When Richard Alvarez (BS ’57) worked at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, he helped a team fire an electron beam down 10,000 feet of three-quarter-inch tube to probe elementary particle physics. He was one of the people in the lab, he recalls, who understood the whole machine.
Caltech is the destination of choice for scholars who dream of creating knowledge and improving lives. Small and selective by design, Caltech invests heavily in outstanding scientists and engineers. Endowed professorships are key—they help us attract top faculty and empower them to pursue their best ideas and mentor generations of leaders. By naming a chair here, you signal that you believe as we do in the potential of science to illuminate the unknown and solve pressing problems for humanity.
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If a hydra breaks in two, each half of the ageless sea creature grows into a fully formed organism. Planarian worms, axolotls, sea stars, and certain geckos regrow lost body parts as well, but this select club excludes humans and other mammals. People can regenerate small pieces of tissue, but lost limbs are gone forever.
Behind almost every discovery, there is a team. Breakthroughs grow out of scientific collaborations among extraordinary investigators. And another type of partnership can drive new knowledge: backing from generous supporters. Such is the case for Sarkis Mazmanian, the Luis B. and Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology and a Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator at Caltech.
When Caltech’s Nadia Lapusta creates computer models of earthquakes, she must integrate an astonishing range of data—on scales from thousands of kilometers down to microns and from millennia down to thousandths of a second. That’s because to understand the big and slow, she needs to understand the tiny and fast. “Large-scale earthquake ruptures—even those around 8 on the Richter scale—are ultimately happening in very narrow layers of granulated rock,” she says. In fact, where one side of a fault moves against the other, those layers are powdered so thin that a stack of a thousand grains would equal the thickness of a credit card. And although a fault can go eons between destructive quakes, the first slip that kicks off the shaking can take place in a blink.
Since its public launch in April 2016, Break Through: The Caltech Campaign has broken Institute fundraising records. While Break Through looks to secure Caltech’s future as a source of discovery for the world, the campaign already is making an imprint on campus and beyond by supporting Caltech people who are pursuing big questions and bold ideas.
Xie Chen is a theorist working at the edge of science and engineering, where ideas straight out of science fiction abut the future of computing—and, thus, the future of our plugged-in society. Nominally, she’s a condensed matter physicist exploring quantum systems. But Chen isn’t concerned with neatly drawn lines between disciplines.
“This is such an extraordinary division, you feel that you want to give back, to be a part of it, and to help make a difference,” says Jackie Barton, who holds the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair in Caltech’s Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (CCE) and is the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry.