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California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology (commonly known as Caltech) is a private, coeducational university located in Pasadena, California, in the United States. A leading research university, Caltech maintains a strong emphasis on the natural sciences and engineering. Caltech owns and operates the world-leading autonomous-space-flight complex known as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL oversees the design and operation of most of NASA's space-probes; unlike the National Laboratories and NASA's other Space Centers, JPL facilities are merely under contract to the government.



Modern Caltech grew from a vocational school founded in Pasadena in 1891 by local businessman and politician Amos G. Throop. The school was known successively as Throop University, Throop Polytechnic Institute, and Throop College of Technology, before acquiring its current name in 1920.

The driving force behind the transformation of Caltech from a school of arts and crafts to a world-class scientific center was the vision of astronomer George Ellery Hale. Hale had joined Throop's board of trustees after coming to Pasadena in 1907 as the first director of the Mount Wilson Observatory. At a time when scientific research in the United States was still in its infancy, Hale saw an opportunity to create in Pasadena an institution for serious research and education in engineering and the natural sciences. Hale succeeded in attracting private gifts of land and money that allowed him to endow the school with well-equipped, modern laboratory facilities. He then convinced two of the leading American scientists of the time, physical chemist Arthur Amos Noyes and experimental physicist Robert Andrews Millikan, to join Caltech's faculty and contribute to the project of establishing it as a center for science and technology.

Under the leadership of Hale, Noyes, and Millikan (and aided by the booming economy of Southern California), Caltech grew very significantly in prestige in the 1920's. In 1923, Millikan was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics. In 1925 the school established a department of geology and hired William Bennett Munro , then chairman of the division of History, Government, and Economics at Harvard University, to create a division of humanities and social sciences at Caltech. In 1928 a division of biology was established under the leadership of Thomas Hunt Morgan, the most distinguished biologist in the United States and a discoverer of the chromosome. In 1926 a graduate school of aeronautics was created which eventually attracted Theodore von Kármán, who later contributed to the creation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and who established Caltech as one of the foremost centers for rocket-science. In 1928 construction began on the Palomar Observatory.

Millikan served as "chairman of the executive council" (effectively Caltech's president) from 1921 to 1945, and his influence was such that the Institute was occasionally referred to as "Millikan's School." In the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's, Caltech was known as the home of arguably the two greatest theoretical particle physicists working at the time: Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman. Both Gell-Mann and Feynman received Nobel Prizes for their work, which was central to the establishment of the so-called "Standard Model" of particle physics. Feynman was also widely known outside the physics community as an exceptional teacher and a colorful, unconventional character.

Caltech remains, to this day, a relatively small university, with approximately 900 undergraduates, 1,200 graduate students, and 915 faculty members (including professors, permanent research faculty, and postdoctoral researchers.)

The movie comedy Real Genius was loosely based on events at Caltech. [1]

Student life

House system

See main article: House System at Caltech

During the early 20th century, a Caltech committee visited several universities and decided to transform the undergraduate housing system from regular fraternities to a House System, similar to the residential college system of Oxford and Cambridge. Four (south) houses (or hovses, so named for the inscription on the gates thereof) were built: Blacker House, Dabney House, Fleming House, and Ricketts House. In the late 20th century, three north houses were built: Lloyd House, Page House, and Ruddock House. During the 1990s, an additional house, Avery House, was built to accommodate those who feel the original seven houses were not suitable for them. Some students jocularly refer to the Undergraduate Computer Science Laboratory as another house, as a few spend most of their time there. The four south houses will be closed for renovation during the 20052006 school year.


There are many annual traditions at Caltech, demonstrating the weird and wonderful creativity of its inhabitants. Every Halloween there is a pumpkin drop from the top of the Millikan Library, the highest point on campus, where the frozen pumpkin supposedly flashes as it hits the ground. And then there is the annual Ditch Day, where seniors ditch school but design elaborate tasks and traps at the doors of their rooms to prevent underclassmen from entering. This has evolved to the point where many seniors spend months designing mechanical/electrical/software obstacles in order to confound the underclassmen. The faculty has been drawn into the event as well, and cancel all classes on Ditch Day so that the underclassmen can participate in what has become a highlight of the year.

Another tradition was the playing of the Ride of the Valkyries at 7 AM the morning of finals week with the largest speakers available in the hallway of the freshmen. The playing of that piece is not allowed at any other time, and any offender is dragged off into the showers to be drenched in cold water fully dressed. The playing of the Ride is such a strong tradition that the music was used during Apollo 17 to awaken Astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the only astronaut-scientist to explore the moon.

Caltech students have been known for the many pranks (also known as RF's) they have pulled off in the area. The two most famous are the changing of the Hollywood sign to read Caltech, by judiciously covering up certain parts of the letters, and the changing of the Rose Bowl scoreboard to an imaginary game where Caltech soundly trounced MIT. In fact, competition between Caltech and MIT is very fierce, with pranks often being exchanged, and T-Shirts sold at each meant to demean the other. In fact, a group of Caltech students, during the admitted students program at MIT in 2005, pulled a string of pranks, including covering up the word Massachusetts in the "Massachusetts Institute of Technology" sign on top of the library, so that it read "That Other Institute of Technology".

Honor Code

Another unique feature of the Caltech community is the Honor Code, which states simply: "No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community." This is enforced by a Board of Control, consisting of members of the community.[2]

Noted alumni

Noted faculty

External links


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