When I was choosing a college, there was one aspect of Caltech which I could not get out my head. It wasn’t its rigorous academics, its world-renowned research, or even its number one rank by Times Higher Education. In fact, the strongest pull I felt from Caltech had nothing to do with education at all. I was in love with the plants.
I visited Caltech in the spring, when the orange trees lining the walkway by the South Houses are laden with fruit and fill the air with a delicate perfume, when purple blossoms dangle like grapes from the wisteria vines covering the archways around Millikan Library, and fluffy layers peel from the peach-skinned trunks of gum trees towering into the electric blue sky. A year later, everything is blooming again, so let’s take a tour.
We’ll start in the southwest corner of campus, bounded by East California Boulevard and Wilson Avenue. Walking up Wilson, we’ll soon have a direct view of Millikan Library on our right. It’s the tallest building in Pasadena, but only two of the nine floors of this “library” actually store books. Heading towards it, we’ll walk between two archways covered with wisteria. Entwined with each other and clinging to the stucco walls, the wisteria vines blindly grope for support in the sky.
Just around Millikan Library, we’ll be met with roses erupting in a volcano of color.
We’ll continue east, past the turtle pond and the real library, Sherman Fairchild, until we arrive on the Olive Walk. Once upon a time, some students made olive oil from the trees along this path. I think some can be bought today. Our next stop is the Orange Walk, Caltech’s own orange grove. Most of the fruit here will make you pucker, but the first tree on the right produces yellow-skinned citrus that’s mildly sweet—and may actually be grapefruit.
Beside the Orange Walk is the block of South Houses, with Fleming and Dabney alongside one row of trees. We’ll turn left, passing the North Houses and then Chandler Café, and stop in front of Jorgenson Laboratory, which houses the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. Outside, lavender flowers sway on soft, gray-green stems.
We’ll go left again here and head back across campus to our last stop, the lily pond. As we pass Sherman Fairchild Library again, we’ll catch a glimpse of the turtle pond on the other side. Now imagine one of those turtles crawling all the way over to us and continuing for the remaining hundred meters to the lily pond—or don’t, because it’s actually happened. Who knows how the turtles found it so far from their home, or how they got past its raised concrete walls.
This concludes our tour—hope it gave you a feel for campus!
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
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.