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03/15/2010 07:00:00

Caltech Names Five Distinguished Alumni

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has recognized five of its graduates with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor regularly bestowed by the Institute.  The award acknowledges a particular achievement, a series of achievements, or a career of achievements of noteworthy value.  Since its inception in 1966, the award has been granted to outstanding alumni in the sciences, engineering, business, and the arts.  This year's recipients span fields from computer science to culinary science.

The 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are Alan G. Cocconi, Bradley Efron, Harold J. McGee, Dominic P. Orr, and Robert E. Tarjan.

Alan G. Cocconi—Retired Founder, AC Propulsion Inc.
BS 1980 Engineering and Applied Science

An innovator in electric and solar vehicle technology, Alan Cocconi is an inventor of power electronics and advanced high-frequency induction motors for electric cars and solar aircraft. He developed the drive and solar tracking systems for the General Motors (GM) Sun Raycer, which won the 1987 World Solar Challenge, a cross-country race for solar-powered vehicles held in Australia. Cocconi then designed and built the controller for the original GM Impact, which was introduced at the 1990 L.A. Auto Show and later evolved into GM's EV-1. The revolutionary AC Propulsion drivetrain that Cocconi developed is now used in the Venturi Fetish, Wrightspeed X1, and the Tesla Roadster-all of which are on the cutting edge of electric vehicle technology.  In 2005, his airplane SoLong achieved the first-ever continuous multi-day-night solar-powered flight.

Bradley Efron—Max H. Stein Professor of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Statistics, Stanford University
BS 1960 Mathematics

In 2007, Bradley Efron was awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor, for his exceptional work in the field of statistics. Recognized as one of the most eminent statisticians of this era, Efron is best known for proposing the bootstrap resampling technique, which has had a major impact in the field of statistics and statistical application. It was one of the first computer-intensive statistical techniques, replacing traditional algebraic derivations with data-based computer simulations, with the goal of expanding statistical methodology to make analysis of complicated problems more realistic and applicable. Efron's honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, membership in the National Academy of Sciences, and fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and the American Statistical Association.

Harold J. McGee—Food Science Author
BS 1973 English

Renowned author Harold McGee is recognized in the culinary world, according to Time magazine, as the man who "brought science to the art of cooking."  After earning degrees from Caltech and subsequently Yale, McGee became intrigued by the science and chemistry of food and turned this passion into a highly successful career.  McGee wrote two seminal books on culinary science. His first book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, won the Andre Simon Memorial Fund Book Award in Britain. His second book, The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore, was published in 1990. McGee has lectured on food chemistry at the Culinary Institute of America and at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  McGee has also written for Nature, Health, the World Book EncyclopediaThe Art of Eating, Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, and Physics Today.  In 1995, McGee was elected to the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who in American Food.  And in 2008, the American Chemical Society awarded McGee the Grady-Stack Award for "interpreting chemistry for the public." Additionally, he was selected as one of "The 2008 Time 100" by Time magazine. McGee writes a monthly column for the New York Times about the science of food. 

Dominic P. Orr—President and CEO, Aruba Networks

MS 1976 Physics; PhD 1982 Biology

Dominic Orr is a renowned expert in the computer networking industry. He has developed numerous entrepreneurial networking ventures and has guided several leading technology companies in bringing innovative products and technologies to market. In his current role as president and CEO of Aruba Networks, Orr has been instrumental in growing the company from relative obscurity to the number two market leader in enterprise wireless LAN, behind only Cisco. He previously served as the president and chief executive of Alteon WebSystems, where he and his team developed the concept of content switching (L4-7 switching) for intelligently load-balancing network traffic. Orr has more than 20 years of experience in the computer systems and communication networking industry and has held senior positions at Bay Networks, Hewlett-Packard, and Hughes Aircraft.

Robert E. Tarjan—James S. McDonnell Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, Princeton University
BS 1969 Mathematics

Robert E. Tarjan is a renowned computer scientist recognized for his pioneering work on graph theory algorithms and data structures. His archetypical algorithms include Tarjan's off-line least common ancestors algorithm and Tarjan's strongly connected components algorithm. The Hopcroft-Tarjan planarity-testing algorithm was the first linear-time algorithm for planarity testing.  Tarjan has made significant contributions to the development of important data structures that helped to advance computer science.  In 1986, Tarjan received the Turing Award jointly with John Hopcroft for fundamental achievements in the design and analysis of algorithms and data structures. He was elected an Association for Computing Machinery fellow in 1994, and has won the Nevanlinna Prize in Information Science, the National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives Research, the Paris Kanellakis Award in Theory and Practice, and the Blaise Pascal Medal in Mathematics and Computer Science from the European Academy of Sciences.

Written by Deborah Williams-Hedges