Short Takes

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Chen Institute Breaks Ground

Caltech broke ground in December 2017 on the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building, which will be located at the northwest corner of campus along Del Mar Boulevard and Wilson Avenue. The building is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020.

The three-story, 150,000-square-foot facility will house labs and offices for more than a dozen principal investigators and will be the administrative home of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech. The building will also house research support space, as well as a teaching lab and a 150-seat lecture hall. The research institute and building are both named in honor of the Chens, who donated $115 million to Caltech in December 2016 in support of advancing Caltech research in the field of neuroscience.


Building community

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This fall, undergraduate students from all four years will move into the Bechtel Residence. The new building is rapidly nearing completion on the north side of campus.

Key statistics:

  • 1st new student residence in more than two decades
  • 1st time in Institute history that all undergraduates may live on campus
  • 212 beds
  • 95,000 square feet
  • 6 structures built around a central courtyard
  • 8 different room configurations [from singles to suites]

7 goals for residential life created by student committee:

  • intellectual growth
  • mentorship
  • diversity
  • identity
  • support
  • honor code
  • choice

 From the This Is Caltech 2018 overview book:

“A careful attention to how things came to be imbues us with an appreciation for the possibilities of what might have been and opens us up to questions that people caught up in the current moment might forget to ask.”

—Maura Dykstra, assistant professor of history


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Object Lesson: Basic science

This simple drum microscope—on display in the Beckman Room, a science museum on campus that is open to the public on the first Friday of every month—dates from around 1850 and was a gift to the Institute from Donald S. Clark (BS ’29), a Caltech metallurgist on the faculty from 1934 to 1975. The microscope is simple in that it has only one lens, in striking contrast to such highly sophisticated and complex instruments as the cryo-electron microscope featured in the Q&A with Caltech’s Alasdair McDowall. Modern light microscopes have a magnification of around 1,000 to 2,000, compared to approximately 20 for a simple microscope of this era. “Our modern electron microscopes can magnify more than 500,000 times,” notes McDowall, “and now, with the help of cool preparation techniques, extremely stable instruments, powerful cameras, and computers, can resolve the very building blocks of life.”


“In bringing together Caltech’s faculty, students, and researchers in this facility we will have the opportunity to enable even more powerful and meaningful interactions, which can lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of the inner workings of the brain.” 

—Steve Mayo (PhD ’87), William K. Bowes Jr. Leadership Chair of the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering and Bren Professor of Biology and Chemistry


 This image shows the Horsehead nebula. The head of the horse (middle) faces up toward another well-known nebula known as the Flame. Computers searching these images for transient, or variable, events are trained to automatically recognize and ignore non-astronomical sources, such as the vertical lines seen here.

This image shows the Horsehead nebula. The head of the horse (middle) faces up toward another well-known nebula known as the Flame. Computers searching these images for transient, or variable, events are trained to automatically recognize and ignore non-astronomical sources, such as the vertical lines seen here.

Surveying the dynamic universe

A new robotic camera with the ability to capture hundreds of thousands of stars and galaxies in a single shot took its first image of the sky—an event astronomers refer to as “first light”—on November 1, 2017.

The recently installed camera is part of a new automated sky-survey project called the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), based at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in the mountains near San Diego.

Every night, ZTF scans a huge swath of the northern sky, discovering objects that erupt or vary in brightness, including exploding stars (also known as supernovas), asteroids, and comets.

“ZTF surveys the dynamic universe unlike ever before,” says Mansi Kasliwal, assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech and a member of the ZTF team. “It will give us a treasure trove of discoveries.”


From the Caltech Archives Oral History Project

“In my chemistry classes, it was a combination of stuff I brought in with demos and stuff the students did. They rigged up the Tom Lehrer audio. They invited the Hare Krishna chanter. I put up with all of it, and we just had a great time together. The great thing was that if you weren’t in 22 Gates at 10:30 a.m. for an 11 o’clock class, you didn’t get a seat.”

– Harry Gray, Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry and winner of the 2018 Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching

To date, the oral history project has published more than 160 interviews. Read them at oralhistories.library.caltech.edu.