A New Chapter

“When I look up at the stars,” Betty Huang says, “I think about what Professor Batygin sees, and I feel excited about all there is to learn.”

Huang heard Konstantin Batygin (PhD ’12), a professor of planetary science and Van Nuys Page Scholar at Caltech, describe the hunt for Planet Nine to 120 guests at the inaugural event of the Caltech Associates’ Orange County chapter. Huang, who helped launch the new chapter, co-hosted the event with her husband, Shang-Li (S.L.) Huang (MS ’69, PhD ’76), in April 2019.

As host, even as she listened to Batygin’s presentation, Betty Huang kept her attention on the crowd. She observed rapt concentration, eyes widening in surprise, and laughter. As he talked about how Planet Nine gravitationally dominates its neighborhood of the solar system, she overheard guests murmuring, “I can really see it!”

“Professor Batygin showed us very interesting images to explain what is known about Planet Nine. Yet just as memorable are his humor and passion.”
- Betty Huang

Huang, who is a member of the Associates board and committee chair for the group’s Orange County chapter, aims to bring the thrill of science to the third most populous county in California (and sixth most in the United States). The region is home to a growing number of tech and life-sciences industries, but Huang is quick to point out, “You don’t have to be an engineer or scientist to enjoy learning about mysteries of the universe and breakthroughs in medicine and robotics.”

READ MORE: Associates-Funded Undergraduate Is Making the Most of Her Caltech Experience

Interests Intermix

Years ago, when the Huangs established a charitable family foundation to support causes they value, Betty Huang characterized herself as a devotee of the arts, and her husband as “the one who cared most about science, technology, and education.”

S.L. Huang traces his deepest friendships and his career successes, from mechanical engineering to real estate entrepreneurship, back to his years as a Caltech graduate student. He was the impetus behind the Huangs’ early gifts to Caltech. In 2001, the Huangs created the Allen Acosta Graduate Fellowship to honor S.L.’s faculty adviser and support the Institute’s mechanical and civil engineering department. In 2009, they established a second fellowship for the department.

Although Betty Huang was gratified to help support the next generation of Caltech engineers, she joined the board of directors for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and focused on raising funds for Segerstrom, South Coast Repertory, the Bowers Museum, Orange County’s Pacific Symphony, and other local performing arts organizations.

Over the years, however, the couple’s philanthropic endeavors have intertwined, and Betty’s affinity to Caltech has taken a shape of its own. “The more I pick up about science and technology, the more curious I become,” she explains.

In 2018, the Huangs contributed to Break Through: The Caltech Campaign by establishing a third fellowship in mechanical engineering and another in medical engineering. The Huangs’ gifts to Caltech, which now total more than $2.5 million, have been augmented by an additional $1 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Graduate Fellowship Match. Caltech’s long-term goal is to support all graduate students throughout their graduate studies.

“Supporting individual students has always been meaningful to me,” Betty Huang explains. “But now it is clear to me that supporting their research also helps make the world a better place. I want to reach out to the community and inspire more people to get to know what’s happening at Caltech.”

Core Curiosity

Betty Huang lights up when she recalls a presentation about gravitational waves that Caltech Nobel laureate Kip Thorne (BS ’62), the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, delivered on campus in February 2019. Her degree, she mentions, is in business management, and her professional expertise is private banking. “But even someone like me,” she emphasizes, “someone with no science background, is going to get excited when Kip Thorne talks about black holes.”

In addition to attending many lectures, the Huangs have traveled extensively with the Caltech Associates. On these trips, Betty Huang discovered that the group’s diverse interests and insights sparked her own lines of inquiry.

In 2016, S.L. and Betty Huang traveled with the Associates and Caltech professor of history Nicolás Wey Gόmez to Granada, Spain. “The itinerary of a Caltech Associates trip is totally different from that of any other tour group,” Betty Huang says. “We are led by experts who answer all sorts of questions about science and technology as well as history and culture.”

Particularly memorable were a 2008 excursion to Paris, Burgundy, and Lyon, France, led by Caltech’s then-president Jean-Lou Chameau, and a 2016 trip to Granada, Seville, and Cordoba, Spain, led by Caltech professor of history Nicolás Wey Gómez, a leading expert on the history of exploration, empire, and globalization and on medieval and Renaissance Spain. “When you travel with the Associates,” she says, “you look at everything differently and start to think about the world in new ways.”

For more than 25 years, Betty Huang has helped provide opportunities for people of all ages and across all educational backgrounds to enjoy opera, ballet, symphony, and other types of classical performance art. Probably hundreds of times, she says, she has persuaded acquaintances and strangers alike to “come and see what it’s about.”

Now, as committee chair for the Orange County chapter of the Caltech Associates, Huang invokes that familiar refrain as she invites members of her community to hear Caltech researchers describe their creative efforts to expand knowledge and invent life-changing technologies.

To learn more about supporting graduate students in engineering and applied science at Caltech, contact Laura Grinnell, senior director of development, at (626) 395-2385 or grinnell@caltech.edu. To join the Caltech Associates or find out about Associates events, contact executive director Catherine Reeves at (626) 395-6391 or cereeves@caltech.edu.

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