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2020-21 Academic Year Welcome

September 21, 2020

To: The Caltech Community
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics
Date: September 21, 2020
Re: 2020-21 Academic Year Welcome

As I write these words on the east edge of campus, the sun is glowing an eerie pink, rising above the horizon. The atmosphere has a yellow cast; shadows are tinged blue. You can taste the smoke in the air and feel the burn in your lungs from the wildfires raging across California.

The effects of climate change are palpable this morning. As Earth's atmosphere heats, unlikely events become more likely—more virulent fires on the West Coast, more powerful hurricanes on the East and Gulf Coasts—threatening lives and homes and livelihoods.

At the same time, we are weathering the whirlwind of the coronavirus pandemic. We start this academic year dispersed as a community. Classes are virtual and gatherings are restricted.

Hardly an uplifting picture to welcome you to academic year 2020-2021. Yet… it is a time of enormous opportunity. The role that Caltech can play, that Caltech must play, in the world has never been more vital. Science has never been more important. Society has never depended more on fundamental understanding of complex, linked processes, and the systems engineering that can be harnessed for warning, for prediction, for mitigation, and for cures.

We have the tools of discovery at our fingertips. We have the fearless researchers who can make a difference. We have a commitment to data-driven inquiry, a belief in the primacy of truth, a shared mission that animates purpose, and a sense of community that can overcome distance and separation. We must expand our community to welcome scholars of every background and perspective, connecting to every part of our nation and the world. We need to reach out and cultivate a scientific sensibility in society at large. We know that a deep understanding of Nature can be translated into technologies that improve people's lives.

Jonas Salk, on receiving the inaugural Congressional Medal for Distinguished Civilian Achievement in 1956, declared: "I feel that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more." We are fortunate to have the opportunity to do more together at a critical juncture. I look forward to a rewarding year.