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2021-22 Academic Year Welcome

September 27, 2021

To: The Caltech Community
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics
Date: September 27, 2021
Re: 2021-22 Academic Year Welcome

"By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it."
— Franz Kafka

There is enormous energy and excitement on campus as summer programs wrap up and fall term begins. The undergraduate residences are once again full of life, classrooms (some newly sprung outdoors) are open for instruction, and graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff are back in their offices. Long discussions over cups of coffee at the Red Door, serendipitous encounters with old friends and ones to be, and the exchange of ideas that lead to new collaborations, remind us of the joys of an environment where we share a passion for discovery.

At the same time, we cannot forget that the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic still crosses our paths. With care, with concern for the more vulnerable members of our community, with commitment to mask and vaccine mandates, we will continue to push forward. We have a responsibility to each other, and to the Institute's research and educational mission, to do this right. 

The interlocking nature of the Caltech community, evidenced by our shared passions and our shared responsibilities, is an essential ingredient for success. As John Bardeen noted in typical understated and direct terms in his 1972 Nobel Prize banquet speech: "Science is a collaborative effort. The combined results of several people working together are often much more effective than could be that of an individual scientist working alone." Bardeen knew well the impact that can be realized through science and technology in the company of colleagues. He was a Laureate in Physics twice over, once for the invention of the point contact transistor with Bell Laboratories colleagues Walter Brattain and William Shockley, and once for the theory of superconductivity with his postdoc Leon Cooper and student Bob Schrieffer. (He also averred that his proudest accomplishment was a hole-in-one playing golf!)

We must never take for granted the easy and open collaborations that characterize the Caltech community. They require cultivation and attention. We keep the Institute's core efforts compact—aiming to get better, not bigger—to ensure easy access to people and facilities. We have a culture that values formal and informal interactions across the disciplines. Have a question of your professor, a research project that demands the expertise of a colleague, a pressing concern that one of our dedicated staff members can allay, and their door will be open. Individuals melding different approaches, backgrounds, and perspectives have a definitive advantage in framing and grappling with the most consequential scientific and engineering problems of the day.

This fall term is sure to have its challenges. We have the unusual situation that half of our undergraduate student body is only now being introduced to campus. Many international students and postdocs were unable to access the U.S. in a timely fashion. Residences, classrooms, offices, and laboratories are subject to social distancing and masking requirements.

At the same time, I have every confidence that the Caltech community will pull together to surmount any obstacles. We will dream big dreams together, and we will create new pathways to scientific discovery and personal growth. Let us take full advantage of the serendipitous encounters and new collaborations that this in-person fall term has to offer.