Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Dabney Hall, Lounge – Dabney Hall

Bringing Joy into Your Teaching: A Workshop by Chris Duffy

Monday, October 19, 2015
Guggenheim 101 (Lees-Kubota Lecture Hall) – Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory

The Future of Teaching and Learning at Caltech: An Innovation Showcase

Monday, October 19, 2015 to Friday, October 23, 2015

TeachWeek Caltech

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Keck Center

Engaging Students Beyond Their Field

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Keck Center

Engaging Students Beyond Their Field

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Confessions of a Converted Lecturer: TeachWeek Keynote by Eric Mazur

Caltech Interns Summer in Japan

In August, five Caltech undergraduates returned from a summer in Japan, where they worked as interns for Mitsubishi's Advanced Technology and Information Technology R&D centers; for Kaneka, a chemical manufacturing company; and for NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest mobile phone carrier. All study Japanese language at Caltech with Kayoko Hirata, lecturer in Japanese. According to Hirata, these internships "mostly go to second year or third year students of Japanese." Typically about half of the students intern for companies in Tokyo, while the other half are located in the Kyoto/Osaka area.

The Caltech–Japan Internship Program was started in 1994. "There are over 150 alumni of the program now," says Hirata. In earlier years, Hirata says, students were drawn to Japanese language study from a point of view having more to do with science and technology. Today, she says, "their interest in Japanese culture often begins in childhood; with the influence of comics and movies, anime and games at that age, we see more students coming to college with an desire to study the Japanese language."

As interns, students collaborate on industrial projects with Japanese companies, usually living in company-owned dormitory housing. They are immersed in Japanese business culture while simultaneously honing their language skills. Language learning in the Caltech–Japan Internship Program is reciprocal: Caltech students go to Japan to converse in Japanese, and, says Hirata, "often the reason the Japanese companies want interns from the United States is that they want to communicate in English."

In late July, this year's interns met in Tokyo with their employer representatives and with Barbara Green, interim dean of undergraduate students. They had an opportunity there to share stories and reconnect midway through their internships. "Dr. Hirata's dedication to the Japan internship program has made it a real success over the years, and it has been very beneficial to our students," says Green. "Students expand their horizons by living in another culture for an entire summer and also improve their Japanese language skills. The opportunity to work for a large Japanese corporation gives the interns an experience that may serve them very well in the future."

Over the course of the summer, the interns also set out on their own travels. Senior in physics Dryden Bouamalay, an intern with Mitsubishi Advanced Technology R&D, reports that one of the most compelling places he visited was Hiroshima. "I think it was really important to visit Hiroshima because of the war's enormous impact on Japanese culture. It wasn't a 'fun' visit, but it felt necessary," says Bouamalay. He also had the opportunity to savor a local specialty: okonomiyaki, sometimes described as "Japanese pizza," a thin pancake topped with grilled vegetables, seafood, or meat.

This October, the Caltech–Japan interns will present slides and brief talks about their experiences with the program to an audience of Caltech faculty, staff, and students—many of whom are considering applying to the program next year—as well a representative or two from local Japanese companies.

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Why Did Western Europe Dominate the Globe?

Although Europe represents only about 8 percent of the planet's landmass, from 1492 to 1914, Europeans conquered or colonized more than 80 percent of the entire world. Being dominated for centuries has led to lingering inequality and long-lasting effects in many formerly colonized countries, including poverty and slow economic growth. There are many possible explanations for why history played out this way, but few can explain why the West was so powerful for so long.

Caltech's Philip Hoffman, the Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics and professor of history, has a new explanation: the advancement of gunpowder technology. The Chinese invented gunpowder, but Hoffman, whose work applies economic theory to historical contexts, argues that certain political and economic circumstances allowed the Europeans to advance gunpowder technology at an unprecedented rate—allowing a relatively small number of people to quickly take over much of the rest of the globe.

Hoffman's work is published in a new book titled Why Did Europe Conquer the World? We spoke with him recently about his research interests and what led him to study this particular topic.

You have been on the Caltech faculty for more than 30 years. Are there any overarching themes to your work?

Over the years I've been interested in a number of different things, and this new work puts together a lot of bits of my research. I've looked at changes in technology that influence agriculture, and I've studied the development of financial markets, and in between those two, I was also studying why financial crises occur. I've also been interested in the development of tax systems. For example, how did states get the ability to impose heavy taxes? What were the politics and the political context of the economy that resulted in this ability to tax?

What led you to investigate the global conquests of western Europe?

It's just fascinating. In 1914, really only China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire had escaped becoming European colonies. A thousand years ago, no one would have ever expected that result, for at that point western Europe was hopelessly backward. It was politically weak, it was poor, and the major long-distance commerce was a slave trade led by Vikings. The political dominance of western Europe was an unexpected outcome and had really big consequences, so I thought: let's explain it.


Many theories purport to explain how the West became dominant. For example, that Europe became industrialized more quickly and therefore became wealthier than the rest of the world. Or, that when Europeans began to travel the world, people in other countries did not have the immunity to fight off the diseases they brought with them. How is your theory different?

Yes, there are lots of conventional explanations—industrialization, for example—but on closer inspection they all fall apart. Before 1800, Europe had already taken over at least 35 percent of the world, but Britain was just beginning to industrialize. The rest of Europe at that time was really no wealthier than China, the Middle East, or South Asia. So as an explanation, industrialization doesn't work.

Another explanation, described in Jared Diamond's famous book [Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies], is disease. But something like the smallpox epidemic that ravaged Mexico when the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés overthrew the Aztec Empire just isn't the whole story of Cortés's victory or of Europe's successful colonization of other parts of the world. Disease can't explain, for example, the colonization of India, because people in southeast Asia had the same immunity to disease that the Europeans did. So that's not the answer—it's something else.


What made you turn to the idea of gunpowder technology as an explanation?

It started after I gave an undergraduate here a book to read about gunpowder technology, how it was invented in China and used in Japan and Southeast Asia, and how the Europeans got very good at using it, which fed into their successful conquests. I'd given it to him because the use of this technology is related to politics and fiscal systems and taxes, and as he was reading it, he noted that the book did not give the ultimate cause of why Europe in particular was so successful. That was a really great question and it got me interested.


What was so special about gunpowder?

Gunpowder was really important for conquering territory; it allows a small number of people to exercise a lot of influence. The technology grew to include more than just guns: armed ships, fortifications that can resist artillery, and more, and the Europeans became the best at using these things.

So, I put together an economic model of how this technology has advanced to come up with what I think is the real reason why the West conquered almost everyone else. My idea incorporates the model of a contest or a tournament where your odds of winning are higher if you spend more resources on fighting. You can think of that as being much like a baseball team that hires better players to win more games, but in this case, instead of coaches, it's political leaders and instead of games there are wars. And the more that the political leaders spend, the better their chances of defeating other leaders and, in the long run, of dominating the other cultures.


What kinds of factors are included in this model?

One big factor that's important to the advancement of any defense technology is how much money a political leader can spend. That comes down to the political costs of raising revenue and a leader's ability to tax. In the very successful countries, the leaders could impose very heavy taxes and spend huge sums on war.

The economic model then connected that spending to changes in military technology. The spending on war gave leaders a chance to try out new weapons, new armed ships, and new tactics, and to learn from mistakes on the battlefield. The more they spent, the more chances they had to improve their military technology through trial and error while fighting wars. So more spending would not only mean greater odds of victory over an enemy, but more rapid change in military technology.

If you think about it, you realize that advancements in gunpowder technology—which are important for conquest—arise where political leaders fight using that technology, where they spend huge sums on it, and where they're able to share the resulting advances in that technology. For example, if I am fighting you and you figure out a better way to build an armed ship, I can imitate you. For that to happen, the countries have to be small and close to one another. And all of this describes Europe.


What does this mean in a modern context?

One lesson the book teaches is that actions involving war, foreign policy, and military spending can have big, long-lasting consequences: this is a lesson that policy makers should never forget. The book also reminds us that in a world where there are hostile powers, we really don't want to get rid of spending on improving military technology. Those improvements can help at times when wars are necessary—for instance, when we are fighting against enemies with whom we cannot negotiate. Such enemies existed in the past—they were fighting for glory on the battlefield or victory over an enemy of the faith—and one could argue that they pose a threat today as well.

Things are much better if the conflict concerns something that can be split up—such as money or land. Then you can bargain with your enemies to divvy up whatever you disagree about and you can have something like peace. You'll still need to back up the peace with armed forces, but you won't actually fight all that much, and that's a much better outcome.

In either case, you'll still be spending money on the military and on military research. Personally, I would much rather see expenditures devoted to infrastructure, or scientific research, or free preschool for everybody—things that would carry big economic benefits—but in this world, I don't think you can stop doing military research or spending money on the military. I wish we did live in that world, but unfortunately it's not realistic.

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High School Students Visit for Women in STEM Preview Day

On Friday, August 7, 104 female high school seniors and their families visited Caltech for the fourth annual Women in STEM (WiSTEM) Preview Day, hosted by the undergraduate admissions office. The event was designed to explore the accomplishments and continued contributions of Caltech women in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The day opened with a keynote address by Marianne Bronner, the Albert Billings Ruddock Professor of Biology and executive officer for neurobiology. Bronner, who studies the development of the central nervous system, spoke about her experiences in science and at Caltech.

"Caltech is an exciting place to be. It's a place where you can be creative and think outside the box," she said. "My advice to you would be to try different things, play around, and do what makes you happy." Bronner ended her address by noting the pleasure she takes in mentoring young scientists, and especially young women. "I was just like you," she said.

Over the course of the day, students and their families attended panels on undergraduate research opportunities and participated in social events where current students shared their experiences of Caltech life. They also listened to presentations from female scientists and engineers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"I really love science, and it's so exciting to be around all of these other people who share that," says Sydney Feldman, a senior from Maryland. "I switched around my whole summer visit schedule to come to this event and I'm having such a great time."

The annual event began four years ago with the goal of encouraging interest in STEM in high school women and ultimately increasing applications to Caltech by female candidates. In 2009, a U.S. Department of Commerce study showed that women make up 24 percent of the STEM workforce and hold a disproportionately low share of undergraduate degrees in STEM fields.

"Women are seriously underrepresented in these fields," says Caltech admissions counselor and WiSTEM coordinator Abeni Tinubu. "Our event really puts emphasis on how Caltech supports women on campus, and we want to show prospective students that."

This year, the incoming freshman class is a record 47 percent female students. "This is hugely exciting," says Jarrid Whitney, the executive director of admissions and financial aid. "We've been working hard toward our goal of 50 percent women, and it is clearly paying off thanks to the support of President Rosenbaum and the overall Caltech community."

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Creating Generosity

Researchers have long wondered what mechanisms and motives underlie altruism and what can be done to increase generous behavior. Looking for new insights in these basic questions, Caltech researchers used functional brain imaging to study neural activity in test subjects during generous or selfish choices that involve monetary rewards. They found that altruistic behavior could be explained and predicted by a simple computational model in which individuals make choices by weighting the impact of their decisions on themselves and others.

A paper about the work appears in the July 15 issue of the journal Neuron.

"Generosity does not have to be a difficult decision," says study lead Cendri Hutcherson, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. Indeed, altruism becomes easier, the study found, when decision-makers consider how their actions will benefit the other person. The study also found that quick decisions led to more generous behavior— and less financial gain for the person making the choices.

Hutcherson conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Antonio Rangel (BS '93), the Bing Professor of Neuroscience, Behavioral Biology, and Economics at Caltech.

Past research has supported seemingly opposing views about whether or not altruism is an innate behavior or one that requires effort. For example, some psychologists argue that human beings are intrinsically selfish. Others say that we are by nature prosocial and only selfish when we take time to realize we can get away with selfishness. And still others argue that willpower plays a role in altruism—in other words, that we need to exercise self-control to be generous. But the question remains open, and just what mechanisms in the brain affect this kind of decision-making has been unclear.

To find out, Hutcherson, Rangel, and colleague Benjamin Bushong (PhD '13), a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of 51 subjects as they decided to make either generous or selfish choices under a variety of conditions.

The decisions of the subjects resulted in either financial gain or loss for themselves or another person, who would remain anonymous to the subject. The amount of money in question ranged from $0 to $100.

The study falls within the scope of a discipline known as neuroeconomics, which seeks to characterize the computations made by the brain to make different classes of decisions as well as the neural circuits that implement those computations.

The researchers used an experimental paradigm from economics called the Dictator Game. They asked the subjects to choose between actions that either result in their own economic gain, in a financial reward for another person, or some combination of the two. For example, the subject might be asked to sacrifice $25 so that the other person might gain $100. If the proposal was rejected there was a default award of $50 for each. To keep the decision making simple, subjects were given a four-second limit in which to make their choices.

The study was also able to determine under what circumstances generous choices occurred and whether they were made more rapidly than selfish ones or vice versa.

Academics have long debated the origins and biological underpinnings of altruism. "One of the big debates has been about whether human beings are, by nature, selfish and require self-control or willpower in order to inhibit these selfish impulses," Hutcherson says. "Some people have suggested that if a generous choice is faster, it is automatic, intuitive, and that you didn't need self-control to do it. If, however, more time is required to make a generous choice, that would be evidence that we have to override our selfish tendencies to be generous—that it takes more mental 'machinery.'"

"You can come up with counterexamples to either argument," Hutcherson explains. "We have all had experiences where it felt hard to be nice to others, but we can also come up with examples where people have been extraordinarily altruistic. You hear about people who run into burning buildings to save complete strangers and said that they didn't give it a second thought. The question of why people can make these choices without really thinking is a complex one.

In the experiments, the researchers found that participants were willing to sacrifice money to help the other person an average of 21 percent of the time—even though the identity of recipient of the cash award was unknown to the test subject.

Recorded fMRI scans of the subjects' brains, taken while they made their decisions, suggested that different brain areas represent one's own and others' interests. Self-oriented values correlated with activity in the ventral striatum, an area linked to basic reward processing. Other-oriented values correlated with activation of the temporoparietal junction, which has been implicated in empathy. Hutcherson believes this is evidence that people are more likely to give away resources if they already have in mind how their donation will benefit someone else.

The study also indicates that self-control may be less of a factor in altruistic decision making than previously thought. Rather, the more one considers the well-being of another, the easier it is to behave generously. Alternatively, the more one focuses on one's own well-being, the more difficult altruistic choices become.

"Our data show that the sense of gratification from acting generously comes from knowing that you only had to give up a little bit to help someone else a lot," Hutcherson says. "If we can highlight the utility of an action that is fairly trivial for ourselves—for example, the notion that for the price of a cup of coffee you can help a starving child—the model predicts that people will be more likely to behave generously. But if you have to give up a lot to give another person only a small benefit, that's not so motivating. The satisfaction to the giver has to be worth the sacrifice."

Hutcherson notes that such research may help to reveal how people can be encouraged to act more often in the interest of others and may have broader applications in many areas of human behavior, including charitable giving, military training, and criminal rehabilitation.

The work in the paper, titled "A neurocomputational model of altruistic choice and its implications," was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Lipper Foundation.

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