malina, who helped develop the WAC Corporal, which was the first U.S. rocket to reach the edge of space, Jack Parsons, a pioneer in the development of liquid and solid rocket fuels who designed the first castable composite-based rocket motor, and Qian Xuesen, who was dubbed the "Father of Chinese Rocketry". More recently, Michael Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy, discovered many trans-Neptunian objects, most notably the dwarf planet Eris, which prompted the International Astronomical Union to redefine the term "planet".
David Baltimore, the Robert A. Millikan Professor of Biology, and Alice Huang, Senior Faculty Associate in Biology, served as the presidents of AAAS from 2007 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011, respectively.
33% of the faculty are members of the National Academy of Sciences or Engineering and/or fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This is the highest percentage of any faculty in the country with the exception of the graduate institution Rockefeller University.
The average salary for assistant professors at Caltech is $111,300, associate professors $121,300, and full professors $172,800. Caltech faculty are active in applied physics, astronomy and astrophysics, biology, biochemistry, biological engineering, chemical engineering, computer science, geology, mechanical engineering, and physics.
- James Augustin Brown Scherer (1908–1920) (president of Throop College of Technology before the name change)
- Robert A. Millikan (1921–1945), experimental physicist, Nobel laureate in physics for 1923 (his official title was "Chairman of the Executive Council")
- Lee A. DuBridge (1946–1969), experimental physicist (first to officially hold the title of President)
- Harold Brown (1969–1977), physicist and public servant (left Caltech to serve as United States Secretary of Defense in the administration of Jimmy Carter)
- Robert F. Christy (1977–1978), astrophysicist (acting president)
- Marvin L. Goldberger (1978–1987), theoretical physicist (left to serve as Director of Institute for Advanced Study)
- Thomas E. Everhart (1987–1997), experimental physicist
- David Baltimore (1997–2006), molecular biologist, Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine for 1975
- Jean-Lou Chameau (2006–2013), civil engineer and educational administrator (left to serve as president of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology)
- Thomas F. Rosenbaum (2014–), condensed matter physicist and administrator
Over the years Caltech has actively promoted the commercialization of technologies developed within its walls. Through its Office of Technology Transfer & Corporate Partnerships, scientific breakthroughs have led to the transfer of numerous technologies in a wide variety of scientific-related fields such as photovoltaic, radio-frequency identification (RFID), semiconductors, hyperspectral imaging, electronic devices, protein design, solid state amplifiers and many more. Companies such as Contour Energy Systems, Impinj, Fulcrum Microsystems, Nanosys, Inc., Photon etc., Xencor, and Wavestream Wireless have emerged from Caltech.
In media and popular culture
Caltech has appeared in many works of popular culture, both as itself and in disguised form. On television, it plays a prominent role and is the workplace of all four male lead characters and one female lead character in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Caltech is also the inspiration, and frequent film location, for the California Institute of Science in Numb3rs. On film, the Pacific Tech of The War of the Worlds and Real Genius is based on Caltech. In nonfiction, two 2007 documentaries examine aspects of Caltech: Curious, its researchers, and Quantum Hoops, its men's basketball team.
Given its Los Angeles-area location, the grounds of the Institute are often host to short scenes in movies and television. The Athenaeum dining club appears in the Beverly Hills Cop series, The X-Files, True Romance, and The West Wing.
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