Two Caltech Seniors Win Hertz Fellowships

The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation has selected two Caltech seniors, Kurtis Carsch and Paul Dieterle, to receive 2016 Hertz Fellowships. A total of 12 students were selected from more than 800 applicants and will receive up to five years of support for their graduate studies.

Carsch and Dieterle bring the number of Caltech undergraduate students who have received the Hertz fellowship to 62.

Kurtis Carsch, a chemistry major from Bellevue, Washington, attributes his interest in chemistry to playing with LEGO blocks at a young age—paving the way for his current focus on what he describes as "combining elements to create molecules with unprecedented properties." His work experiences at SAFCell and Honeywell UOP, as well as his research experiences at Caltech with William A. Goddard, the Charles and Mary Ferkel Professor of Chemistry, Materials Science, and Applied Physics; and professor of chemistry Theodor Agapie, have focused on the interface between experimental and theoretical chemistry. He will receive both a BS and an MS in chemistry this spring and begin his PhD work in inorganic chemistry at Harvard University in the fall, where he, inspired by multimetallic enzymes in biology, will study the manipulation of chemical bonds by multiple metal centers. Carsch is also a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Paul Dieterle is a senior in applied physics from Albuquerque, New Mexico. While attending high school in Madison, Wisconsin, Dieterle discovered a passion for physics, as well as for rock climbing and creative writing. At Caltech, he has worked and studied under the guidance of Oskar Painter, the John G. Braun Professor of Applied Physics and Fletcher Jones Foundation Co-Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute; professor of physics Maria Spiropulu, professor of applied physics Keith Schwab, and the late professor Tom Tombrello. His research focuses on the physics of superconducting quantum circuits, photon-phonon interactions, and many-body interactions. In the long term, he says, he aims to "construct integrated quantum systems to explore both fundamental and application-oriented physics." Dieterle will also attend Harvard University in the fall, pursuing a PhD in quantum physics.

According to the Hertz Foundation, fellows are chosen for their intellect, their ingenuity, and their potential to bring meaningful improvement to society. "Following in the footsteps of Hertz Fellows who have come before them, these young men and women will utilize this fellowship to pursue work that will have a tremendous impact on the future of our country and society as a whole," said Robbee Baker Kosak, Hertz Foundation president, in a statement.

Since 1963, the Hertz Foundation has awarded fellowships to students they describe as "the best and brightest" from the fields of science and engineering. The highly competitive selection process for the Hertz Fellowship includes a comprehensive written application, four references, and two rounds of technical interviews. 

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Two Caltech Seniors Win Hertz Fellowships
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Kurtis Carsch and Paul Dieterle have been selected to receive Hertz Fellowships.

STEM Olympians Come to Campus

One thousand of Southern California's brightest middle- and high-school students came to Caltech this past Saturday as the Institute hosted the Southern California finals of a nationwide science and engineering competition. Caltech students from across campus seized the opportunity to show off the Institute, to demonstrate Caltech's commitment to K-12 educational outreach, and participate in a program designed to help students start their careers in science and technology.

Science Olympiad, one of the country's premier science competitions, has been fostering student interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields since the 1980s. Each year, tens of thousands of elementary-, middle-, and high-school students participate in regional meets, with the latter two groups advancing to the state and national levels. Tournaments consist of multiple events that involve laboratory investigation, hands-on engineering, or a written test.

Caltech's involvement with Science Olympiad dates back to 2004: hosting coaches' workshops, designing and scoring regional and state tournaments, and supporting practice competitions. (Observant viewers of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory—much of which purportedly takes place at Caltech—can spot a Science Olympiad brochure on a cafeteria wall in two recent episodes.) But last Saturday was the first time the campus has hosted a meet.

The tournament involved 17 campus buildings and 46 events. Sixty teams, each the winner of a regional competition, chose from among physiology, hydrogeology, protein modeling, and other subjects atypical of the standard pre-college curriculum.

To provide logistical support, Caltech Science Olympiad Club copresidents Nick Trank, a sophomore, and Tony Zhang, a senior, assembled a group of roughly 150 volunteers. "Most were Techers," says Trank, "but some came from UCLA, USC, and other schools." The Caltech Y, which has supported Science Olympiad in recent years through its Make-A-Difference Day, provided volunteers in connection with its centennial celebration. And more than a few walk-ons turned up. "Caltech students and alumni are really into events like this," says sophomore Stephanie Gu, "and this was a local event, so we got a lot more volunteers than we usually do."

One non-local volunteer was former competitor (and Caltech Prank Club president) Julie Jester (BS '14), who flew in from France just for the event. "There was no way I was missing [Science Olympiad at Caltech] after working so hard to get it there," she says. "Science Olympiad is the reason I decided that I wanted to become an engineer."

Sophomore Tiffany Zhang and junior Tyler Okamoto were kept busy coordinating events, while Gu's responsibilities included scorer support. "Scoring can be challenging," she says. "A written test with an answer key, like the Disease Detectives event, might take a few hours to score. But Experimental Design, an engineering event, took six."

The overall winner of the Division B competition (middle school) was Muscatel Middle School from Rosemead—their eighth state win in a row—and the overall winner of the Division C competition (high school) was Troy High School, a Fullerton magnet school that has won the state competition every year since 1996. Both will go on to the national finals at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in May. "Those schools have incredibly dedicated students, parents, and coaches," notes Trank. "Muscatel has hosted an invitational tournament for the past five years, and Troy has weekly after-school study sessions."

For Zhang, one of the day's greatest challenges was not connected to academics. "Most Science Olympiad awards ceremonies start late and run long," he says. "We thought hard about how to streamline ours. We watched videos from other meets and timed how long each portion took. In the end, our ceremony started a little late, but it finished early."

The ceremony opened with a pair of recorded messages. Stephen Hawking welcomed the Beckman Auditorium overflow crowd of family, friends, and locals. Then Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum expressed the Institute's gratitude at being able to host the event because "having incredibly talented young men and women on our campus doing great things is exactly what we like to see."

And what does it take to be invited to host a statewide science competition? In this case, student leaders strategized for years, then coordinated with administrators to petition the Science Olympiad national organization. "The Caltech administration was tremendously supportive," acknowledges Trank. "They've been as excited as we are." In the future, he hopes Caltech will have the opportunity to host more statewide meets, perhaps even the nationals. "We've got great facilities. We've got great people. And what better opportunity is there to get these young students onto campus?"

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One thousand middle- and high-school students came to Caltech recently as the Institute hosted the Southern California Science Olympiad finals.

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.

Kannan Receives Fulbright Fellowship

Soumya Kannan, a senior bioengineering major, has been selected to receive a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue research and graduate study in Denmark.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government's premier scholarship program. Set up by Congress in 1946 to foster mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges, Fulbright grants enable U.S. students and artists to benefit from unique resources in every corner of the world. Each year, approximately 1,200 Americans study or conduct research in more than 150 nations through the Fulbright Program.

Kannan will be working at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) in the Department of Systems Biology, developing a mathematical model for promoter activity—promoters are a class of genetic elements that initiate transcription of a gene—in Saccaromyces cerevisiae, a species of yeast. Additionally, she will be pursuing master's coursework in bioinformatics and systems biology.

"Recent developments in the fields of systems biology and synthetic biology have greatly expanded our ability to use engineering principles to model, design, program, and control behavior of organisms at a cellular level," says Kannan. "Promoters are critical to this design process, as they drive the level at which a gene is expressed and its expression pattern over time, and thus offer control over intracellular pathways. The ability to have fine-tuned control over genetic elements leads to more effective implementation of circuits and pathways in biological systems."

Kannan has worked in the lab of Mitchell Guttman, assistant professor of biology, since her sophomore year, studying long non-coding RNA, or lncRNA, a class of regulatory molecules, first characterized by Guttman, that are involved in genome regulation and cellular organization.

Kannan, a native of Northern California, has had prior international academic experience—in the winter term of the 2014-15 academic year, she participated in Caltech's Cambridge Scholars study abroad program at the University of Cambridge. During her time at Caltech, she was a four-year member of the women's water polo team, earning the Most Valuable Player award in 2014 and 2015, as well as Academic All-SCIAC (Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) honors for those two years. Kannan has also participated as an editor and photographer for the Caltech yearbook.

"Soumya Kannan exemplifies how Caltech students can excel in academics, while also having range of activities in leadership and sports," says Lauren Stolper, the director of Fellowships Advising, Study Abroad, and the Career Development Center. "She will be an exemplar for Caltech and the U.S. during her stay in Denmark."

After her Fulbright year, Kannan will be pursuing her PhD in biological engineering at MIT.

"I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the Fulbright Fellowship to live abroad and immerse myself in a culturally new environment," Kannan says. "DTU also has a fantastic Department of Systems Biology, and I am excited to explore the research and academic opportunities at the university."

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Soumya Kannan, a senior bioengineering major, has been selected to receive a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue research and graduate study in Denmark.

April Fools, The Caltech Way

At Caltech, pranks are an integral part of student life. Over the years students pranked their comrades, student Houses pranked other Houses, and their witty machinations often spread outside campus.

The pranks were varied, involving furniture, vehicles, and even architecture, but all share the trademark Caltech ingenuity, and the sheer pleasure of working together to solve difficult problems. This light side of Caltech life, on par with scientific achievement, remains a highlight among the memories of many alumni.

For this year's April Fools Day, the Caltech Archives pay a photographic tribute to all the Caltech students who, over the decades, have used their creativity, imagination and hard work to explore not only the boundaries of science, but also those of humor and merriment.

—Written by Elisa Piccio

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At Caltech, pranks are an integral part of student life.

Caltech Athletics Welcomes Women's Soccer

The Caltech Athletics program is adding a women's soccer team to its roster, beginning in fall 2017. The move is both in response to direct requests from the community and a desire to further enhance the programming and services provided to an ever-more diverse community.

"The addition of this team offers current and prospective students more choice, making Caltech more appealing as a destination of choice for scholar-athletes," says Joe Shepherd, the vice president for student affairs and C. L. Kelly Johnson Professor of Aeronautics and Mechanical Engineering.

Caltech currently fields 19 varsity teams, including men's and women's basketball, cross-country, fencing, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and water polo, as well as women's volleyball and men's baseball and soccer. The teams, which draw players from approximately 20 percent of the student body, compete as members of the NCAA Division III and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC). Caltech is the only institution in the SCIAC that does not currently sponsor women's soccer. Over 97 percent of all schools in Division III sponsor women's soccer, with over 10,000 women competing across the country—the highest female participation rate of any sport in Division III.

"I am thrilled to be able to provide this opportunity for the young women who are already enrolled at Caltech and who will be looking to join the campus in future years," says Betsy Mitchell, Caltech's director of athletics, physical education, and recreation. "Women's soccer is one of the fastest growing sports, both nationally and internationally."

At Caltech, female undergraduates are currently eligible to play on the men's soccer team, and, as Mitchell notes, women have played on the team every season since she arrived on campus in 2011. Additionally, Caltech Athletics has previously sponsored women's soccer at the club level.

The decision to create an independent team for these and other female scholar-athletes and to provide them with an opportunity to compete at a collegiate level on a par with many of their colleagues was carefully considered, she said. Factoring into the administration's final decision was the strong interest in the sport both on campus and in the world at large, as well as the availability of field space and a convenient season of competition, among other things. Women's soccer will be the first new addition of a varsity team to the department since women's water polo was added in 2003.

The first step in establishing the women's soccer team will take place this spring, when Athletics plans to hire a coach to build the program while also teaching physical education classes (as does each coach at Caltech). In the fall of 2017, the team will begin play, but with a reduced schedule—likely eight games, one with each team in the conference.

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The Caltech Athletics program is adding a women's soccer team to its roster, beginning in fall 2017.

Celebrating Pi Day 2016

Today's the day to grab a big piece of π.

In celebration of International Pi Day, March 14, the Caltech community honored the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter with its annual pie-eating event at 1:59 a.m. at the Olive Walk, where 26 each of five different flavors of pie were served (pictured at right). This year, the Caltech bookstore is also in on the action with a Pi Day sale. In previous years, festivities have included building a paper chain with the digits of pi on it and a Pi Day Collage.

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Seeking a Balanced Equation

In the most recent issue of E&S magazine we feature a handful of the more than 1,200 graduate students at Caltech who are creating and discovering new knowledge as they train to become scientific researchers.

Read more on the E&S website about their work building autonomous underwater vehicles and studying supernovae, performing musical spoofs and creating bike-share programs, mentoring women in STEM and playing for Caltech's cricket club.

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Graduate students talk about the work they love and the campus activities that round out their lives.

A Bold Enterprise

Grant Remmen, a graduate student in theoretical physics at Caltech, and his younger brother, Cole, who majors in theater arts at the University of Minnesota, have long shared a passion for musical theater. For years, they had discussed creating their own work, including songs, lyrics, and script.

Seeking inspiration, Grant, whose work at Caltech involves high-energy physics related to gravity, turned to space. What he found, besides the actual universe, was a version represented by the Star Trek television series of the 1960s.

"The topic of Star Trek was natural for us," explains Grant. "We always loved the show." The result, entitled Boldly Go!, will have its world premiere at Ramo Auditorium on the Caltech campus February 26–28 and March 3–5, 2016. Brian Brophy, a lecturer in theater at Caltech, will direct.

The production features 19 original songs and 20 scenes. Grant describes it as a "loving parody," which he says combines affection for the material with moments of sheer irreverence. Many of the popular characters are included, such as Captain Kirk, Spock, Doctor McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov, plus new ones as well.

By design, Grant says, Boldly Go! features a variety of musical styles, "including classic musical theater, gospel, tango, indie rock, ragtime power ballad, patter song, and more."

"We did this in order to parody musical theater itself, a genre that we enjoy and with which we are very familiar," he adds.

Song titles include "Klingons are Misunderstood," "The Vulcan Way," "Dammit Jim, I'm a Doctor," and "Live Long and Prosper."

Since September 2013, when work commenced on the musical, Grant has cowritten all facets while pursuing his doctorate at Caltech under faculty advisors Clifford Cheung, assistant professor of theoretical physics, and Sean Carroll, research professor of physics.

"I'm excited about my work because understanding the high-energy behavior of gravity and the nature of space-time is arguably the ultimate question in physics," he says.

Grant remains "first, foremost, and always a scientist," and spends most of his days doing research exclusively. During the time he spent developing the musical, he allowed himself small breaks to work on the production, writing bits of dialogue and lyrics whenever possible, which he then sent to his brother for suggestions and edits. Cole did the same in return.

Over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in 2013 and 2014, while the brothers stayed at the family home in Minnesota, they spent hours each day alone together in a room, composing melodies like veteran Broadway composers.

The work on Boldly Go! also included what would be a leisure-time activity under different circumstances. To better understand the nuances of the characters, Grant viewed an estimated 500 hours of Star Trek programming, both film and television.

Watching Star Trek has been popular at Caltech since the 1960s. In January 1968, when NBC was threatening to cancel the program, a group of Caltech students protested the planned move. According to a story about the protest that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, "200 chanting, banner-waving Caltech scholars conducted a torchlight procession through the streets of Burbank to carry a protest to the steps of the National Broadcasting Company."

A national campaign succeeded; NBC renewed the series for 1968–69, before canceling it permanently.

In the spring of 2015, Brophy and Grant conducted a five-week rehearsal of Boldly Go!, which culminated in a staged reading at the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Many audience members at the event, which was sold out, wore Star Trek T-shirts. "I was overwhelmed by the reaction," says Kelvin Bates, who is playing the role of Captain Kirk.

"At its core," Grant says, "Boldly Go! is a story about being true to oneself and one's convictions, about friendship and love, about discovery and wonder, about the triumph of the individual over adversity, and about the joy of sharing with each other this vast and mysterious universe."

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Boldly Go!, a musical parody of Star Trek co-writen by graduate student Grant Remmen and his brother Cole, is having its world premiere at Caltech.

Student-Faculty Colloquium Seeks to Improve Diversity, Climate at Caltech

The Student-Faculty Colloquium (SFC) is a forum designed to bring graduate students, faculty, and the administration together to discuss issues they find important. The daylong event, planned by the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and scheduled for February 11, 2016, will begin with a keynote address by Caltech president Thomas Rosenbaum, followed by presentations on campus culture, mentoring, diversity, and work-life balance. Breakfast and lunch will be provided.

Four sessions, each led by two graduate student cochairs and at least one faculty cochair, are planned for the day. "The overwhelming enthusiasm and support of everyone we talk to—the faculty, the administration—speaks volumes to how important people at Caltech think these issues are," says SFC organizer Allison Strom, a grad student.

"What I'm most proud of is that the graduate students have involved faculty in the panels and discussions. They've made it a joint effort. It's not just the graduate students talking to the faculty; it's a dialogue," says Felicia Hunt, GSC advisor, assistant vice president for equity, accessibility, and inclusion initiatives, and Title IX coordinator. "We don't have a class on planning a conference. To be able to pick it up and run with it takes an incredible amount of initiative."

All sessions are centered on discussions for the "sharing of ideas across departments, which goes with Caltech's identity as a collaborative institution," says grad student Natalie Higgins, cochair of the session "Supporting Students through Mentoring Networks."

Grad student Emily Blythe, cochair of the session "Admissions and Recruitment," agrees. "We see the SFC as a really good way to get everyone from different options in a room together. Certainly, options are doing great things the others don't know about," says Blythe.

Students in different departments may also be facing similar problems, as "many of the issues graduate students face transcend departments," says Strom. "The challenges of being a scientist or engineer are pretty universal."

The SFC aims to address these matters by facilitating conversation and opening lines of communication among students and faculty "to create a network of people you can talk to for advice," says Higgins.

The main goals of the discussion in the mentoring networks session include making students and faculty aware of the issues that grad students face and of available resources for dealing with these issues, and attempting to fill any gaps in this system. The session will also provide information about "nonresearch mentoring—mentoring for other aspects of life," says grad student Henry Ngo, Higgins's cochair. "We're not just researchers; there are different worlds we need to seek out."

Similarly, Blythe hopes "to get a sort of best practices guide out of this to make sure everyone feels welcome at Caltech."

The admissions and recruitment session, says grad student Sofia Quinodoz, Blythe's cochair, is a good opportunity to discuss "how each option can recruit the best people." She anticipates that gradstudents sharing their experiences with professors will "show them how they can help with recruitment" by letting them know what has and has not worked at Caltech.

The session "Professional and Career Development," cochaired by grad students Parham Noorzad and Andrew Robbins, will address the development of skills necessary for navigating graduate school and future work and the preparation required to navigate the job market. These discussions are important, especially for grad students, since "just finishing your thesis is not enough to get a job; you need presentation and interview skills," says Noorzad.

Faculty at the professional and career development session will be able to offer "perspective on preparing students for different careers and to share their experiences with students, whether they have gone on to industry or academia," says Robbins.

One challenge of the GSC is "getting people who aren't interested in being student leaders involved in conversations," says Strom. "They don't have to be involved in student government to have their voices heard, so the SFC will hopefully provide them with an opportunity to do that."

Grad students Gina Duggan and Alicia Lanz are organizing a panel of students and faculty for the session "Advisor-Advisee Relationships" to address concerns identified from the Graduate Exit Survey and to answer questions about advisor/advisee styles, methods of communication, and expectations. "As graduate dean," says Doug Rees, Roscoe Gilkey Dickinson Professor of Chemistry and dean of graduate studies, "one thing I've learned is that each lab and option has its own ways of doing things. We won't find just one solution, but we'll find what the basic elements are for a happy and productive relationship."

"I am excited to hear what members of the faculty think about these issues," says Duggan, one of the student panelists. "They've all been grad students also."

Engaging students and faculty in this discussion is one of the main points of the SFC. "Now is a good time for departments; they seem more receptive and open to change," says Lanz, the panel moderator.

"What I want from the day is to give students the confidence to be able to advocate for themselves," says Strom. "With more information, they can be more confident with their identities as scientists and people and figure out what they want to do in the future."

The schedule for the day can be found on the GSC website.

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The daylong event includes a keynote address by Caltech's president followed by sessions on campus culture, mentoring, diversity, and work-life balance.

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