Short Takes

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Caltech’s Newest Nobel Laureate

Hundreds of members of the Caltech community, along with local elected officials, gathered along the Olive Walk on November 8 to honor Frances Arnold, who received the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the “directed evolution of enzymes.” During the ceremony, Arnold, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, told the crowd she felt “incredibly lucky and grateful” to have worked for more than 30 years at Caltech, “a very small and special institution that made it possible for me to do the work that led to the Nobel Prize.”

Arnold, who is also the director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center, added, “Only here could I convince students from very different disciplines (engineers, chemists, biochemists, molecular biologists, and computational scientists) to throw their hat into this ring and this completely unexplored field, and contribute their creativity to this kooky idea that you could breed proteins like you can breed cats and dogs. And only here would I have been challenged to solve ever harder problems.”

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Class Act: Visual Culture

A new visual culture program is about to make Caltech a lot more colorful. From tours of neon art around Los Angeles to campus artists-in-residence, the program will offer something for anyone interested in art and its potential for intersecting with science. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and still in the planning stages, the program will be part of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) and will include new course offerings, a postdoctoral instructor, artists-in-residence, guest lecturers, and the addition of a visual culture professor to the faculty. 


Soft launch 

English professor Dehn Gilmore, who is overseeing the program’s launch, says this academic year is a pilot for the program, but adds that there is already a full slate of activities planned for the next several months, including a student trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see a 3-D-themed exhibit. Visitors to campus will include Malian textile artist Abdoulaye Konaté; Katherine F. Chandler, a professor and artist at Georgetown University whose work has explored, among other things, drone aircraft and drone warfare; and Scott Chimileski, a microbiologist and photographer of microbial life. 

Stay awhile 

A centerpiece of the program will be an artist residency that brings artists for extended stays on campus to work with students and organize exhibits and other events, including public lectures. “This will be an opportunity to bring in numerous artists to develop deeper conversations and collaborations and cross-pollinate ideas,” says Hillary Mushkin, research professor of art and design in mechanical and civil engineering, who co-directs Caltech’s data visualization program and is involved in shaping the artist-in-residence program. The first artist-in-residence will be Leslie Thornton, an experimental filmmaker best known for Peggy and Fred in Hell, a 17-episode series that follows two children acting out lives as adults in a chaotic world. 

Creative collaborations 

Other Caltech faculty members involved in the visual culture program are Professor of English Catherine Jurca, who studies classic Hollywood cinema and the American novel, and history professor Nicolás Wey-Gómez, whose lecture series Exploration: The Globe and Beyond will be expanded as part of the program. The program will also involve collaborations with The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens that connect the Caltech community with artists, exhibition culture, scholars of visual culture, and The Huntington’s extensive collections of visual materials. “It will be very exciting for undergrads to learn new ways of thinking and looking,” says Gilmore. “I think that will inspire new research avenues and hopefully inspire a new set of conversations among the faculty.” 

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Spring 2019, SoCaltechJon Nalick