perceptive, tenacious, dynamic
Please list three books, along with their authors, that have been particularly meaningful to you. You need not confine yourself to math- or science-related texts.
- 'Shipwrecks' by Akira Yoshimura
- 'Science of the Brain' by The European Dana Alliance for the Brain
- 'The Stranger' by Albert Camus
Caltech students have long been known for their quirky sense of humor and creative pranks and for finding unusual ways to have fun. What is something that you find fun or humorous?
Interest in math, science, or engineering manifests itself in many forms. Caltech professor and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman (1918-1988) explained, “I’d make a motor, I’d make a gadget that would go off when something passed a photocell, I’d play around with selenium”; he was exploring his interest in science, as he put it, by “piddling around all the time.” In a page, more or less, tell the Admissions Committee how you express your interest, curiosity, or excitement about math, science or engineering. Before answering this question, you might ask those around you—family, friends, or teachers—how they see you as a mathematician, scientist or engineer. They may offer insightful observations!
It moved timidly at first, its gears slowly churning as it felt the spark of life flow through its wires. Slowly, it turned, rotating on its treads, as it scanned the arena for any signs of movement. Its light sensors on the alert, it sensed that something was near. It nudged forward as it felt its touch sensor activated. Immediately, like the Nordic god Thor wielding his hammer, it released its plastic Lego hammer of doom with the force of two robust motors behind it. Yet, in that time, without a warning, another robot crashed into it, sending it flailing in confusion. The true robotics battle had begun. As robots thrashed each other to pieces, many were catapulted out of the arena, with their wheels ripped off, and their motors strewn across the floor. My robot engaged in its last battle, as it struggled to stay inside the boundaries, but it was mercilessly pushed out by a more vigorous, bull-dozer robot.
Bearing witness to the raw force of technology applied and mechanized, I was astonished. Simple commands could transform an inanimate machine into a humanoid full of life. I loved that I could build a structure with Legos, attach some sort of a controller, write a few lines of code, and have my own robot that would follow my exact instructions.
Taking everything I learned from this small in-class Lego Mindstorms robotics competition, I enthusiastically joined the school’s Botball robotics team. The objective was to build an autonomous robot that could carry out a range of tasks including sorting, gathering, and moving objects. I was surrounded by a group of highly motivated students, who all shared the utmost goal of building a sensational robot. Every idea was taken into account, dissected, and analyzed for its validity. The robot had to compete against others so our goal was not only to maximize our points, but to inhibit the other robot from completing its task.
Every day after school, our robotics workstation (a messy garage) became our haven as we labored to find the best design for our robot. Scattered across the floor were sheets of engineering design, details of mathematical formulas, and heaps of extra pieces as we tried to determine the best heuristic algorithm and design for our robot.
Somewhere between keeping detailed reports of our work and trying to reconcile programming with engineering, I realized how much I had come to adore robotics. In creating retractable arms, and forklifts, we were essentially trying to replicate things that were so natural to us. Even though we had a physical model– the human body – by which to base our plans on, it was exceedingly intricate to think of muscles and neurons in terms of wires and Legos.
Yet in this challenge I found the incentive to keep trying to create a model of humanity. Just as Victor Frankenstein labored to find the secret to life, I too wanted to make sense of our elaborate construction. Even the simplest things like teaching a robot to raise its mechanical arms took hours of tweaking lines and lines of code and experimenting with unusual Lego orientations. This fascination with trying to emulate our most primitive features kept me creating that new programmable formula or improving the robot’s “eyes.”
After two and a half months our garage only got messier, existing in a state of perpetual frenzy. As the deadline approached, we worked faster, perfecting our designs, running test trials, and celebrating with soda when appropriate. At the Southern California competition, we received first place in double-elimination and documentation, and 3rd overall. Instead of trying to get all the points, we simply stopped the opposing robot from getting any by blockading its goal. As we went through our rounds, it was breathtaking to see all these amazing robots showcase their solutions to automating such simple tasks as sorting, and transporting items.
I envisioned reducing our world to chips, wires, and motors. In robotics I had found the perfect harmony between computer science and engineering. In the end, the countless all-nighters, the rush of a possible solution, and the success of a job well done, was all worth it, for I had entered an expansive world of knowledge, one that knew no bounds and had infinite potential.