Caltech undergraduates are taking their field research around the world thanks to a donor who decided his support should come with as few restrictions as possible.
Longtime friend of Caltech William K. Bowes Jr. made a unique type of commitment to the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering (BBE). Through his family foundation, in 2012 Bowes established an endowment that provides the division chair with the freedom to pursue the most promising opportunities for students, faculty, and researchers.
“This is really a carefully considered investment in the future,” Bowes said.
Exploring Evolution in the Galapagos
Stephen Mayo, BBE division chair, Caltech’s Bren Professor of Biology and Chemistry, and holder of the William K. Bowes Jr. Leadership Chair, used this discretionary fund to help create a new course for students—Bi/Ge 105: Evolution. Taught by Rob Phillips, Caltech’s Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology, and Victoria Orphan, professor of geobiology, the undergraduate class explores the diversity and relationships among organisms through the lens of evolution.
The 12 students spent the term entrenched in research to prepare them for the course’s culmination: snorkeling with penguins, hiking a volcano, and taking in the natural laboratory for evolution that is the Galápagos Islands.
“Being there in person piques curiosity in ways that other facets of learning don’t,” said alumna Aleena Patel, who enrolled in the class in 2014. “At times, there was so much to see it was almost overwhelming. As scientists, we need that inspiration to ask questions and to be emotionally motivated.”
Caltech’s Innovation in Education Fund and Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences Chair’s Council members Terence Barr, Tom Greenfield, and David B. Rogers also helped underwrite the course, which will be offered in alternate years.
Teaming up to Advance Synthetic Biology
The Bowes leadership fund—along with additional support from the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center—also sponsored Caltech’s entry in the 2014 International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. Under the guidance of graduate students and a professor, the undergraduates spent their summer fully immersing themselves in the experimental and modeling processes of molecular biology. Along with 250 teams from around the world, the Caltech students presented their investigation—in which the theoretical application would aide diabetics in controlling their blood sugar—and received a bronze medal.