"I like leading this hike because—even though it is a short, simple hike in a fairly ordinary place—every now and then it turns out to be a transformative experience for a few students," says Asimow (right). "It is the moment they connect the joy of being outdoors with their ability to make detailed observations of the natural world and the way that we can tell stories that explain those observations. In other words, they find in their heart that they are geologists. Everybody else gets some exercise and fresh air and good views, and those are all important, too."
The trail is strewn with what appear at first glance to be crushed eggshells, but they're actually, as Asimow explained, fragments of bivalve fossils. These tiny shells are essentially identical to the ones found along the beach a few miles away. This is because the hill was once flat and the site of an ancient riverbed, and has been thrust upward by plate tectonics for the last 200,000 years, getting taller at about 3 to 5 millimeters per year.
Beyond these gulches (carved by water drainage, explains Asimow) lies the city of Ventura, and farther inland, the city of Camarillo, hometown of late Caltech geologist Robert P. Sharp (BS '34, MS '35). Sharp was renowned for taking students on field expeditions and opening their eyes to what could be learned about natural processes using simple observations. The tradition of short, fun, informative field trips carries on today in Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences and includes the annual frosh camp hike.
The natural scenery was just a few miles away from where the students were staying in Ventura. Though only a few students in the class of 2021 plan to be geology majors, sign-ups for the hike were completely full.
This year, Caltech's freshman orientation took place on September 18 and 19 in Ventura, California. Over the two days, students from the class of 2021 attended talks about the Honor Code and academics, met deans and resident associates, and participated in elective activities such as a boat design contest and a geology hike.
Paul Asimow (MS '93, PhD '97), the Eleanor and John R. McMillan Professor of Geology and Geochemistry, has led the annual geology hike for 10 years, with increasing attendance each year. With panoramic views of the Channel Islands, the Ventura River Valley, and the Santa Clara River Valley—weather almost always permitting—the 1.5-mile trail is located in the hills above Ventura and passes through fossil-rich rocks and landforms testifying to the extremely rapid uplift of those hills and the nearly-as-rapid resulting erosion.
Housleyite is a rare lead- and tellurium-rich mineral first found at Otto Mountain, near Baker, California. It was named in honor of Robert Housley, former visiting professor and current visitor in geochemistry at Caltech. Housley rediscovered abandoned mines in the area, and he is credited with the discovery of several new tellurite minerals.
Jahnsite CaMnMg2Fe3+2(PO4)4(OH)2 · 8H2O
Jahnsite is actually a group of three related glassy, brittle minerals with long, prismatic crystals. It was named for Richard H. Jahns (BA '35, PhD '43), who was a professor at Caltech from 1946–60 and a pioneering engineering geologist.
Machiite was discovered in the Murchison meteorite, where it was thought to have either condensed or crystallized about 4.6 billion years ago, before the planets formed. It was named after Chi Ma, former postdoc and current director of Caltech's analytical facility in the geological and planetary sciences division. Ma himself has discovered more than 30 new minerals.
Wyllieite is a dark, translucent, and prismatic crystal that was discovered at the Old Mike Mine in Custer County, South Dakota. The complex mineral is named for Peter Wyllie, professor of geology, emeritus, at Caltech. Wyllie is a former president of the International Mineralogical Association and the Mineralogical Society of America and has received the Roebling Medal, the highest honor of the Mineralogical Society of America.
Discovered in Custer County, South Dakota, rosemaryite is a member of the wyllieite group, with a prismatic and monoclinic structure (that is, it is arranged around three unequal axes of which one is at right angles to the other two). It is named in honor of Frances Rosemary "Romy" Wyllie, the managing editor of the Journal of Geology and cofounder and chair of the Caltech Architectural Tour Service, which she helped establish in 1985. The mineral wyllieite is named for her husband, Peter Wyllie.
Rossmanite (LiAl2) Al6 (BO3)3 Si6O18 (OH)4
Rossmanite was discovered near Rožná, Czech Republic, and is a member of the tourmaline group, a group of hard, crystalline boron silicate minerals identified by Dutch lapidaries in the early 1700s. Tourmalines are semi-precious stones, which can be found in a variety of colors. Rossmanite is named for George Rossman (PhD '71), professor of mineralogy at Caltech, in recognition of his work on the spectroscopy of the tourmaline-group minerals.
Paulingite is a rare, microporous mineral first found in basaltic rocks from the Columbia River in Washington. It is named for the late Linus Pauling (PhD '25), professor of chemistry at Caltech and the only person ever to be awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes.
Dozens of minerals have been named after Caltech faculty, staff, alumni, and other individuals associated with the Institute over the years.
Adapted from the presentation "Minerals Named After Persons Associated With Caltech" by George Rossman, professor of mineralogy. Includes information from mindat.org, an online mineral reference.