From Caltech: People at Caltech- An Occasional Series Celebrating the Diverse Individuals who give Caltech its Spirit of Excellence

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From Caltech

#SoCaltech is an occasional series celebrating the diverse individuals who give Caltech its spirit of excellence, ambition, and ingenuity. Know someone we should profile? Send nominations to

Isabella Camplisson
“Before I started in my lab I was kind of concerned all of the postdocs and grad students would be stereotypical academic types like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. That they wouldn’t talk much and it would be really awkward. I thought the other undergrads in my lab would be like that, too. For the first week, it was pretty quiet because we were all getting to know each other, but there was this one day where we realized we were all secretly watching the World Cup on these tiny little screens on our computers and so we just decided to put it on a big screen in the corner and all sit down and watch it together. And that was just a really good bonding experience and we all got really invested in it and somehow every single person in the lab was rooting for England so there was no conflict. It made me realize that there are some really cool people in academia.”

Isabella Camplisson—who came to Caltech from Sydney, Australia—is studying computation and neural systems. This summer, for her Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), she has been working in the lab of David Van Valen, research assistant professor of biology and biological engineering, where she has been using a type of AI called deep learning to identify and track cells in microscopy videos.

Michaëlle Mayalu

“One piece of advice I received about becoming a professor is that you want to be able to see how people learn from different viewpoints, different perspectives, to see how people teach, how problems are solved. Here at Caltech, at least in the lab of Richard Murray [the Thomas E. and Doris Everhart Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems and Bioengineering], I’ve noticed there is more emphasis placed on doing research for discovery and scientific advancement than on doing research for publication. Instead of publishing right away, you can think of alternatives to solve a problem and have maybe a more complete paper that might be potentially more impactful because you’re getting different perspectives and ideas.”

Michaëlle Mayalu, a postdoctoral scholar in computing and mathematical sciences, arrived at Caltech in fall 2017 after a decade on the East Coast, during which she earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees at MIT. Mayalu is also a 2017–2018 AGEP scholar working on ways to use mathematics and control theory to model how genetically engineered cells execute new decision-making behaviors.

Victor Tsai

“As a student, honestly, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. I basically had three research advisers while I was an undergraduate at Caltech; all three of them were not just at the top of their fields, but the world leaders in their fields. Since coming back as a faculty member, I’ve tried to mentor undergraduates the way I was mentored. It can be challenging, because sometimes students don’t know that much about a specialized field. They’re really smart and they have a lot of the basic training to be a scientist, but they don’t know, for example, how you could use a seismometer to measure sediment transport. So there’s often a lot of teaching that has to go on in a pretty short amount of time. I realize even more now how great my undergraduate advisers were in terms of leading someone who may be smart and wants to accomplish something interesting over a 10-week period. It’s sometimes hard to lead them in the right direction over such a short amount of time. But I’ve tried.”

Professor of Geophysics and Caltech alumnus Victor Tsai (BS ’04) received his PhD from Harvard and carried out his postdoctoral work also at Harvard and at the U.S. Geological Survey. Tsai returned to Caltech as a member of the faculty in 2011. His research focuses on trying to understand the sources of ambient seismic noise and the short-timescale variability of glaciers. To hear more from Tsai, check out “How to Advance Earth Science” on the Break Through: The Caltech Campaign website.

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The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

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