Community Symposium Videos

A symposium for the entire campus community—faculty, students, staff, alumni, family, and friends—kicked off Caltech’s celebration of the launch of Break Through: The Caltech Campaign on Friday, April 29, 2016. In addition to remarks by Caltech’s president and provost, the program included talks by faculty members representing all six academic divisions, each of whom briefly explored a seminal question and its potential to change the world.

Complete Symposium

Watch the entire program—including the campaign video and all eight of the presentations collected below—in this recording of the complete symposium.

Introductory Remarks

President Thomas F. Rosenbaum, holder of the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics, shares his vision for Caltech’s future—enabled by Break Through: The Caltech Campaign.

Chemistry on the Brain

Chemist Dennis Dougherty describes new techniques developed at Caltech that allow scientists to probe the complex proteins of the human nervous system with unprecedented precision. Dougherty, who is Caltech’s George Grant Hoag Professor of Chemistry, shows how studies using these techniques have provided valuable insights into the way small molecules, including pharmaceuticals and drugs of abuse, exert their effects on the nervous system. He illustrates such studies by focusing on the action of nicotine and related substances.

Mars: A Planet on the Edge of Habitability

Planetary scientist Bethany Ehlmann explores a puzzle about Mars. Earth has sustained life for more than 3.5 billion years. Meanwhile, Mars has undergone profound shifts in climate that have turned it into a cold, dry world. Yet the last decade of exploration shows that for its first billion years, Mars hosted environments much like those on Earth. Even today, the climate on Mars is right “on the edge” of being able to support liquid water. Ehlmann offers insights into the mystery surrounding our planetary neighbor.

Compensation of Managers and Price Formation

Economist Jaksa Cvitanic posits that the way portfolio managers are compensated influences their actions on the job and, in turn, the way prices are formed in financial markets. Cvitanic, who is Caltech’s Richard N. Merkin Professor of Mathematical Finance, highlights research that combines economic theory, mathematical models, and experiments to study those interactions.

Moonshot for Neurotechnology: The Brain Observatory

Physicist Michael Roukes was one of six U.S. scientists from different disciplines who banded together in 2011, developed a collective vision, and convinced the Obama administration of the unprecedented opportunity to create a coordinated, large-scale effort to map brain activity. This effort culminated in the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, launched in 2013. Nanotechnology research will play an important part in this effort, because it provides elements ready for assembly into powerful new instruments that enable scientists to observe and understand how brain circuits compute. In this talk, Roukes, who is Caltech’s Robert M. Abbey Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Bioengineering, surveys the technological landscape and challenges of massively parallel mapping of brain activity, and focuses on collaborative efforts toward this goal.

The San Andreas Fault and the Complex Infrastructure of Los Angeles: A True Disaster Story

Civil and mechanical engineer Domniki Asimaki demonstrates that the more technologically advanced we become, the more our cities are exposed to risk. As a megacity whose economy, safety, and public health depend on complex infrastructure such as electricity, telecommunication, and water networks, Los Angeles faces a serious threat from a rupture of the San Andreas Fault. Asimaki shares ideas for designing cities where earthquakes cause damage but not disasters, where cascading failures can be contained, and where economies can rapidly rebound—and she gives a glimpse of Caltech’s vision for making Los Angeles resilient to earthquakes.

Gut Feelings: How Intestinal Bacteria Regulate Emotion and Behavior

This talk by biologist Sarkis Mazmanian might change how you feel about bacteria. We were raised to believe that microbes are insidious little creatures that solely cause infections. However, there is now emerging evidence that many bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract actually confer astounding health benefits. Mazmanian, who is Caltech’s Luis B. and Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology, highlights recent advances showing that specific microbes improve symptoms of anxiety and autism, laying the groundwork for harnessing the human microbiome to develop revolutionary treatments for neurological diseases that afflict humankind.

Closing Remarks

Provost Edward M. Stolper, holder of the Carl and Shirley Larson Provostial Chair and William E. Leonhard Professor of Geology, closes the symposium with reflections on Caltech’s founding model: Bring together the most creative, talented, inquisitive people and provide them with resources to pursue great ideas—anywhere they may lead.