The Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award
The Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor the Institute bestows upon a graduate, and is in recognition of "a particular achievement of noteworthy value, a series of such achievements, or a career of noteworthy accomplishment."
A living alumnus or alumna who has attained any degree (B.S., M.S., Engineer's, or Ph.D.) at Caltech or Throop Institute may be considered eligible for this award. Graduates who currently are on the faculty or staff of Caltech are not eligible, with the exception of those who have achieved the rank of Emeritus/a Professor. Members of the Institute Board of Trustees are not eligible until they have achieved the rank of Life Trustee. Selections are made by the President of Caltech based on recommendations from a committee comprising faculty, staff, and alumni; the President’s recommendations are confirmed by the Board of Trustees.
Since the award's inception in 1966, Caltech has recognized a total of 256 alumni as standouts in science, engineering, business and the arts.
Recent Distinguished Alumni Award REcipients
(BS ’83, Physics)
For his groundbreaking contributions to microscopy. Betzig pioneered a method known as single-molecule microscopy, or “nanoscopy,” which allows cellular structures at the nanoscale to be observed using an optical microscope, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014.
Janet C. Campagna
(MS ’85, Social Science)
For her contributions to quantitative investment and for her leadership in the financial industry. Campagna is the founder of QS Investors, a leading customized solutions and global quantitative equities provider. She is responsible for all business, strategic, and investment decisions within the investment-management firm.
(PhD ’82, Physics)
For his scientific leadership in the study of gamma-ray bursts as well as for his significant contributions to high-energy astrophysics, infrared astronomy, and instrument development.
Carl V. Larson
(BS ’52, Mechanical Engineering)
For his accomplished career in the electronics industry. Over the course of three decades, Larson held numerous and diverse leadership roles in fields ranging from engineering to marketing. Larson is also being celebrated for his sustained commitment to the research, students, and alumni of Caltech.
Thomas (Tim) J. Litle IV
(BS ’62, Engineering and Applied Science)
For his revolutionary contributions to commerce. Through innovations such as the presorted mail program developed for the U.S. Postal Service and the three-digit security codes on credit cards, Litle has made global business more efficient and secure.
Ellen D. Williams
(PhD ’82, Chemistry)
Director, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)
For her sustained record of innovation and achievement in the area of structural-surface physics. She founded the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the University of Maryland and was the chief scientist for BP. She now serves as director of the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA-E) in the U.S. Department of Energy.
(MS ’95, PhD ’96, Mathematics)
Professor of Mathematics, University of Geneva; Director of SwissMAP, National Centre of Competence in Research
For his achievements in mathematics, particularly in statistical physics. Smirnov produced the first rigorous proofs of conformal invariance in lattice models, a discovery that has opened new directions in probability theory.
(BS ’89, Biology, Chemistry)
Katharine Dexter McCormick and Stanley McCormick Memorial Professor; Professor and Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology, Stanford University
For her contributions to the development of new radiotherapy-treatment paradigms for cancer of the head, neck, and lungs, and for her leadership in medicine on prominent national panels and as chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Stanford University.
David D. Ho
(BS ’74, Biology)
Director and Chief Executive Officer, Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center; Irene Diamond Professor, The Rockefeller University
For his positive impact on human health, elucidating the dynamic nature of HIV replication in infected persons and forming the foundation for combination antiretroviral therapy, which has led to reductions in AIDS-associated mortality.
(BS ’62, Physics)
Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, Caltech
For his contributions to gravitational physics and astrophysics; his mentorship of physics students, many of whom have become leaders in their fields; and for helping to increase the awareness of science through books and film.