The most impressive feature of Caltech to me is the Institute's spirit of reinvention. Members of our community switch fields, make abrupt turns in career directions, if the problem to be solved is fundamental, entrancing, and impactful. This ethos not only leads to new ways of understanding and manipulating nature—geobiology, quantum information, medical engineering, to name a few recent examples—but it also sustains a powerful culture of fearlessness and ambition.
The start of a new academic year is in itself an act of reinvention. High school students morph into masters of the problem set, upperclassmen emerge from the Core to define their own intellectual pursuits, our graduate students transform into faculty colleagues, staff members help the research enterprise hum by stepping in wherever needed. The autumn quarter is a time when the rhythm of academic life quickens and so much seems possible.
It is also a time that requires intentionality. The poet Wislawa Szymborska reminds us that: When I pronounce the word Future, / the first syllable already belongs to the past. It takes an act of will to focus on the big ideas, to challenge ourselves to push forward into new territory rather than to settle for the familiar.
Caltech's history has been marked by a gimlet-eyed focus on issues that matter by people committed to creating knowledge for the ages and inventing technologies that transform the human experience. This year is the Institute's quasquicentennial, and we as a community have the opportunity to write new chapters in Caltech's history consonant with its greatest ambitions and highest values.
There is urgency to this quest given tendencies in society at large to reject unfettered inquiry and devalue scientific approach and understanding. As Szymborska also writes: The next day / promises to be sunny, / although those still living / should bring umbrellas. It is only by living up to our aspirations, challenging each other's thoughts through rigorous argument and opening ourselves to a diversity of perspectives, that we will refine our ideas and make substantive progress. I wish you a year of reinvention, discovery, and sunshine.
Thomas F. Rosenbaum
Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics