The California Institute of Technology (universally known as “Caltech”) is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena. It was originally founded as a vocational school, but took on the complexion of an institute at the cutting edge of scientific discovery quite early in its history.
The inflection point probably came with the move of Alfred Amos Noyes from MIT (where he had been serving as acting-President) to Caltech in 1919. Noyes, who had studied chemistry under Wilhelm Ostwald at the University of Leipzig, taught chemistry at Caltech for 17 years, until his death in 1936.
During his tenure at Caltech—which assumed its present name in 1921—Noyes was responsible for revising the science curriculum in line with the latest advances in Germany, whose universities were the best in the world at that time. Noyes was also very active in institution-building at the national level (he was one of the founders of the National Research Council) and in recruiting both distinguished older and promising younger science faculty for Caltech.
For example, together with his friend, the distinguished astronomer George Ellery Hale (who discovered that sunspots produce magnetic fields, and who had preceded him to Caltech), Noyes persuaded the outstanding physicist Robert A. Millikan to move there in 1921, from the University of Chicago. Two years later, Millikan won the Nobel Prize for devising his classic “oil-drop experiment”—still described in many first-year physics courses—to measure the strength of the elementary charge of the electron.
Another early mover-and-shaker of science at Caltech was the Hungarian-born physicist and aeronautical engineer, Theodore von Kármán, who arrived in Pasadena in 1930, and went on to found there what eventually became the world-famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Yet another highly significant, Caltech-connected scientist was the astrophysicist Allan Sandage, who was the first person to come up with a good estimate for the value of the Hubble Constant. Sandage went on to make a large number of pathbreaking discoveries regarding the large-scale structure of various galaxies, and of the universe as a whole.
These early triumphs were only the beginning of an ever-growing roll call of great names in science. Altogether, some 74 individuals connected to Caltech have won the Nobel Prize—far too many for us to name here.
However, some of the highlights we must mention—just for physics—include:
For the other Nobel Prizes, the following Caltech-associated recipients, among many others, are especially noteworthy:
It is worth noting that Linus Pauling also won the Nobel Peace Prize. Pauling is only person in history to win two unshared Nobel Prizes.
Finally, mention must be made of Fields Medalist Edward Witten, an important theoretical physicist as well as mathematician, who has been a Visiting Professor at Caltech.
In spite of the formidable reputation of much of its faculty, with its relatively modest size (around 2200 students) Caltech is in many ways more reminiscent of a small liberal arts college than of a behemoth institution like its east-coast rival, MIT. For one thing, Caltech’s small 3:1 student-faculty ratio is extremely good, ensuring that its students (who are themselves among the best the nation has to offer) really get to know their professors.
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Our answer to this is to show you the disciplines in which a school's faculty and alumni have had the highest historical influence. A school may be influential in a discipline even if they do not offer degrees in that area. We've organized two lists to show where they are influential and offer corresponding degrees, and where they are influential through scholarship although they don't offer degrees in the disciplines.
Who are California Institute of Technology's Most influential alumni?
California Institute of Technology's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Chemistry, Engineering, and Physics. California Institute of Technology’s most academically influential people include Linus Pauling, William Shockley, and Donald Knuth.
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