Caltech Closes Out Another Winning (Academic) Season

Published : Wednesday, December 18, 2019 | 6:48 AM

It’s been a good year at the California Institute of Technology, which is a lot like saying it has been a good year for the New England Patriots.

When the Princeton Review released its annual list of the best U.S. colleges, Caltech made the cut again, ranking first in the “Best Value Colleges” category, first in “Students Study Most” category, second in “Best Career Placement,’ fourth in “Best Science Labs,” and fifth in “Best Value Colleges Without Aid.”

Caltech finished at No. 12 in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities ranking for 2020, tying it with Dartmouth College, a solid citizen of Old Ivy.

But when asked about its greatest achievements for 2019, and Caltech being Caltech, none of the above journalistic conventions were mentioned, rather research and advances in knowledge.

A list provided by Caltech’s senior media relations manager Deborah Williams-Hedges began with, you got it, publication of a student/faculty study in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,” Nov. 18 edition.

The study was done by Chris Roh and his advisor Mory Gharib, and it “discovered about the potentially unique way that bees navigate the interface between water and air,” according to Caltech’s web site

The pair found that a bee landing on water loses its ability to fly, but that the water creates a stickiness on the wings allowing the bee to “drag water creating waves that propel it,” according to Caltech.

Next up was a $750 million pledge in support of environmental sustainability research made by entrepreneur/philanthropists, Stewart and Lynda Resnick. The gift was the largest in Caltech history and the second largest ever made to a U.S. academic concern.

Caltech is proud of another study’s publication, this one in the journal “Science,” on the Ridgecrest Sequence, which was the largest earthquake sequence in Southern California for some two decades.

The study revealed an interrelation between faults previously unknown and showed how the sequence added strain to a nearby fault.

Next on the list of Caltech highlights was the school’s collaboration with the City of Pasadena on the creation of a citywide fiber optic earthquake detector to map the impact of temblors “at the millimeter scale resolution,” according to Caltech.

The work will take advantage of two currently unused strands of Pasadena’s fiber optic cable that loop around the city.

Caltech can dance in the private as well as the public sector as evidenced by its teaming up with Amazon Web Services on artificial intelligence (AI). Amazon Web Services has had staff researchers in Pasadena, some hosted on campus, working on AI and the machine-learning cloud services that it offers.

“They will move off campus by the end of the academic year but remain in Pasadena,” according to Caltech, “bolstering a community that is already home to many engineers and scientists, thanks to Caltech, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and a growing number of startup companies.”

Caltech neuroscientists gained publication in the journal “Cell Reports,” with a study that entailed an investigation into the most extreme cases of epilepsy; those where half a patient’s brain is removed.

Such “hemispherectomies” are rare, but the neuroscientists were able to study six cases and gain new insights into how the human brain adapts to extreme changes. Most were operated on as children to relieve unrelenting seizures yet, as adults, possess basic motor, language, and cognitive skills.

Avid readers of Pasadena Now will likely recall a number of other discoveries and accomplishments reported in this publication which were made by Caltech faculty and researchers in 2019.

Undoubtedly, 2020 will open a new decade of ground-breaking work at Caltech.

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