Office of the Registrar - California Institute of TechnologyStudent Affairs - California Institute of Technology

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 studentsí 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 academic year 2013-14 we are offering the following seminars:

Fall Term

FS/Ph 4. Freshman Seminar: Gravitational Waves. 6 units (2-0-4); first term. This course is an introduction to the physics of gravitational waves in General Relativity and beyond, gravitational wave detectors, and astrophysical sources of gravitational waves, including neutron stars, black holes, and the Big Bang.  Instructor: Weinstein. Instructor's webpage:

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 webpage:

FS/Ph/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 webpage:

FS/Ph 14. Freshman Seminar: Albatrosses, Beetles and Cetaceans. 6 units (2-0-4); first term. A quantitative study of some examples of physics applied to macrobiota, including flight (the range of the albatross), surface tension and walking on water (the world of insects), and acoustics (how whales communicate). In addition to learning the art of physical estimation, scaling, and the value of dimensionless numbers, this course offers the opportunity to appreciate who to apply otherwise abstract physics to everyday experience. In addition to problem sets, each student will be expected to research a specific example and present findings to the rest of the class. Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Instructor: Stevenson. Instructor's webpage:

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 webpage:   

Winter Term

FS 2. Freshman Seminar: The Origins of Ideas.  6 units (2-0-4); second term. Why do we have 60 minutes in an hour?  Why do we use a fork or chopsticks when we eat?  Why do we have music?  Why do we have sports?  The goal of the class is to learn how to enjoy ignorance, be curious and try and discover the origin and the evolutionary processes that led to the ideas and artifacts that are a part of our life.  The class is collaborative and interactive: You will teach as much as you will learn - you will learn as much as you will teach.  Most importantly, you will realize the fun in discovery and the joy of human interaction.  Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Instructor: Bruck.  Instructor's webpage:

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: Tombrello. 

FS 17. Freshman Seminar: The Theory and Practice of Moneyball. 6 units (2-0-4); second term.  Ken Lewis's Moneyball (2003) attributes the remarkable success of the low-budget Oakland A's in competing against teams with much larger payrolls to their ability to exploit market failure.  The purpose of this course is to evaluate the central claims of the Moneyball thesis.  Students will read Moneyball, many of the classic essays published by Bill James in the Baseball Abstract, and some of the classic works in decision theory.  The course will necessarily focus on the way baseball executives evaluate both highly quantitative and highly subjective information.  Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Instructors: Kiewiet and Claire. 


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

updated: 6/03/2013