We have a dorm cat named Heisenberg in the alley I’m living in for the summer. (She’s a female cat though.) Apparently all the kittens in her litter were named after famous scientists. Her namesake, Werner Heisenberg, is possibly best known for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. Chemistry 1a, a core class for freshmen, introduces this principle, and one of the core physics classes I’m taking next year will include an introduction to quantum mechanics.
From what upperclassmen have said, Heisenberg (the cat) is at least 19 years old, though no one is completely certain exactly how old she is. Heisenberg was born in Ricketts House, and then somehow ended up living in Alley 7 in Dabney. Since she’s so old, Heisenberg walks a little funny and generally isn’t that active. She has a litter box and food bowl at one end of Alley 7, and it’s a designated house job to take care of Heisenberg. Generally Heisenberg is the most alert when people are eating, and just sits there in the kitchen hoping for food with big eyes, kind of like the cat Puss in Boots in Shrek 2 except not quite as cute.
Since I’m usually in my room for most of the day when everyone else is at JPL or in lab, Heisenberg likes to come into my room and clean herself or fall asleep. Once inside, she rarely wants to leave, and it’s actually quite difficult to get her out of my room since she doesn’t like to be picked up. Nudging her usually makes her fall over and start licking herself again. Eventually, I decided to put up a piece of cardboard outside my door called a “Heisey-barrier” (Heisenberg has a lot of nicknames, including “Heisey”, “Heisen-cat”, and “kitty”) when I wanted her to stay out.
Heisenberg likes coming into my room.
Although Heisenberg can climb stairs, she almost never leaves Alley 7 except to go to the vet. From other people, I've only heard of her leaving Alley 7 by herself once during a vacation/break when barely anyone was around (she climbed down all the stairs to the rest of Dabney before someone put her back). Even though Heisenberg often pretends to ignore us, she actually tends to get lonely during the summer and vacation when less people are around. Sometimes she'll just sit and let us pet her, and it's always nice to have Heisenberg's company and see her wandering around Alley 7 all day.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.