Caltech Admissions Essays

Essay: Interest in math, science, or engineering


Interest in math, science, or engineering manifests itself in many forms. Caltech professor and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman (1918-1988) explained, 'I'd make a motor, I'd make a gadget that would go off when something passed a photocell, I'd play around with selenium'; he was exploring his interest in science, as he put it, by 'piddling around all the time.' In a page, more or less, tell the Admissions Committee how you express your interest, curiosity, or excitement about math, science or engineering.

Over the phone, my dad described what was happening as he lifted the cover off of the viewing portal. Suddenly, he began to laugh uncontrollably: the robotic mousetrap I had built out of LEGO Mindstorms had actually caught a rat! On the other end of the line, my 8-year-old self also collapsed in laughter. That was the moment when my love for robotics and engineering became irrevocable.

I have been inventing and building things as long as I can remember; curious investigation has always led to practical application. Often, as I lie in bed in the mornings, fragments of thought coalesce into ideas - like the above machine to capture marauding rodents - and I feel an irrepressible urge to immediately jump up and implement them. Where the young Feynman would repair radios - the technology of his day - throughout elementary school, I would "piddle around" with robot mechanisms and computers, building and programming fun or useful devices out of my LEGOs, such as a crude but working photocopier or a machine to make perfect rainbow stripes on Easter eggs. Retrospectively, I see that this process cemented my lifelong fascination with creating nifty devices.

In middle school, my interests expanded from this foundation: I caught what Feynman referred to as the "computer disease" - an irresistible urge to play with programming. Leaping out of bed and coding up algorithms - writing an RSA encryptor or an anagram solver to beat a game - felt just like constructing robots, except in software you never run out of pieces. The knowledge I gained through this process empowered me to start my Web business.

So when high school rolled around, I saw no reason to stop learning math and science by having fun. I learned group theory by solving Rubik's cubes and I learned Java by programming the AI for battling digital robots. Then I joined the robotics team and applied the same class structures I had designed for virtual robots to the real machines. Here, I was also able to make use of my old experiences with physical mechanisms (like differential-ratchet drive shaft bifurcators) to help our hardware team achieve high functionality with few pieces.

The way I express my love of science, mathematics, and engineering is by musing on interesting problems and creating cool machines - virtual and physical. My '09 Science Fair entry - a device that can use the environment's energy to perform desalination - came from trying to figure out a way to quickly dry my surfing wetsuit. My Calculus BC project - a program that uses Fourier transforms to decompose musical chords picked up by microphone - came from an effort to generate piano sheet music from audio recordings. Studying the background information necessary to make these ideas into reality becomes a natural and exciting step as I journey to create my latest contraption or work with my friends on an enticing project.

I want to go to Caltech because everybody there has been able to answer the same question I am answering now - that is, they have been able to express their fascination with science or engineering in some way or another. I want to see what talents, passions, and ideas they bring to the table (or workstation), and join with the school's interconnected community of active thinkers as we expand our knowledge together. I want to have fun creating our most in-depth and fascinating projects yet.

Footnote: to see the elementary school robots I describe above, such as the photocopier and rat trap, go to:

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How to cite this essay (MLA)

Smith, John. "Essay: Interest in math, science, or engineering" Study Notes, LLC., 21 Sep. 2013. Web. 13 Jul. 2024. <>.