Thursday, August 11, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Teaching Statement Workshop 2: Peer Review

High School Students Hunt for Pulsars

Hanaa is hunting for a blip in a vast set of data. Although she is only a high school student, she is searching for the signal of a pulsar—a rapidly rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation like a lighthouse. She and 19 of her fellow students at Alverno Heights Academy in Sierra Madre are participating in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC), a program that partners high school students with astronomy mentors at local universities. The mentors then train the students how to search a large data set for the signals of pulsars. The PSC, headquartered at the University of West Virginia, was established in 2007 through a grant from the National Science Foundation. As part of the grant, 300 terabytes of data collected by the West Virginia's Green Bank Telescope were set aside for high school students to use to search for pulsars.

This is the first year that the program has been expanded to campuses outside of West Virginia, including Caltech, Cornell, Vanderbilt, and Georgia Tech. PSC collaborator Chiara Mingarelli, currently a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech, contacted the Caltech Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (CTLO) for help in bringing the program to local Pasadena students.

"Chiara brought the program here, and we worked together to identify local teachers in the Pasadena area who might be interested in participating," says Mitch Aiken, associate director for educational outreach at the CTLO. "We reached out to a number of great teachers who participate in our Community Science Events. Monica Barsever, a science teacher at Alverno Heights Academy, offered to bring this opportunity to her students and was thrilled to have them participate in the PSC. Alverno Heights Academy is an all-girls school, and as bringing more young women into STEM fields is always a goal, this was a great collaboration."

Twenty of Barsever's students attended online workshops, led by West Virginia University professor Maura McLaughlin (a founding member of the PSC) and National Radio Astronomy Observatory educator Sue Ann Heatherly, about the science of pulsars and to learn how to search for them. Working closely with Danny Cushey, a Caltech third-year undergraduate in astrophysics and a PSC mentor, the students received data from the Green Bank Telescope and each individual was randomly assigned a portion to study. "Caltech is a critical hub for the PSC," says McLaughlin. "Through this partnership we can reach a diverse population of students in Southern California and make use of the incredible expertise in both astrophysics research and outreach at the university."

Barsever's students are no strangers to research at Caltech. Through her Independent Research in Science course, students have conducted chemistry and synthetic biology studies with Caltech researchers. The PSC offered many students their first experience to do research in astronomy and astrophysics.

As of yet, Alverno students have not discovered any pulsars, but the work will continue throughout the summer and during the next school year. In mid-July, they will travel to West Virginia to spend a week working with astronomers at the Green Bank Telescope, looking at more data.

While the experience of analyzing data is valuable for students, the results are equally important to scientists. Discovering more pulsars is particularly important to researchers like Mingarelli who study and search for gravitational waves. "My colleagues and I at NANOGrav—the North American Nanohertz Observatory of Gravitational Waves—are always looking to add more pulsars to our pulsar timing array," Mingarelli says. "We monitor a large set of pulsars, with precise arrival times at Arecibo and the Green Bank Telescope. Low-frequency gravitational waves, likely originating from supermassive black hole binaries, pass through our galaxy and stretch and squash the fabric of spacetime. The result is that the pulses from the pulsars we time arrive at the Earth early or late in a distinctive way, which can only be caused by gravitational waves."

"What these students are doing is real scientific research," she says. "With a grant from the National Science Foundation, this data has been set aside specifically for them."

On Friday, June 17, the Alverno students visited Caltech and JPL to attend a presentation by Mingarelli and meet scientists in other fields. "Going to Caltech and JPL was wonderful and a valuable experience for the girls," Barsever says. "They really got to picture themselves in this environment doing science."

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Caltech's partnership in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory offers local high school students the opportunity to conduct astronomy research.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

4th Annual Caltech Teaching Conference DRAFT SCHEDULE JUST ADDED!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Noyes 147 (J. Holmes Sturdivant Lecture Hall) – Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics

Teaching Statement Workshop

Learning the Language of the Laboratory

In any of the leading research institutions, scientists and engineers from all over the world work together on joint research projects. Although basic scientific concepts and mathematical formulas are typically universally understood, field-specific terminology is not always the same in every language. Through her course, French Conversation (L175), Christiane Orcel, lecturer in French, tries to break down language barrier for students and postdocs who work and study abroad in French-speaking countries.

Orcel, who also teaches several other traditional French classes, came up with the idea for the course after hearing about Caltech students who were interested in studying abroad through the Institute's exchange program with École Polytechnique—one of France's elite schools near Paris—but were nervous about having to take courses exclusively in French.

"In general, a conversational French class focuses on food, sports, housing, family, transportation, et cetera. But these students wanted to become more comfortable in scientific French," Orcel says.

Although Orcel is not a scientist herself, she chose to teach the course much like a science class would be taught in a French-speaking country. Each meeting of L175 has a topical theme loosely based on the major study area of one of her students. For example, if a biology student is enrolled, she might focus one class session on genetics; if a physics major is in the class, the focus could be particle physics. For each subject area, she finds a speaker—a French-speaking scientist, usually from Caltech or JPL—to give a 30-minute presentation about his or her research in French, followed by questions from the students, also in French. Afterward, the students discuss a previously assigned science article from Pour la Science or CNRS le Journal (the equivalents to Scientific American), and review any unfamiliar vocabulary terms they encountered in their reading.

"The article I select for each class is related to the topic that the speaker will present that day, and it really helps the students prepare for some of the vocabulary they'll hear in the talk. The speakers come only for about 35 to 40 minutes, and after they leave we discuss the article to expand the conversation for the rest of the 90-minute class," she says.

Because she chooses the invited speakers based on their work's relevance to the students' majors, Orcel says the students themselves can also help to explain—in French—some of the more technical concepts from the article to their peers in different majors.

Over the years, Orcel says that she has experienced a steady level of interest in the course, with some students wanting to enroll more than once. To accommodate these students, she finds all new articles and all new speakers for each term that the course is taught. Senior mechanical engineering major Edward Fouad is now taking the course for the third time. "It's enjoyable to repeat the class because the speakers are always different and there is always more to learn," he says. "But I think the most enjoyable part of the class is giving a presentation on my own research to the class, which allows me to learn technical vocabulary related to my own field at a much higher level."

Although the course targets undergraduates who are planning to enroll in the École Polytechnique Scholars Program in the fall term of their senior year at Caltech, it is also open to graduate students enrolled in the Caltech dual master's degree program with École Polytechnique, SURF students who will be spending their summer doing research at CERN, as well as postdocs and other scientists who are simply wanting to prepare for research experiences abroad.

"Science and engineering are becoming increasingly multinational," agrees Fouad, "and it's important that researchers from different parts of the world are able to effectively communicate their ideas with one another."

The course was designed to help students with their French language skills, but Orcel says that some students have reported that its scientific content has had an impact on their academic and career plans. "The class is so small, usually 6 to 10 students, so it's really a great opportunity for networking and getting to know these Caltech and JPL scientists," she says. "It's also such a multidisciplinary course that it provides students with an opportunity to meet people and to be exposed to research topics that they wouldn't necessarily have considered before. I've even had some students say they wanted to continue learning more about a topic they first heard of in class, so they picked up a second major."

Because of the course's distinctive nature and success at Caltech, Orcel was asked to speak about it at a conference hosted last October by the American Physical Society in a session on education and new teaching techniques.

"I don't think there are any other courses like L175 in the United States, so at the conference, a lot of faculty members from other schools came up to me and expressed an interest in adding such a course to their curriculum, but they were concerned about the availability of teaching staff. And that's the problem," she says. "I understand that many language professors might feel uncomfortable teaching a course with so much technical content, but I enjoy it, and I hope that in the future others will try it out."

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Learning the Language of the Laboratory
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In a conversational French class at Caltech, scientists pick up technical vocabulary to prepare for research and educational experiences abroad.
Monday, May 23, 2016
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Animal magnetism

Monday, February 29, 2016
Brown Gymnasium – Scott Brown Gymnasium

Animal magnetism

Caltech Students and Alumni Receive 2016 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

This year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected 20 current Caltech students and 13 alumni to receive its Graduate Research Fellowships. The awards support three years of graduate study within a five-year fellowship period in research-based master's or doctoral programs in science or engineering.

The NSF notes that the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) "is a critical program in NSF's overall strategy to develop the globally-engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation." The selection criteria used to identify NSF fellows reflect the potential of the applicant to advance knowledge and benefit society.

Caltech's awardees for 2016 are seniors Kurtis Mickel Carsch, Webster Guan, Soumya Kannan, Emil Timergalievich Khabiboullin, Laura Shou, and Karthik Guruswamy Siva; and graduate students Hannah Marie Allen, Charles H. Arnett, Sarah Michelle Cohen, Heidi Klumpe, Rachel Ann Krueger, Usha Farey Lingappa, Joseph P. Messinger, Andres Ortiz-Munoz, Shyam M. Saladi, Lee Michael Saper, Nancy Helen Thomas, Annelise Christine Thompson, Elise M. Tookmanian, and Jeremy Chi-Pang Tran. The graduate student awardees join 136 current NSF fellows enrolled at Caltech, representing approximately 20 percent of the domestic graduate student population.

Caltech alumni in the 2016 class of Graduate Fellows are: Sidney Douglas Buchbinder, Kaitlin Ching, Katherine Jennie Fisher, Emmett Daniel Goodman, Edward W. Huang, Jacqueline Maslyn, Misha Raffiee, Connor Edwin Rosen, Nicole Nisha Thadani, Malvika Verma, Eugene Aaron Vinitsky, Yushu Joy Xie, and Doris Xin.

In total this year, the NSF selected 2,000 GRFP recipients from a pool of nearly 17,000 applicants. Caltech's Fellowships Advising & Study Abroad Office works with current students and recent Caltech graduates interested in applying for an NSF fellowship, sponsoring a panel discussion of previous winners each fall and offering one-on-one advising.

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20 current Caltech students and 13 alumni will receive fellowships to support graduate study.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

TA Workshop: Getting the Biggest ‘Bang for Your Buck’ - Teaching strategies for busy TAs

Living—and Giving—the Caltech Dream

Growing up in Tehran, Iran, Mory Gharib (PhD '83) attended large, crowded schools. He was the kid who always raised his hand in class and asked tough questions. He craved one-on-one time with his teachers, which seldom came to pass.

So when the young Gharib read a newspaper article about a school in California with a three-to-one student-faculty ratio, it seemed almost unimaginable. Over the years, though, that school—Caltech—remained in his thoughts.

Years later, Gharib finally made it to Caltech as a graduate student. Since that time, he has built a distinguished career as a  researcher, mentor, inventor, entrepreneur, leader, and benefactor. And he has continued to search for the answers to tough questions.

"I couldn't have done this anywhere else," he says, referring to his career. "Caltech took care of me, and I have to take care of it."

In appreciation for the opportunities Caltech afforded him, Gharib—who currently serves as the Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering, director of Caltech's Graduate Aerospace Laboratories, and vice provost—has created an endowed fellowship fund to support new generations of Caltech graduate students.

Read the full story on the Caltech Giving website.

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In appreciation for the opportunities Caltech afforded him, Mory Gharib is supporting future graduate students through an endowed fellowship fund.

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