Strange though it may seem, it's a bit difficult to describe the facilities and other "physical resources" Caltech has to offer students. We could say, for example, that we have n work stations of x type in the undergraduate computer lab, but that information would likely be outdated by the time you read it. Ditto for the specs on any equipment in any of the labs you might work in.
As you might expect, at a place like Caltech, where doing research at the frontier of a field is the rule rather than the exception, things change fast—and that includes tools and methodologies. That said, we can’t resist telling you about a few of the research facilities and facts that make Caltech a standout in the world of scientific research:
- Research activity at Caltech is supported through $357 million dollars annually in sponsored research funding.
- Caltech also receives more invention disclosures per faculty member than any other university in the nation.
On campus you will also find more research centers staffed by faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduates, for example:
- The Beckman Institute, a multidisciplinary center for research in the chemical and biological sciences.
- The Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), which carries out important data-intensive processing tasks for NASA's infrared and submillimeter astronomy programs.
- The Spitzer Science Center, which provides development and operations support for the Spitzer Space Telescope, the final mission of NASA's “Great Observatory Program.”
- The Center for Advanced Computing Research (CACR), which does computational science and engineering—computer-based modeling for the study of scientific phenomena and engineering designs.
Caltech faculty and students also have access to facilities that extend far beyond our campus:
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), located about 15 minutes west of campus, is run by Caltech for NASA, and is considered an operating division of Caltech. JPL is the leading U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system. JPL spacecraft have visited all the known planets. Recent missions have included Galileo (to Jupiter), Cassini (to Saturn), Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Pathfinder, and the Mars Exploration Rover project. The Stardust spacecraft has taken the best-ever pictures of a comet nucleus and brought comet dust back for scientists to study, and the Genesis mission returned a cargo of solar-wind samples. Besides its space missions, the lab also conducts a variety of Earth science and astrophysics studies.
Many JPL scientists and engineers maintain close professional relationships with Caltech faculty (in fact, some JPL scientists are Caltech faculty), and it is not uncommon for undergrads to work with JPL investigators on SURF or other research projects.
Caltech astronomers, astrophysicists, and planetary scientists have an impressive array of observational facilities at their disposal. Palomar Observatory, 50 miles north of San Diego, is home to seven optical telescopes, including the 200-inch Hale. At Cedar Flat, a high site in the Inyo Mountains near the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, Caltech and the Universities of California (Berkeley), Illinois, and Maryland recently began joint operation of a 15-element millimeter-wave interferometer, CARMA, the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy. The Chajnantor Observatory, situated at 16,700 feet altitude in the Chilean Andes, is engaged in high-sensitivity observations of the very early universe with the Cosmic Background Imager-a 13-element interferometric array of telescopes.
Caltech’s Submillimeter Observatory, located on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, probes galaxies hundreds of millions of light-years away. And the W. M. Keck Observatory, also on Mauna Kea, houses the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes, the largest optical telescopes in the world. While it's not an everyday occurrence for an undergrad astronomer to observe at one of these places, it's not unheard of either. Caltech also operates, along with MIT, the two LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) facilities in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana. LIGO’s goal is to directly detect for the first time the gravitational waves Einstein predicted in 1916.