At “TechKnow” we like to think of ourselves as a bunch of hard-core nerds. We even say so in the opening credits of the show. But we were clearly outnumbered — and, yes, outclassed — when we took the show on the road to Caltech. Perhaps no one embraces the noble (and sometimes Nobel too) title of nerd more than the 2,200 students there. A quick Google search of “proud,” “nerd” and “Caltech” returns almost 19 million hits.
If you’re not familiar with the California Institute of Technology, here’s the quick lowdown: Caltech is a world-renowned scientific and research institution in Pasadena. Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking worked there, as have 32 Nobel Prize winners and 70 recipients of the National Medal of Science and Technology, the highest scientific award in the U.S. There are 978 undergraduates and 1,253 graduate students working toward degrees there — future winners of those honors.
Caltech is also pretty much the epicenter of explanation whenever an earthquake makes news anywhere in the world. That’s because of Lucy Jones, who is a seismologist with Caltech and the United State Geological Survey. She is the rock star of Richter recordings and has a great bench of seismologists with her. (We talked to some of them recently.)
But it's not just here on Earth that Caltech is making news. It has plenty of star power when it comes to U.S. space exploration, with NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory leading the way. JPL was founded and managed by Caltech in 1936 and continues to spearhead robotic space exploration, including several long-term and surprisingly successful missions to Mars. (We’ve also reported from JPL.)
With such an esteemed science and technology institution in our backyard, it seemed like a perfect fit to use Caltech as home base to launch “‘TechKnow’ on the Road,” which airs again this Saturday, Oct. 4, at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT. “TechKnow” scientists and contributors Phil Torres, Shini Somara and Crystal Dilworth (who recently earned her Ph.D. at Caltech) peer deep into the scientific future while reporting on research being conducted by the school’s students and faculty.
Deep in the Caltech labs and offices, postdoctorate students, graduate students and undergrads work with many of the big shots of science on a vast variety of research. We explore some of this groundbreaking work, including how simple jellyfish are the models for new underwater propulsion systems, how trees contribute to smog (they do, but its not their fault) how an experiment being conducted on the International Space Station may lead to therapies for Huntington’s disease and how nature is re-created and studied in a flume lab to explore how landslides occur.
We also got a chance to interview Michael Brown, the Caltech astronomer who “killed” Pluto. He was front and center in its demotion to dwarf planet. He explains why he did it (“it had it coming”) and how he weathers the personal attacks, nasty emails and angry phone calls from people around the world who are upset with his new classification for what was once one of the world’s favorite planets. He has some fresh ideas about extraterrestrial life and new discoveries that are changing the ways scientists are thinking about our solar system and beyond.
This was our first experiment in a traveling road show, but I doubt it will be the last. We love getting a glimpse of the future of scientific discovery and being able to shine a light on the often overlooked scientists who are quietly working to change the world one breakthrough at a time — and we’re excited to expand our search for nerds.