Celebrating a Milestone: Women at Caltech


In 1970 Caltech opened its doors for the first time to undergraduate women. This year, Caltech celebrates the graduation of those pioneers, who went on to forge new paths across science, technology, and engineering. Join us for a special event.

Celebration of Women at Caltech (’73 through ’79)

Friday, May 16th
11:00am:  Reception
12:00pm:  Lunch


Special Guests

Tom Apostol
Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus
Physics, Math & Astronomy Division
Honorary Member of the Caltech Alumni Association

JeniJoy La Belle
Professor of English, Emeritus
Humanities & Social Sciences

Anneila Sargent (MS ’67, PhD ’77)
Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy
Vice President for Student Affairs

Annette Smith
Professor of Literature,  Emeritus
Humanities & Social Science Division



See Who's Coming!


Catch up with fellow classmates from your era and learn about their remarkable lives since graduation. Meet extraordinary young women attending Caltech today. As the event approaches, we would like to hear your story.

Share your Caltech memories with us

Scroll down and leave a comment, below.


Video: Construction of the Palomar Telescope

From the Caltech Archives: footage depicting the construction of the Palomar Observatory.

The Universe from Palomar, 1967

This first film, produced two decades after the opening of the observatory, covers the history of the telescope's construction and operation, featuring appearances by Ira Bowen (who also narrates), Edwin Hubble, Milton Humason, and Bruce Rule, plus additional voice-overs by George McCauley and Melvin Johnson.


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Original Footage

The above film drew extensively on this archival 16mm footage taken during the construction. 


For more on this and other treasures, visit the Caltech Archives.

JPL: Ranger Impact Limiter

Ranger Impact Limiter — Photograph number 292-41A

Ranger Impact Limiter — Photograph number 292-41A

From JPL's Slice of History Blog | Julie Cooper

This photo was taken in November 1960 to show the lightweight balsa wood impact limiter that was to be used in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ranger Block II spacecraft design (Rangers 3, 4, and 5). The woman holding the sphere is Systems Design secretary Pat McKibben. The sphere was 65 cm in diameter, and it surrounded a transmitter and a seismometer instrument that was designed by the Caltech Seismological Laboratory. The sphere would separate from the spacecraft shortly before impact and survive the rough landing on the moon. The capsule was also vacuum-filled with a protective fluid to reduce movement during impact. After landing, the instrument was to float to an upright position, then the fluid would be drained out so it could settle and switch on.

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The Feynman Lectures on Physics

In the 2013 issue of Nature, Rob Phillips celebrates Feynman's seminal series as it nears its 50th anniversary.


Over the past three decades, I have asked hundreds of people to name the five or ten books that have meant the most to them. Although Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tops the list, The Feynman Lectures on Physics is the science title most often cited. That may say something about the kind of readers I talk to, but it is an accurate reflection of the broad reach of this half-century-old scientific classic.

The book was based on a course the Nobel- prizewinning theoretical physicist and polymath Richard Feynman taught from 1961 to 1963, in an attempt to reinvigorate ‘freshman physics’ at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. In 1964, the course was published as the three-volume The Feynman Lectures on Physics, by Feynman and fellow physicists Matthew Sands and Robert Leighton. With his lectures, Feynman joined a long tradition of famed physicists — such as Max Planck, Arnold Sommerfeld, Wolfgang Pauli and Lev Landau — providing personal grand vistas. Unlike those, Feynman’s vista is ‘elementary’ and joyous — a joy deeply magnified in the audio version.

Feynman’s physics is about simplicity, beauty, unity and analogy, presented with enthusiasm and insight that bursts from the page.

What makes these lectures timeless? Elementary physics has been taught to undergraduates for nearly a century with relatively little change. Over the past 50 years the subject has been even more static. Textbooks and introductory courses have largely targeted those planning to study medicine and engineers with a focus on formulaic problem-solving and exam preparation, rather than cultivating a wonder for nature and the development of physical intuition.

Superficially, Feynman’s primer touches on the same topics that others do: mechanics, thermodynamics, optics, electricity and magnetism, and modern physics. Beneath this veneer of common cause, his introduction to elementary physics seems to have higher aspirations — the love of nature and a grasp of it through experimentation and reasoning. In Feynman’s hands, even a topic as mundane as projectile motion becomes the story of how Galileo and Newton unlocked the secrets of planetary motion. Feynman’s physics is about simplicity, beauty, unity and analogy, presented with enthusiasm and insight that bursts from the page.

He works this magic even in areas often thought to be the most boring parts of the curriculum. For example, his fascination with the way that Newton's second law of motion, F = ma, can describe the motions of large, composite objects such as galaxies leads intuitively to the profound idea of the centre of mass. Feynman also repeatedly appeals to 'variational' principles based on minimizing quantities such as travel time (pictured). This is seen nowhere more impressively than in the way he develops optics by thinking about the transit of light rays as they pass through various media, whether lenses or the atmosphere. These same ideas return in his treatment of the elliptical motions of planets. When talking about Brownian motion (the random movement of particles in a gas or liquid as they collide with molecules of that medium), he elegantly teaches us the fluctuation–dissipation theorem, which relates how rapidly particles diffuse to the drag force they experience, without ever naming it as such. And he similarly provides an advanced but accessible introduction to elasticity — the likes of which, unfortunately, advanced physics students rarely see even now.

Full Article on Nature.com (requires login) »

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Rob Phillips, Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology
Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature, 2013

Bob's "Big Boy" Finds Some New Friends

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 9.06.19 AM.png

From Legends of Caltech, Vol. 1

If you've ever looked around southern California for a place to eat, you've seen him. You can't possibly have missed him. An obese little kid with red-checked suspender pants that are too long. Wears his hair like Ronald Reagan (both tend to use too much grease). And, Statue-of-Liberty-style, he holds aloft the reason for his oblate physique: a lone Bob's hamburger (with cheese, no fries). Yes, we're talking about "Big Boy."

Over the years, countless Techers have journeyed to the residence of Big Boy known as "Far Bob's" (in east Pasadena on Colorado Boulevard). (By the way, nobody ever went to "Near Bob's"—on Colorado Boulevard near PCC—but there's also nobody who can tell you why.) But in the fall of 1958, a quartet from Fleming House realized that, for all their treks to Far Bob's, Big Boy had never once come to see them. So, to the Fleming House Quadruple Alliance (Bruce Allesina '59, Bob Pailthorp '59, Kirk Polson '59, and Gordon Hughes '59), the mission was clear: Kidnap Big Boy from Far Bob's.

A ransom note demanding 10,000 hamburgers for his safe return was left behind.

At first cut, it looked like a fairly straightforward operation. They took Nelson Byrnes' trailer over to the restaurant at 2:00 a.m. and waited in the parking lot. However, after several hours of waiting, they realized that the place never really closed. After the cleaning crew left, the delivery trucks started arriving. 

So, secure in their faith that you can get away with just about anything if you look official enough while you're doing it, our men unbolted the Big Boy statue anyway and drove off with him. A ransom note demanding 10,000 hamburgers for his safe return was left behind. 

The morning manager of Far Bob's was neither impressed nor snowed, and it took him only milliseconds to figure out where his little kid was. He was dutifully returned. Big Boy is shown in the photo standing in Fleming courtyard and saying goodbye to all of his new-found friends before returning to his usual place of employment.