California Institute of Technology

University in Pasadena & the San Gabriel Valley

With 34 Nobel laureates among its faculty and alumni (not to mention that it's the fictional setting of TV's The Big Bang Theory), it’s no surprise that Caltech is regarded with awe in academic circles. Earthquake studies were essentially pioneered here in the 1920s with the inventions of the seismograph and the Richter scale, and to this day Caltech scientists are usually the first experts to be consulted whenever a shaker strikes.

For less earthbound pursuits, Caltech also operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s main center for robotic exploration of the solar system, about 7 miles north of the main campus. It’s possible to visit JPL during public lectures in the annual open house (usually in May), or by requesting a free tour well in advance.

The hallowed main campus is dotted with century-old stone buildings and shady old oaks mixed in with new mind-bending steel and glass structures such as the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Free student-led tours depart from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Alternatively, pick up a self-guided tour booklet at the office, or download one from the website.