• A manuscript from The Old English Orosius dated between the years 892 and 925.
    Credit: The British Library

New Courses for the 2015–16 School Year

The start of the 2015–2016 school year brings not only new freshmen and faculty, but also new courses.

Several new classes have been added in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences. These include a course on Old English Literature, in which students will study literature written in the earliest form of the English language, commonly used in England from roughly 450 to 1100 AD. The new course will be taught by the Weisman Postdoctoral Instructor in Medieval British Literature, Benjamin Saltzman.

"When we speak and write in English, we rarely think about the paths the language took to get to where it is today with all its quirks and varieties: why is it that we say 'one mouse,' but 'two mice'? And if you can figure that out, then why do we say 'two houses'?" Saltzman says. "Once we take a closer look at this early stage of the language, we gain access to some extraordinary pieces of literature—from riddles to poems about war—and in the process we'll learn about some of the idiosyncrasies that have persisted in the modern form of the language."

The Division of Engineering and Applied Science is also introducing three new interdisciplinary mechanical engineering courses, one of which is the Mechanics of Soils. The class will be taught by Professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering Domniki Asimaki, and will focus on the basic principles of stiffness, deformation, stress, and strength of soils, sands, clays, and silts.

"Soils are very heterogeneous materials. Some are plastic like soft clays, others are brittle like cemented sands, and others are purely frictional like granular media. More frequently we see some mix of these," Asimaki says. "The top few hundred meters of the earth's crust, where most of the infrastructure of modern cities is founded on, is roughly made of 'soils'. Thus, we want to make predictions about the deformation and failure of soils, such as consolidation from groundwater pumping, slope stability failures, foundation capacity of buildings, or liquefaction of sands—so called quick-sands." The class, she says, aims to provide an understanding of soil behavior from laboratory experiments and field observations, and to develop idealized predictive models that capture aspects of that behavior.

A new course in the medical engineering department, New Frontiers in Medical Technologies, will examine space technologies, instruments, and engineering techniques with respect to their current and potential applications in medicine. The course will allow students to interact with both Caltech researchers in medical engineering and scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

"The history of space exploration and its many spinoffs have taught us that many space technologies are very useful for on-earth medicine," says Shouleh Nikzad (PhD '90), a visiting associate in astrophysics and senior research scientist at JPL. She will teach the new course in the spring term.

Written by Lori Dajose