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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 2019-2020 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/ESE/Ge 18. Freshman Seminar: The Unseen Microbial World in Plain Sight. 6 units (2-0-4); first term.
To paraphrase a Caltech engineering colleague: "In terms of Earth and the Environment, although fascinating, until recently our species had been nothing more than the hood ornament on a really interesting car. We should be studying what's under the hood, the microbial world, if we want to understand the engine". We will examine striking examples of microbes and microbial activities in the environment. There is one required field trip to visit sites of microbial interest somewhere in southern California.
Freshmen only; limited enrollment.
Instructor: Leadbetter. Instructor's Web Page

Winter Term

FS/Ph 11abc. Freshman Seminar: Beyond Physics. 6 units (2-0-4); second, third terms of freshman year and first term of sophomore year.

Freshmen are offered the opportunity to enroll in this class by submitting potential solutions to problems posed in the fall term. A small number of solutions will be selected as winners, granting those students permission to register. This course demonstrates how research ideas arise, are evaluated, and tested and how the ideas that survive are developed. Weekly group discussions and one-on-one meetings with faculty allow students to delve into cutting edge scientific research. Ideas from physics are used to think about a huge swath of problems ranging from how to detect life on extrasolar planets to exploring the scientific underpinnings of science fiction in Hollywood films to considering the efficiency of molecular machines. Support for summer research at Caltech between freshman and sophomore years will be automatic for students making satisfactory progress. Graded pass/fail. Freshmen only; limited enrollment. Instructors: Phillips, Stevenson.  


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: 5/6/2019