83rd Annual Seminar Day

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2020
9 AM – 3 PM PT

About Seminar Day

Caltech’s 87th Annual Seminar Day, held on May 18, 2024, was an event to remember. Alumni and their guests, alongside faculty, current students, staff, and donors gathered in Beckman Auditorium to hear faculty from each division share cutting-edge research, and graduate students share thesis pitches in a rapid-fire format. 

More than 400 guests attended in person, a 44% increase from 2023, with nearly 100 more connecting virtually to the livestream.

Among 400 live participants were Alex Petruncola, MS (BS ’73), and his wife, Roxanne, who have come to many Seminar Days, including as ushers from 1971 to 1973. 

“Alex and I really enjoyed your current Seminar Day format,” Roxanne said.  “We also enjoyed the music at Saturday's lunch, the lab tours and all the attention to even the smallest of details. We look forward to seeing you again next year.”

The also day included the official announcements of the recipients of the 2024 Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize and the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Awards.

Though Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum, the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics, was traveling, he greeted the audience with a pre-recorded welcome from his laboratory. 

“The English poet William Blake in typical mystical fashion observed that the universe has many things that are known and many things that are unknown, and there are doors that connect them,” he said. “That’s what today is all about, opening those doors. Making those connections, not only in terms of the known and the unknown, but between people. All of you share a marvelous heritage, being graduates and friends of Caltech. We are so pleased that you are back on campus, and grateful that you are keeping the Caltech spirit flourishing.” 

Sponsored by Alumni Relations, Seminar Day has a become a cross-generational experience for many Techer families.

“My father would bring my sister and me, and frankly we fidgeted the whole time,” said Sandra Tsing Loh (BS ’83, DAA ’01), who hosted the event for the fourth consecutive year, “but look at me now!”

Brian M. Stoltz, Caltech’s Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry and a Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator, kicked the lectures off with “Advancing Nature’s Pharmacy: From Lab Bench to Life-Saving Medicine.” Using synthetic chemistry to enhance nature’s “miracle” molecules, this groundbreaking work may someday enable cures for diseases from HIV to cancer and antibiotic resistance.

Assistant Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering Zhen Chen spoke about flagella, the microscopic whips that encircle cells and without which life would break down.

A session led by Pietro Perona, the Allen E. Puckett Professor of Electrical Engineering, “Smart Solutions for Nature: AI-Powered Conservation,” examined potential uses of artificial intelligence to help humans be better stewards of nature.

In “Earth’s Evolution Unveiled: Learning from the Core-Mantle Boundary,” Jennifer M. Jackson, the William E. Leonhard Professor of Mineral Physics, discussed the layer separating Earth’s liquid metallic outer core from the overlying silicate-rich mantle, and its connection to everything from magnetic fields to the planet’s evolution.

Kirby Nielsen, professor of economics and a William H. Hurt Scholar, posed the question “What is Rational Decision-Making?” using tools from economics, psychology, and biology to explore how humans make decisions.

Rounding out the day, in “Measuring the Structure of the Universe,” Vikram Ravi, assistant professor of astronomy, drew on a decade’s worth of data from the Caltech-operated Owens Valley Radio Observatory to examine the 84% of the cosmos that’s in complete darkness.

Outside of Beckman Auditorium, participants were able to get up close and personal with pioneering research by taking tours of the Kavli Nanoscience Lab; the Dabiri Lab, which works at the intersection of fluid mechanics, energy and environment, and biology; the Dickinson Lab, which looks at the neural and biomechanical basis of behavior; the Biophotonics Laboratory; and the Demirer Lab’s work in bioengineering. Guests also rediscovered Caltech on campus tours. 

Seminar Day was the culmination of a week of activities for the Techer community, including Senior Celebrations, hosted by President Thomas F. Rosenbaum and Professor Katherine T. Faber at their residence; Half Century Club activities, including a 50th year celebration for the Class of 1974; and a luncheon honoring the women of the Class of 1974, the first female undergraduates to attend all four years at Caltech.