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  • His eyes shielded by protective goggles, Bob Taylor carries out material testing in LIGO's Optical Contamination Test Cavity Lab, where he spends several hours a week measuring the cleanliness of semiconductors, plastics, and other materials destined for use in LIGO's state-of-the-art interferometers.
    Credit: Heidi Aspaturian
  • Jim Staub's photo-presentation artistry begins in a tiny office in the basement of Caltech's Keith Spaulding Building.
    Credit: Barbara Di Palma
  • Credit: Mike Rogers
  • Besides her work as the administrator for the Applied & Computational Mathematics group, Sheila Shull is also Caltech's unofficial wildlife rescue officer. When members of the Caltech community find baby squirrels, possums, and other creatures on campus, they often bring them to Sheila, who has raised many baby animals during her 30 years at the Institute.
    Credit: Mike Rogers
  • Relaxing for a moment in the Harry Gray Conference Room, Catherine May contemplates her 30 years with its namesake.
    Credit: Barbara DiPalma
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staff
05/28/2010 07:00:00

Let's Talk . . . Tech

Caltech Employees Share Their Perspectives

The California Institute of Technology is internationally renowned for its achievements in science and engineering. But its scientists and engineers will be quick to tell you they could not accomplish all that they do without the support of Caltech's savvy, resourceful, and multitalented staff.

As Caltech gets set to honor staff at the annual Service Awards ceremony on June 3, five of the Institute's long-time employees talk about their lives on and off campus and offer their unique perspectives on the Caltech experience. 

BOB TAYLOR—FORTY YEARS AT THE FRONTIERS

Of his career at Caltech, Bob Taylor says, "It's not unlike Indiana Jones." And like Indiana Jones, his tenure at the Institute has been an epic in four parts—if you count each part as one decade. Bob got an immediate taste of life on the job when he reported for his first day of work in 1960, at the campus's Seismological Laboratory, and was handed the assignment of helping to build a seismometer that would go to the moon. Over the next three decades, he became known as Seismo's "go-anywhere and do-anything" guy. He traveled to the Andes to service the seismic station in Peru, installed instrumentation to monitor atomic-bomb blasts in Nevada, and collected coral samples from reefs in the South China Sea, among many other adventures. Ten years ago, he was recruited to join the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) project, where, not surprisingly, he almost immediately established a reputation as LIGO's "go-to guy for everything." For his part, Bob says that the switch from Seismo to LIGO has expanded his base of operations from Earth to the stars.  

On June 3, Bob will be honored as the longest-serving employee at this year's ceremony—and don't be surprised if he's back for a 45-year award too. Of his many years at Caltech, he says, "I love the challenges, the variety, and the excitement. I can't think of any place I'd rather be, anything I'd rather do."

Caltech Podcast: Hear Bob discuss his work at LIGO and his previous work, from monitoring atomic-bomb blasts in Jackass Flats to the Batu Islands, where his group was threatened by pirate attack.

JIM STAUB—THREE DECADES IN A DARKROOM!

Jim Staub's photo-presentation artistry begins in a tiny office in the basement of Caltech's Keith Spaulding Building.
Credit: Barbara Di Palma

Jim Staub came to work at Caltech the week Mount St. Helens erupted. On that sunny spring morning, Jim joined what was then the Graphic Arts (now Graphic Resources) photo lab as a darkroom technician. In that capacity he thrived and grew professionally. Through the years, he has witnessed firsthand the evolution of imaging technology, and he is excited about the possibilities on the horizon in the photo industry. Jim has expanded his skills to include customized framing, which complements the products and services in mounting and presentation that he offers. He gets great satisfaction from helping others, which is evident from the many accolades and letters of appreciation he receives from customers throughout the Caltech community.

In the last few years Jim has begun to explore 3-D photography as an active member of LA 3-D. He also finds time to volunteer his skills to local historic and preservation groups, and his camera is often on call to record the progress of his and his wife Terry's three-year-old granddaughter. Jim also has a long-standing interest in hiking and cycling. In fact, he has biked to campus almost every day for the past 30 years.

Caltech Podcast: Listen to Jim describe some of the most interesting projects he has worked on at Caltech—from images of receding glaciers to a 35-mm film of Albert Einstein.

SHEILA SHULL—THE THIRTY-YEAR MATH WHISPERER

Besides her work as the administrator for the Applied & Computational Mathematics group, Sheila Shull is also Caltech's unofficial wildlife rescue officer. When members of the Caltech community find baby squirrels, possums, and other creatures on campus, they often bring them to Sheila, who has raised many baby animals during her 30 years at the Institute.
Credit: Mike Rogers

When she's not caring for her two horses, cats, dogs, and assorted wild, lost, injured, and otherwise needy animals, Sheila Shull watches over the faculty and students in the Applied and Computational Mathematics (ACM) group. As administrator for the group, her responsibilities vary widely. She manages, with the assistance of an excellent coworker, most of the activities in ACM. She attempts to keep the faculty organized and manages staff, visitors, and students and their related work spaces; handles grant management and prepares proposals for submission; and organizes conferences and symposiums. This variety of work provides her with many opportunities to interact regularly with many offices: the Deans' offices, the Registrar's office, the Office of Sponsored Research, Purchasing Services, Project Accounting—with, in fact, almost every office on campus.

Sheila was named one of two recipients of the 2009 Thomas W. Schmitt Staff Prize, presented annually to an outstanding employee, and an honor Sheila insists she could not have received without the support of all the staff on campus.  Wrote one of her nominators, "It is people like her, in direct daily contact with faculty and students, that truly define the atmosphere in our Institute."

Caltech Podcast: Hear Sheila explain the ins and outs of administering the ACM group and discuss her love of horses and spending time outdoors.

ED JASNOW—THIRTY YEARS OF DOING IT BY THE NUMBERS

Credit: Mike Rogers

Sitting in his office in the basement of Bridge Annex on the Caltech campus, Ed Jasnow may be hundreds of miles away from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) installations in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana, but that doesn't mean he's not on top of every contractual detail of the massive science project. Ed has spent the past 15 years at Caltech, managing the LIGO contracts, preceded by 15 years at the Caltech/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  He began his NASA career in 1966 at the Goddard Space Flight Center as a communications systems contracts manager with the Apollo program, and subsequently moved onto the Department of the Navy, where he worked on the AEGIS Missile System.

After joining JPL in 1980, Ed worked primarily on ASAS, an intelligence-gathering system for the Army that proved so successful that the Army just kept the prototype. He moved to the Caltech campus in 1995 to assume responsibility for the award and administration of millions of dollars of contracts for LIGO. "I started on LIGO when they had just dug the holes for the facilities," he says. "So to actually see the observatories done was a tremendous sense of accomplishment." 

Caltech Podcast: Learn about Ed's work behind the scenes building LIGO and a program he began through the Rotary Club that awards "mini grants" to Pasadena teachers.

CATHERINE MAY—THREE DECADES  OF GREAT CHEMISTRY

Relaxing for a moment in the Harry Gray Conference Room, Catherine May contemplates her 30 years with its namesake.
Credit: Barbara DiPalma

Catherine May joined Caltech after spending 14 years at That Other Institute of Technology on the East Coast. Here at Caltech, she has been Professor Harry Gray's administrative assistant for 30 years. As building administrative manager, she also supports Jay Labinger in running the Beckman Institute.

Catherine and her husband, Bruce, will soon have a son-in-law:  daughter Julie will be married on Memorial Day weekend. Julie and Jason live in Las Vegas near Creech Air Force Base, where Julie is in the Air Force serving as a crew chief for the Predator aircraft. Catherine continues to serve the Monrovia community by volunteering with the police department and the Unity Center's Christmas Angel Project. She also coordinates the campus Daffodil Days fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society and has served as a United Way coordinator. Bruce is retired—or, as he puts it, a "kept man" (actually, he works for Catherine on the home-improvement projects she has been saving up for him all these years). The family enjoys vacationing on Cape Cod or at their cabin outside Mammoth.

Caltech Podcast: Hear Catherine describe her favorite memories at Caltech and some of the most creative and hilarious hijinks carried out by students and colleagues.

Written by Heidi Aspaturian