Issue 6: August 2018

Instructions Not Included

When you embark on the never-been-done-before, there is no instruction manual to tell you how to succeed. At Caltech, we know it takes an abundance of creativity.

Explore how Caltech people are forging their own paths.


A Quantum Life

Juan Felipe Gomez doesn’t always operate under the old rules. If he did, this physics major wouldn’t be exploring the quantum mechanical nature of materials right now. He wouldn’t be friends with the kitchen staff at Chandler Café. In fact, he wouldn’t be attending Caltech.


Human + Artificial Intelligence

Caltech trustee, venture capitalist, and donor Walter Kortschak (MS ’82) has a vision for how to build the artificially intelligent future, and it starts with empowering Caltech graduate students to follow their imaginations. In this video, he trades ideas with the first three students to be named Kortschak Scholars.


Unleashing Creativity

How do they do it? We asked members of the Caltech community to describe their creative process and tell us what inspires them.

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Caltech graduate student and experimental physicist Jamie Rankin
Kimberly See, a Caltech assistant professor of chemistry
Caltech bioengineering and computer science undergraduate student Ramya Deshpande

Know the Rules, Then Break Them

“Creativity is about understanding the rules first. In science, if you ignore accepted theories you have random numbers. In music, if you disregard harmonics you get noise. Whether I’m analyzing interstellar data from Voyager, building a particle instrument that will visit the sun, or penning a musical composition, I begin with established knowledge. You need to understand the boundaries before you can push and play with them.” -Jamie Rankin, physics graduate student and member of the Caltech Orchestra and Caltech-Occidental Wind Orchestra

Offline and Outdoors

“As a new professor, I want to carve out my own research niche. I often take my laptop offline, go outside, and start writing my thoughts. I’ll usually have loud music playing through headphones to keep me focused. To make contributions in science that are not just iterative, you need time to think isolated from the outside world. Hiking is another way I like to unplug and work through ideas.” -Kimberly See, assistant professor of chemistry

Inspiration from Everyday Interactions

“As an applied researcher in the social sciences, I have the goal of identifying the true motivations behind people’s choices. Creativity for me is the process of using various methods and techniques from different disciplines to inform my analysis. Observing how politicians interact with others is a particularly interesting study in complex human behavior.” –Gabriel Lopez-Moctezuma, assistant professor of political science

In Nature and in the Moment

“I am intentional about creativity, and I cultivate it through writing, isolation, and observation. Of these, I work hard on being a keen observer and trying not to take everyday occurrences for granted. Watching a bird dive and catch fish is inspiring. Knowing that there are 40 species of cormorant birds but only one is flightless gives me a sense of awe. Life is mysterious and beautiful.” -Rob Phillips, the Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics, Biology, and Physics

A Community of Creatives

“When I can move past the imposter syndrome I sometimes have, I find that other Caltech undergrads make me more creative. I like hearing how they’re approaching their SURF projects or learning about their unique career goals. Where I once sought the clearly defined path, I am now more comfortable with the messy problems and the untraditional ideas. More and more, I’m seeking different viewpoints.” -Ramya Deshpande, bioengineering undergrad