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Photo of a group of researchers at Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute

We're Changing the World

Since its founding in 1926, the Associates have played a pivotal role in Caltech's evolution by proudly and generously supporting the Institute. As Caltech evolved in size and stature through the 1920s, the Associates recognized a growing desire for community among its faculty and friends.

Exemplifying the group's mission and visionary philanthropy, Mr. and Mrs. Allan Balch funded the construction of the Athenaeum as a gathering place for the exchange of ideas. Designed by Gordon Kauffmann, the Athenaeum hosted its first formal dinner on January 15, 1931. No fewer than three Nobel Prize winners attended, including Albert Einstein, Robert A. Millikan, the first president of Caltech, and A. A. Michelson, the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in a science. Today, the Athenaeum continues to offer a vibrant intellectual oasis at Caltech, where friends meet, and brilliant minds gather to pursue the wonder that leads to wisdom.

Three people standing and smiling at the camera

Mission: Mighty Things

Caltech scientists and engineers have been critical to the security and global leadership of the United States – and so, too, have the Associates. The Associates' early investments in pioneering rocket research would help establish the world-renowned Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Now jointly led by Caltech and NASA, JPL represents the preeminent center for robotic space exploration in the United States. Its scientists have conducted missions to all planets in our solar system, excluding the dwarf planet Pluto, and are pursuing the long-term, comprehensive exploration of Mars, including the question of whether there is life on the Red Planet.

Today's Associates have had the opportunity to witness the wonders of JPL's Mars rover missions firsthand in private talks with Dr. Kenneth Farley, Caltech's W. M. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry. JPL stands as a shining example of all that can be achieved when scientists, government leaders, and philanthropists come together to "dare mighty things" and redefine the frontiers of science.

NASA balloon being driven

Where the Sky is Not the Limit

The ancient astronomer Ptolemy once said, "I know I am mortal and the creature of a day; but when I search out the massed wheeling circles of the stars, my feet no longer touch the earth." Beyond bricks and mortar, it is this notion of limitless possibility that is perhaps the greatest gift of the Associates. This is certainly true at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO), where the Associates have made significant contributions, beginning in the years following World War II.

Since 1958, Caltech astronomers working at the observatory have unveiled some of the world's greatest mysteries. They have studied hydrogen clouds within the Milky Way, the formation of galaxies, active galactic nuclei, fast radio bursts, and other radio-astronomical phenomena. Located in high-desert terrain east of California's Sierra Nevada range, OVRO is enjoying a 21st-century renaissance, using a new generation of smaller telescopes to search the stars faster and more deeply than Ptolemy could ever have imagined.

The Freedom to Dream Big

Just a few years before he served as a guest of honor at the inaugural Associates dinner, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves. His prediction remained unproven for a century, until investigators at Caltech's Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) directly detected the waves – proof positive that black holes exist. What gave Caltech scientists the confidence that they could solve such an enduring mystery? "Some people claimed that any such waves would be too faint to be detected – it couldn't be done," said Kip Thorne (BS '62) cofounder of LIGO and Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus. "The wonderful thing about Caltech is that we had the freedom to dream big."

One of the many wonderful things about the Associates is that they help give Caltech scientists that freedom to dream big. Indeed, Associates' philanthropy has been an integral part of LIGO's existence, helping to fund its original construction, subsequent modernizations, and the risk-taking research projects that remain its hallmarks today. As LIGO moves forward with other discoveries, who knows which mysteries of the universe will be revealed next?

satellite in construction

Passion: Public Safety

Caltech's earthquake science program has grown up right alongside the Institute's most vibrant benefactor group. In 1926, the same year that the Associates banded together, Caltech's budding geology division began cooperative operations with the Seismological Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, with Caltech assuming sole leadership in 1937. Since the earliest days of the Seismo Lab, as it is affectionately known today, the Associates have provided critical support for its contributions to science and public safety.

It was at the Seismo Lab that famed geophysicist Charles Richter and mathematician Beno Gutenberg developed seismology into an international science of earthquake study and detection. Today's Caltech scientists and engineers remain committed to the mantle of leadership, using their platform to inform earthquake preparedness and response initiatives, and pioneering innovations in early warning. Their work has made a vital impact, reducing the human toll of these natural disasters both close to home in Southern California and around the world.

Caltech produces amazing technical and scientific achievements that are even more impressive considering its size. The faculty, alumni, and supporters are fun to engage with both socially and intellectually. In my view, there are no other organizations as philanthropically effective as Caltech. It has a high return rate for the aggressive science it pursues.

Robert T. Jenkins (BS '65)
Associates President 2004–2005