The academic work of the Institute is organized into six divisions: Biology and Biological Engineering, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Science, Geological and Planetary Sciences, the Humanities and the Social Sciences, and Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy.
Graduate study at the Institute is divided further into several graduate options, which are supervised by those faculty whose interests and research are closely related to the area of the option. Entering graduate students are admitted into one of the following options working towards a specific degree. Almost all options offer the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and a few options will admit students to a terminal Master's (MS). In all other options, the Master's degree is awarded under special circumstances only. Please check the departmental websites and/or the Institute Catalog for a list of the degrees offered.
Division of Biology and Biological Engineering
The bioengineering option at Caltech is designed for students interested in subjects that form the core of the new interdisciplinary science of bioengineering. These branches of science provide the basis for the growth of modern technology. Students may choose biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, and applied mathematics as their elective subjects and choose a thesis adviser within the divisions of Engineering and Applied Science, Biology and Biological Engineering, or Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.
Graduate students in biology come with very diverse undergraduate preparation—majors in physics, chemistry, mathematics, or psychology, as well as in biology and its various branches. The aims of the graduate program are to provide, for each student, individual depth of experience and competence in a particular chosen major specialty; perception of the nature and logic of biology as a whole; sufficient strength in basic science to allow continued self-education after formal training has been completed and thus to keep in the forefront of changing fields; and the motivation to serve his or her field productively through a long career. In accordance with these aims, the graduate study program in biology includes the following parts: (a) the major program, which is to provide the student with early and intense original research experience in a self-selected subject of biology, supplemented with advanced course work and independent study in this subject; and (b) a program of course work designed to provide well-rounded and integrated training in biology and the appropriate basic sciences, which is adjusted to special interests and needs. An individual program will be recommended to each student in a meeting with the student’s advisory committee.
Understanding the brain remains one of the great intellectual challenges for science, and it requires the integration of approaches from many disciplines. Caltech Neuroscience research spans a wide range: from the molecular function of receptors; through signaling organelles like the synapse; the structure and function of single neurons; the assembly and function of circuits of nerve cells; and the collective function of brain systems in controlling behavior, perception, memory, cognition, and emotion. Several laboratories are applying basic science findings to animal models of brain disorders, and these translational approaches are opening up novel therapeutic avenues. Finally, Caltech's traditional strength in engineering stimulates the development of new tools for brain science: from optical techniques to new twists of genetic engineering, to novel multi-electrode devices, to computational models and theories.
Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
The curriculum in BMB is designed to provide a broad background in protein biochemistry, structural biology, and molecular genetics, in addition to an appropriate depth of knowledge in the field selected for the Ph.D. thesis research.
The general objective of the grad program also strives to develop in each student self-reliance, creativity, professional ethics, and an appreciation of the societal impact of chemical engineering and the importance of continuing intellectual growth.
The graduate program in chemistry emphasizes research. This emphasis reflects the Institute’s traditional leadership in chemical research and the conviction that has permeated the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from its founding, that participation in original research is the best way to awaken, develop, and give direction to creativity. Soon after a new graduate student arrives in the laboratories, he or she attends a series of orientation seminars that introduce students to the active research interests of the staff. Students then talk in detail with each of several staff members whose fields attract them, eventually settle upon the outlines of a research problem that interests them, and begin research upon it early in the first year. Students can elect to do research that crosses the boundaries of traditionally separate areas of chemistry, for in this relatively compact division, they are encouraged to go where their scientific curiosity drives them. A thesis that involves more than one adviser is not uncommon, and interdisciplinary programs with biology, physics, geology, chemical engineering, and environmental science and engineering science are open and encouraged. An extensive program of seminars will enable students to hear of and discuss notable work in chemical physics, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and electrochemistry, organometallic chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular biophysics. Graduate students are also encouraged to attend seminars in other divisions.
Division of Engineering and Applied Science
In working for a degree in aeronautics, a student may pursue major study in, for example, one of the following areas: physics of fluids, computational fluid mechanics, technical fluid mechanics, mechanics of materials, mechanics of fracture, computational solid mechanics, aeronautical engineering, and propulsion.
Applied and Computational Mathematics
"This program is designed to give students a thorough training in fundamental computational and applied mathematics and to develop their research ability in a specific application field. The fields of application include a wide range of areas such as fluid mechanics, materials science, and mathematical biology, and engineering applications such as image processing. Entering students should have a background in mathematics, physics, or engineering.
The Applied Mechanics department was founded nearly five decades ago to focus on research and education in the areas of solid mechanics and dynamics. Current research is mainly in the area of dynamics, dealing with topics such as vibrations of structures and machinery, structural response to earthquakes, including system identification and control of structural response, and fundamental studies of the behavior of nonlinear dynamical systems.
Applied Physics at Caltech is built on the foundations of quantum mechanicstistical physics, electromagnetic theory, mechanics, and advanced mathematics. The comparatively small size of Caltech coupled with its great strength in both the pure sciences and engineering make it possible to have a faculty with a wide interest in the application of modern physics to technology, without losing close interaction with "pure subjects."
Currently, the department is concentrated primarily on earthquake engineering, a field in which Caltech researchers have been important contributors since the 1920's. Research is currently being conducted in areas such as seismic early warning, characterization of near-source motion in earthquakes, soil-structure interaction, nonlinear finite element analysis of civil structures, structural health monitoring and earthquake loss-estimation.
Computation and Neural Systems
An integrated approach to graduate study combining computation and neural systems is organized jointly by the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences. This curriculum is designed to promote a broad knowledge of relevant and related aspects of experimental and theoretical molecular, cellular, neural, and systems biology; computational devices; information theory; emergent or collective systems; modeling; and complex systems; in conjunction with an appropriate depth of knowledge in the particular field of the thesis research.
Research in the department stresses mathematical depth, the integration of theory and implementation, and a broad perspective on computing systems. Students are encouraged to tailor their programs of courses and research to fit their specific needs. Research emphases are in algorithms; communication protocols, concurrent computation, and networks; graphics and human-computer interaction; novel computational substrates, including quantum mechanical computers and molecular computers; VLSI, with a specific emphasis on asynchronous and analog VLSI; high-confidence systems, including fault tolerance, program verification, and security; information theory; learning theory; computational complexity; computer vision; and large-scale scientific computing. Caltech's new centers of Information Science and Technology (IST) facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration across all departments on campus. Graduate projects frequently involve connections with other disciplines including Physics, Biology, Control and Dynamical Systems, and Social Sciences. Students join a research group from the very beginning of their sojourn at Caltech so it is desirable that applicants have a defined area of interest when applying.
CMS is home to outstanding students and researchers who share a passion for science and engineering, as well as a drive to investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in computation and information. The CMS program is a unique, new program that provides students with a cross-cutting perspective on optimization, algorithms, learning, statistics, and networks.
Control and Dynamical Systems
The option in control and dynamical systems (CDS) is open to students with an undergraduate degree in engineering, mathematics, or science. The qualifications of each applicant will be considered individually, and, after being enrolled, the student will arrange his or her program in consultation with a member of the faculty. In some cases the student may be required to make up undergraduate deficiencies in engineering science courses. The CDS option emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of modern theory of dynamical systems and control. The curriculum is designed to promote a broad knowledge of mathematical and experimental techniques in dynamical systems theory and control. In addition to taking courses in the CDS option, students must select a focus area.
EE at Caltech emphasizes both the fundamentals of electronics and systems, as well as acknowledging the multi-disciplinary nature of the field. Closely allied with Computation and Neural Systems, Applied Physics, Bioengineering, Computer Science, and Control and Dynamical System, it offers students the opportunity for study and research, both theoretical and experimental, in a wide variety of subjects, including wireless systems, quantum electronics, modern optics, lasers and guided waves, solid-state materials and devices, bio-optics and bio-electronics, power and energy systems, control theory, learning systems, computational finance, signal processing, data compression, communications, parallel and distributed computing, fault-tolerant computing, and computational vision. Substantial experimental laboratory facilities, housed mainly in the Moore Laboratory of Engineering, are associated with each of these research fields.
Students may enter the graduate program in materials science with undergraduate preparation in physics, chemistry, engineering, or materials science.
The program combines individual depth of experience and competence in a particular chosen major specialty, and a strong background in the basic and engineering sciences, with laboratory and design experience. It strives to develop professional independence, creativity, leadership, and the capacity for continuing professional and intellectual growth, and the graduate program aims to provide for students a depth of competence and experience in their major field, sufficient strength in the basic sciences to allow them to continue self-education after their formal training has been completed, and the motivation and training to keep them in the forefront of their field through a long and productive career. Students are encouraged to explore work in interdisciplinary areas both within and outside the division, and to gain experience in teaching.
Medical Engineering at Caltech focuses on the applications of medical/biological sciences and engineering principles to the design, analysis, and implementation of diagnostic, therapeutic, and monitoring devices and systems for translational medicine.
Setting GALCIT apart from others are our unrivaled experimental facilities in fluids, solids, materials, biomechanics, propulsion, and combustion; our exceptional faculty; our rigorous graduate student training; and our emphasis on the basics. We also maintain close connections to industry and government labs. An extremely broad range of research is done by the professors in GALCIT, their colleagues, and students. The GALCIT faculty maintain strong connections with colleagues throughout the Division, the Institute, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Our faculty collaborate with colleagues from Mechanical and Civil Engineering, Applied Physics and Materials Science, Computing and Mathematical Sciences, Bioengineering, Geology and Planetary Sciences, and JPL. Research in Biological Fluid Dynamics is carried out by GALCIT faculty and colleagues throughout Caltech.
Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences
Environmental Science and Engineering
The interdisciplinary problems posed by natural and human induced changes in the earth's environment are among the most interesting, difficult, and important facing today's scientists and engineers. The environmental science and engineering option is an interdivisional program of study by biologists, chemists, earth scientists, engineers, and physicists to investigate the functioning of and interactions among the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere.
Graduate students in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences enter with diverse undergraduate preparation—majors in astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics, as well as in geochemistry, geology, and geophysics. Graduate study and research within the division are equally diverse, and the graduate program aims to provide for students a depth of competence and experience in their major field, sufficient strength in the basic sciences to allow them to continue self-education after their formal training has been completed, and the motivation and training to keep them in the forefront of their field through a long and productive career. Students are encouraged to explore work in interdisciplinary areas both within and outside the division, and to gain experience in teaching.
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Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Social and Decision Neuroscience
It is characterized by interdisciplinary research at the frontier of neuroscience, psychology, economics, and political science. The program seeks to train students to do interdisciplinary work at the intersection of the natural and social sciences, and humanities groups participate in research and training in this area.
Over the past two decades, it has become ever more apparent that many of the most serious problems faced by the nation have both an economic and a political component. Graduate education, however, has remained largely compartmentalized, with most programs producing students who, while well trained in economics or in political science, are not trained in both. The Caltech Ph.D. program in social science is designed to graduate scholars who are well grounded in the theoretical perspectives, the quantitative techniques, and the experimental methods of economics and of political science and who also have been introduced to quantitative history, law, anthropology, and psychology. In addition to providing students with a solid foundation in the underlying disciplines, the program has a substantial policy component that brings institutional design to policy studies in a way that is done at no other institution.
Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Modern astronomy—certainly as practiced at Caltech—is essentially astrophysics. With the goal of understanding the physical processes that govern the universe, its constituents, and their evolution, astronomy uses the apparatus and methodology of physics to gather and interpret data. In what follows, we use the terms astronomy and astrophysics interchangeably. The primary aim of the graduate astrophysics program at Caltech is to prepare students for creative and productive careers in astrophysical research. The astrophysics program emphasizes independent research by graduate students, who are free to pursue study in virtually any area of astrophysics. The opportunity exists to take advantage of the many observational facilities owned and operated by Caltech.
The principal aim of the graduate program is to develop the student’s ability to do original research in mathematics. Independent and critical thinking is fostered by direct contact with faculty memberaculty advisers help students plan their programs of study leading to a Ph.D. in mathematics. Entering students are advised by the director of the Ph.D. program, who assists them in selecting appropriate courses, depending upon their previous studies.
This program prepares students for careers in scientific research or research combined with teaching, and so its most important part is independent research. Courses are offered that give a broad treatment of both fundamental physics and specialized physics research topics. These are intended both to help a beginning graduate student prepare for research and to broaden an advanced student’s knowledge of physics. Caltech research opportunities include elementary particle physics, nuclear physics, cosmic-ray, gamma-ray, and X-ray astronomy, sub-millimetetronomy, condensed-matter physics, atomic/molecular/optical physics, quantum optics, applied physics, gravitational physics, cosmology, astrophysics, mathematical physics, biophysics, and theoretical physics.