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Charles Richter 1920s. Photo ID 1.46.1-1




Online Exhibits Collection


Ditch Day: Caltech's Zany Brainy Olympics

Descending from Firestone with a motorbike

Visitors to Caltech are usually struck by the quiet of its campus; if they chance on the right day of the year, though, they will witness the most unusual scenes: students wrestling with dismantled cars, climbing buildings, hammering doors, and drilling through concrete.

On "Ditch Day", toward the end of Spring Term, all Seniors ditch their classes and disappear from campus (Seniors found on campus are often tied to a tree). They leave their dormitory rooms locked with clever, painstakingly wrought Rube Goldberg-style puzzles ("stacks") that their underclassmates must solve to enter the rooms. It’s a battle of brains: high-tech devices and cerebral procedures. There are three types of stacks, requiring different approaches to the final break-in: brute force, finesse, or honor (the room is left open but cannot be entered until a puzzle is solved). Inside the rooms are bribes; if the underclassmen are not satisfied, they may booby-trap the lodgings, and it is the Seniors' turn to use their wits. The exact date of Ditch Day is kept secret until the very last moment, but when it is on, everybody is sure to notice!

Here is a gallery of candid Ditch Day moments from our collection. Posted 5-25-2018


Parsons-Gates turns 100!

Commencement on the steps of Gates, 1917

The Gates Laboratory of Chemistry was constructed in 1917. It is now 100 years old, making it—repurposed as the Parsons-Gates Hall of Administration—Caltech's oldest building. Explore our exhibits on the history of Gates and on the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering that grew up within it.


The Nobel Physicists at Caltech - a Long History

1960, Donald Glaser receiving the Nobel Prize from King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden

Caltech has a long history of celebrating its physics Nobelists.
The Caltech Archives is proud to present a photo gallery of the 6 Nobel Laureates, whose scientific and personal papers are part of our holdings. Visit the exhibit here. Posted 10-3-2017

Celebrating the new academic year

1965, a class in the formerly 201 E. Bridge

To the new Caltech students now beginning a year of instruction, creativity, and enlightenment, everything must seem novel and exciting. Yet they follow in the footsteps of many generations of Techers, who walked our campus with the same hunger for learning, making, inventing, and excelling. This exhibit features pictures taken five decades ago, when clothes and hairdos, culture and technology were all very different, but the Caltech spirit is unmistakably the same. We wish the class of 2021, as well as Techers in all walks of life, a wonderful new year. -EP Visit the exhibit here. Posted 9-26-2017

Donald Glaser: Caltech and Beyond

Donald A. Glaser

Donald A. Glaser, PhD '50 was one of the most innovative and progressive scientists of the 20th Century. From his invention of the bubble chamber -- for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize -- to his pioneering role in bioengineering and his leading contributions to visual neuroscience, Glaser has advanced many of our most important frontiers of scientific discovery and technological progress. The exhibit wants to illustrate Donald Glaser and his strong connections to the Caltech scientific community. The on-site version was part of a day of celebration of Glaser's many accomplishments in December 2016 at Caltech.-MS
Visit the online exhibit here. Posted 5-9-2017

The making of Caltech's first Nobel: Robert Millikan's road to Stockholm

Robert A. Millikan Nobel medal

Throughout its history, Caltech has accumulated an exceptional record of prestigious awards, conferred to its outstanding scientists for their groundbreaking research and discoveries.

The Nobel Prize, awarded by the Swedish Academy of Science, holds a cherished place among international recognitions. Caltech is privileged to count 34 Nobelists (and 35 prizes) among its faculty and alumni.

Among them, physicist Robert A. Millikan is doubly special: as the first Caltech recipient, and as a founding father of the Institute. Millikan’s command of physics and extraordinary experimental skills were on par with his charisma and administrative acumen. He was a masterful teacher, and the author of countless textbooks; his research spanned fields as diverse as electromagnetism, optics, molecular physics, and cosmic rays.

For his intuition, dedication, creativity, and curiosity, Millikan is a paragon of 20th century physics, and an enduring inspiration for generations of Techers.

On the occasion of the 2016 Nobel Prize announcements, the Caltech Archives is pleased to present an illustrated account of Millikan’s road to Stockholm. -EP
Visit the online collection here. Posted 9-30-2016

Time to celebrate: Caltech's Commencement three decades ago

The students marching toward Beckman Mall

It's 1986. Many know it as the year when Halley's comet painted the sky, the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series, and the Bangles "walked like Egyptians".

But for the students who marched through Beckman Mall in cap and gown, surrounded by cheering friends and family, 1986 will always be remembered as the year of their graduation.

Eyeglasses may have been larger and hairdos fluffier, but the 2016 graduating class feels the same pride for their achievements, and holds the same hopes for brilliant futures in invention, exploration, and discovery—lives as true Techers.

To celebrate Caltech's 122nd Commencement and congratulate a new generation of distinguished graduates, the Caltech Archives is pleased to present a photographic gallery from thirty years ago, when President Marvin Goldberger led the Commencement exercises, and Caltech alumnus Arnold Beckman, inventor and entrepreneur, delivered the address. - EP
Visit the photographic gallery here. Posted 6-9-2016


April Fool, the Caltech way

The 2001 Olive Walk chair prank

At Caltech, pranks are an integral part of student life. Over the years students pranked their comrades, student Houses pranked other Houses, and their witty machinations often spread outside campus.

The pranks were varied, involving furniture, vehicles, and even architecture, but all share the trademark Caltech ingenuity, and the sheer pleasure of working together to solve difficult problems. This light side of Caltech life, on par with scientific achievement, remains a highlight among the memories of many alumni.

For this year's April Fools Day, the Caltech Archives pay a photographic tribute to all the Caltech students who, over the decades, have used their creativity, imagination and hard work to explore not only the boundaries of science, but also those of humor and merriment. - EP
Visit the photographic gallery here
. Posted 3-31-2016

Caltech's Centennial Rose Parade Float

The 1991 Caltech's Centennial float

On January 1, 1991, Caltech kicked off its centennial celebrations with a magnificent and elaborate Rose Parade float entitled "For every action... a reaction."

Befitting Caltech's spirit of daring cleverness, the float featured a Rube-Goldberg device of unmatched complexity, culminating in the proverbial apple being dropped on Isaac Newton's head. The float was circled by nine giant beavers, who energized the crowd and thrilled children.

Many Caltech students helped decorate the float with flowers, while mechanical-engineering majors built and carefully tested the complex computer-controlled machinery. Nevertheless, the computer malfunctioned at show time, leaving the float operators to heroically match actions to reactions by hand.

The 1991 float wowed crowds and impressed commenters, and it is remembered fondly by the alumni, students, faculty, staff, and family members who contributed their inspiration and perspiration to build it.- EP
Visit the online exhibit here. Posted 12-22-2015

There's something about Harry

Harry Burkus Gray

As Caltech prepares to celebrate Harry Burkus Gray's 80th birthday and the 25thth anniversary of the Beckman Institute, the Archives wishes to send our best to Dr. Gray. We would also like to briefly acquaint everyone with this unique and generous individual.
As a scientist, Dr. Gray has played an important role in the development of the school of inorganic chemistry and in linking that field to biochemistry. Among his many awards—too numerous to list here—is his receiving 1986 National Medal of Science in 1986 "for his pioneering research in bioinorganic chemistry and inorganic photochemistry." And Dr. Gray's seminal work on long-range electron transfer reactions in proteins has been a unifying theme for much of his and his group's research. In 1989, Dr. Gray was honored by becoming the first Director of the then newly established Beckman Institute at Caltech.
Though a well-respected scientist, Dr. Gray has always had a passion for teaching, mixing science with some creativity and a little fun—thereby becoming a beloved teacher in the truest sense of the word, and living by his motto, "You've got to keep people excited." [Dr. Gray's interview in the December 1991 issue of Caltech News, page 3]
And finally, as Founding Director of the Beckman Institute, where the Archives resides, over many years we have found Dr. Gray to have been a supportive “landlord”—respectful of, and interested in, our mission. Here then, is the Archives tribute to Dr. Gray, and the “Many Sides of Harry!” -LK
Visit the online exhibit
here. Posted 11-11-2015

50 years ago, the emotion of Commencement

Speaker Frank Stanton addressing the 1965 graduating class. Photo credit: James McClanahan
The pomp and cheerful animation of commencement ceremonies mark an important milestone for students and their families, who savor the culmination of years of hard work, and the beginning of a new phase of life.
In celebration of this year's Commencement, the Caltech Archives are pleased to present a photographic gallery of the 1965 Commencement exercises, performed during the tenure of President Lee A. DuBridge. The speaker that year was Frank Stanton, president of CBS at the time.
Although many things have changed in the last 50 years, we believe that the class of 2015 will recognize themselves in the youthful enthusiasm of their 1965 predecessors and we congratulate this and all generations of outstanding Caltech graduates. Visit the online exhibit here. EP

[We would appreciate your help in identifying any of the people seen in this online exhibit; please free to contact us] Posted 6-10-2015

Einstein at Caltech

Einstein lecturing at the offices of the Mt. Wilson Observatory (Carnegie Institution, Pasadena).
Photo ID 1.8-2

In collaboration with the Einstein Papers Project, the Caltech Archives has mounted an exhibit honoring the centenary of Einstein's publication of the theory of general relativity in 1915. The display focuses on Einstein's visits to Caltech in the early 1930s during which he discussed the implications growing out of the theory of relativity with scientists in Pasadena, both at Caltech and at the Mount Wilson Observatory. The California public and press, while understanding little of the science, were lavish in their attention to the world's most famous scientist. Visit the online exhibit here. Online exhibit posted 5-29-2015


Archimedes and the Recovery of Greek Mathematics

Early printed editions of classical Greek mathematics from the Caltech Archives’ collection are on exhibit from April 7 through July 31, 2014. Beginning with the first edition of the complete known works of Archimedes in both Greek and Latin published in Basel in 1544, the display includes 16th-century Italian editions of Euclid and Archimedes that were used by Galileo in his mathematical studies.

The first English translation of Euclid’s Elements from 1570 and editions of Archimedes and Apollonius of Perga published in the 18th century by the Oxford press are shown, as well as the 17th-century French edition of Diophantus of Alexandria’s Arithmetica—the work that inspired Pierre de Fermat’s last conjecture. The Caltech exhibit complements the Huntington Library’s “Lost & Found: The Secrets of Archimedes” (March 15-June 22, 2014).

Documenting Earthquakes: A Virtual Exhibit
In honor of the centennial of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Caltech Archives created a virtual exhibit in six parts of materials from its own collections. Recent major donations by Professor George W. Housner have substantially augmented the Archives' holdings in the history of earthquakes and the early science of seismology.

The Gnome Club: a Visual History
The Gnome Club (Kappa Gamma Fraternity) was founded on March 9, 1897. Until the opening of the first student houses in 1931 ended its official operation, it was one of five local fraternities active at Caltech. The strong loyalty and friendship of early Gnomes helped to revive the club in 1949. Today, the Gnomes are a continuing presence at Caltech, serving the community through the Alumni Association, SURF, Caltech Y, the Gnome scholarship program, and other activities. The Gnome Club exhibit provides viewers with a glimpse into the club's rich history.

The Wouk Exhibit
Victor Wouk, Caltech alumnus (MS '40, PhD '42) and pioneer in electric and hybrid vehicle development, and his brother Herman, the noted author, came to Caltech on April 1 4, 2004 to celebrate Herman's new novel, A Hole in Texas, and Victor's donation of his papers to the Caltech Archives. Victor Wouk also established the Victor and Joy Wouk grants-in-aid program to provide support for research in the Wouk collection. A virtual exhibit memorialized the event.

Scientific Instruments Ancient and Modern
A prior Reading Room exhibit celebrated the 25th year of the Caltech Archives in 1993. It featured scientific instruments and other Archives' treasures, ranging from an Egyptian plumb bob to 20th-century experimental apparatus made in the Caltech shops.

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