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The Lonely Idea: A limited-series podcast from Caltech

For more than a century, Caltech has been a world leader in discovery and technological innovation thanks to a culture that prizes the pursuit of imaginative ideas wherever they may lead. In a new six-episode podcast series called The Lonely Idea, Caltech alumnus Richmond (Rich) Wolf (MS '94, PhD '97) explores how such technological and scientific breakthroughs come to be.

Through conversations with six Caltech faculty members, Wolf and The Lonely Idea trace breakthroughs in science and engineering back to their earliest sparks of innovation. Researchers describe how their often circuitous personal and scientific paths have led to important advances in areas that range from beneficial gut bacteria to lifesaving medical devices to the mysteries of dark matter.

  • "Trusting a Gut Instinct," with Sarkis Mazmanian, Luis B. and Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator
  • "Calling on Electrons," with Jackie Barton, John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry
  • "The Neuroscience of Stock Markets," with Colin Camerer, Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics and the T&C Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience Leadership Chair and Director
  • "The Engineer Who Fixes Hearts," with Mory Gharib (PhD '83), Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering, Booth-Kresa Leadership Chair and Director of the Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies, and Director of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories
  • "Our Quantum Complex Universe," with physicist Maria Spiropulu, Shang-Yi Ch'en Professor of Physics
  • "Earth's Vital Signs," with John Eiler, Robert P. Sharp Professor of Geology and Geochemistry

The researchers' stories make it clear that some of the most game-changing ideas in science and engineering are not initially well received. Wolf points out a recurring theme: Caltech's focus on collaboration and interdisciplinary research makes it possible to pursue such lonely ideas without feeling or being alone.

The Lonely Idea is the brainchild of Wolf, a partner at Capital World Investors and a member of the Caltech Board of Trustees. Before joining Capital in 2006, he served as Caltech's assistant vice president for technology transfer. In that role, he managed the intellectual property portfolio for Caltech and JPL as well as technology licensing agreements involving more than 2,000 patents.

According to Wolf, who is also a member of the Caltech Associates, he first experienced the ways in which a lonely idea can play out through various stages of inspiration, rumination, and revelation while a student of geology and geochemistry at Caltech.

Left, Sarkis Mazmanian, Luis B. and Nelly Soux Professor of Microbiology and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator, chats with Caltech alumnus Richmond (Rich) Wolf (MS '94, PhD '97) .

The Lonely Idea can be found at

Written by Jon Nalick