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Caltech Freshman Seminar Program

The goal of the Freshman Seminar is to increase the exposure of incoming students to Caltech faculty in a non-lecture setting. Faculty will explore an in-depth and exciting topic in the lab, around a table, in the field, or anywhere else appropriate. The Freshman Seminar will provide a means of immediately channeling students’ excitement and curiosity while also building a relationship with a faculty member and acquiring an experience that is unique to Caltech.

Comments about the seminars from past participants:

This class was a pleasure to go to every week.

Very energetic and exciting professor who intrigues students with his obvious enthusiasm in the course materials.

Excellent course, it has really opened my eyes to a field that I thought I would never consider majoring in.

I can honestly say that this course made me excited about Caltech. It's the class I rave about to my parents and to my friends at home when I talk about how much I love it here.

For the 2017-2018 academic year we are offering the following seminars:

Fall Term

FS/Ph 9. Freshman Seminar: The Science of Music. 6 units (2-0-4); first term.
This course will focus on the physics of sound, how musical instruments make it, and how we hear, including readings, discussions, demonstrations, and student observations using sound analysis software. In parallel we will consider what differentiates music from other sounds, and its role physically and culturally. Students will do a final project of their choice and design, with possibilities including a book review, analysis of recordings of actual musical instruments, or instrument construction and analysis.
Freshmen only; limited enrollment.
Instructor: Politzer. Instructor's Web Page

FS/Bi 13. Freshman Seminar: In Search of Memory. 6 units (2-0-4); first term.
An exploration of brain function based on weekly readings in an autobiographical account by a Nobel Prize winning neurobiologist. No lectures. Each week there will be reading from chapters of the book plus relevant research papers, discussing trail-blazing neuroscience experiments.
Instructor: Pine. Instructor's Web Page

FS/Ge 16. Freshman Seminar: Earthquakes. 6 units (2-0-4); first term.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions constitute some of the world's major natural hazards. What is the science behind prediction and/or rapid response to these events? We will review the current understanding of the science, the efforts that have been made in earthquake and volcano forecasting, and real-time response to these events. We will learn about advances in earthquake preparation in Southern California, and volcanic eruption forecasting and hazard mitigation elsewhere. There is a required field trip to visit faults and volcanos somewhere in southern California.
Freshmen only; limited enrollment.
Instructor: Stock. Instructor's Web Page

Winter Term

FS/Ph 11abc. Freshman Seminar: Research Tutorial. 6 units (2-0-4); second and third terms of freshman year and first term of sophomore year.
A small number of students will be offered the opportunity to enroll in this tutorial, the purpose of which is to demonstrate how research ideas rise, and are evaluated and tested, and how those ideas that survive are developed. This is accomplished by doing individual, original projects. There will be weekly group meetings and individual tutorial meetings with the instructor. Support for summer research at Caltech between the freshman and sophomore years will be automatic for those students making satisfactory progress. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Phillips.


Freshman will indicate their interest in a Freshman Seminar on their Selection Form and return it to the Registrar’s Office. Students will be sent their fall schedule of classes in July and notified if they were placed in a seminar class.

updated: 5/11/2017