Friends of the Caltech Library Award Prize to Two Senior Theses
This year two Caltech seniors were awarded the Library Friends' Senior Thesis Prize for writing theses "that exemplify excellent research, writing and the effective use of library resources." Stephanie M. Laga, a chemistry major, won the prize for her thesis, "Tale of Two Cobalts," while Eric S. Mukherjee, an astrophysics and history major, won for his thesis, "How Far from Jerusalem? Tropical Customs and the Question of Race in the Book of John Mandeville."
The Library Friends' Senior Thesis Prize was initiated by the Friends of the Caltech Libraries in 2010. The Friends raise funds for library improvements ranging from the renovation of group study rooms to the purchase of databases, books, and training for library staff, as well as for the Senior Thesis Prize. The Senior Thesis Prize is intended to encourage undergraduates to complete a formal work of scholarship as a capstone project for their undergraduate career and, says Caltech university librarian Kimberly Douglas, "to recognize sophisticated in-depth use of library and archival research." For their achievement, recipients of the $1,200 prize are listed in the commencement program.
Caltech faculty nominate seniors whose theses they deem to be deserving of the prize. Nominated students then supply a research narrative that explains their research methodology, detailing not only the sources they used, but the way they obtained access to them. A panel of judges—Douglas, president of Friends of the Caltech Libraries Rosemary Choate, current and emeritus Caltech professors, Caltech alumni, and an additional member of the library staff—selects the winners after reviewing their theses, their research narratives, and the nominations faculty provide. This year, says Choate, "for the first time, the committee unanimously agreed that there be double recipients."
Laga was nominated by Harry Gray, the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry. Gray describes Laga as a "great communicator" and a "team player," whose research "focused on the synthesis of homogeneous catalysts to be used in devices for the production of solar fuels." Gray notes that Laga is "not one-dimensional," and has participated in the CCI (the NSF Center for Chemical Innovation in Solar Fuels) outreach program that helps high school teachers prepare instructional units on the physics and chemistry of dye-sensitized solar cells.
Nicolás Wey Gómez, professor of history, describes Mukherjee in his nomination as "an amazing scholar and writer in the making." Mukherjee, says Wey Gómez, "bears an extraordinary, uncanny ability for research, analysis, and synthesis in the fields of history and literature" and "has steadily grown as a humanistic scholar researching urgent issues—sexuality, gender, race—in the Middle Ages. He is a natural scholar, with infinite curiosity and energy to follow his subject wherever it will take him."
All students nominated for the Library Friends' Senior Thesis Prize were recognized at a reception at Alumni House on May 28 and gifted with a bound and embossed copy of their thesis. As they become available, their theses are published online by Caltech.