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Member Spotlight: Charles Fairchild

Interview conducted November 2016

Tell me how you first got involved with the Caltech Associates and why supporting Caltech is important to you.

I first learned about the Associates through my late uncle, Phil Sotel, who was an Associates member and a chair of the Athenaeum's wine committee. I joined him as his "date" to many events and travel programs before becoming a member myself. I had the opportunity to visit JPL, hear from top Caltech scientists, and travel to places such as the Galápagos and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. I was really brought up going to Caltech events, starting in 1989. I attended many Seminar Days and lectures and enjoyed the exposure to the educational aspect of being part of the Associates.

After I moved to Pasadena a few years ago, Ananth Natarajan, a former president of the Associates, encouraged me to join. Caltech is important to me because it gives the public access to its groundbreaking research and discoveries in almost real time.

What do you wish other people knew about the Caltech Associates/Caltech? Or what do you enjoy most about being part of the Caltech Associates?

I enjoy the lectures and trips, as well as membership at the Athenaeum. I didn't realize that being a member of the Associates provided eligibility to join the Athenaeum, so this is a great perk.

More importantly, I wish more people knew they had access to the knowledge generated at Caltech. As Associates, we hear about the latest news in science and technology at the same time that the scientific community learns about what their peers are doing. However, we are learning about these innovations and discoveries over lavish dinners in the elaborate setting of the Athenaeum.

We hear from pioneering faculty, such as Maria Spiropulu, who is leading research at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. There is so much that takes place on campus, and we are exposed to a breadth of this work. In addition to in-depth Associates lectures and trips, there are free monthly public lectures on a range of topics at Beckman Auditorium and stargazing at the Cahill Center for Astronomy. (Perhaps stargazing isn't what everyone wants to do on a Friday night . . . )

Through the Associates, I have traveled to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Hanford, Washington, that first detected gravitational waves and confirmed a major prediction of Einstein's theory of relativity. We were led through this remarkable scientific site by two Caltech faculty members involved in the design and creation of the detectors, Rana Adhikari and Yanbei Chen. Also, I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Associates trip to Oregon next year to chase the total solar eclipse with Mike Brown. He has spoken to Associates with JPL's Kevin Hand at a program in which their interplay on space exploration and whether robots or telescopes are better equipped for this purpose was incredible and entertaining.

Outside of your involvement with the Associates, what do you do?

I am the general counsel of a diversified agriculture company, serving as head of the company's legal affairs, advising on natural resources, land use, litigation, business planning, and employee matters. I also manage a portfolio of real estate. Previously, I worked in private practice as a litigator of trust, business, and civil matters, and as an estate-planning attorney. In addition, I am a trustee of Southwestern Law School and a fellow of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I once made Eric Idle belly-laugh.

Do you have a favorite Caltech memory/story/moment?

In 1992, my uncle hosted a joint birthday party for his mother's 85th and my mother's 50th in the Athenaeum's library. It was a momentous occasion for my family, including my grandmother, Alma, who would also often attend Associates events.

Caltech is a very special place for me—my uncle entertained frequently at the Athenaeum and attended many Associates events. He was a big part of my life, and I am grateful to him for exposing me to the opportunities that are available at Caltech. Being involved today, I cherish both the fond memories of my family and the new opportunities to learn about breakthroughs in science and technology.

Closing sentiments?

Caltech is a hidden gem in Pasadena. I'm grateful to live close to such an exceptional institution and to be able to enjoy its resources.

Charles Fairchild

Name: Charles "Chip" Fairchild
Member Since: 2015
Membership Level: President's Circle
Chapter: Southern California
Job Title: Attorney