• Karim Lakhani

Climate Mathematician: Summer Researcher Explores Future Solutions

Name: Karim Lakhani
Hometown: Douglasville, GA
Class year: Class of 2018
Major: Chemical Engineering major in the Environmental Science and Engineering Track

Karim Lakhani excelled at math in school, and after learning about Caltech, he couldn't wait to pursue his studies there. Today, as a new Caltech graduate, he is excited to put his experiences from an Associates-funded Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) to work by pursuing a career on climate and atmospheric science and working on research that will be of benefit to the world. We caught up with him before the school year ended.

Why did you choose Caltech?

I head about Caltech from friends at school who were interested in science. After some research, I chose Caltech because I wanted to go to a small school, and I really liked the sense of community here. I enjoy smaller-sized classes, as it was an easier transition for me.

What do you enjoy the most about being a student at Caltech?

I really enjoy the strong social network and support system based around my friends in Ruddock House. "Ruds" don't necessarily have a defining characteristic, but we are passionate about what we do and do our very best at what we undertake. I enjoy the spontaneity of Caltech students—here we can decide to go to the beach at a random time, attend fascinating talks and networking opportunities on campus or farther afield in Santa Monica on topics such as energy and climate science, or just walk to Lake Avenue for frozen yogurt at weird times of the day or night.

Who did you work with for your SURF, and what was your project focused on?

I worked with Tapio Schneider, Theodore Y. Wu Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering and JPL senior research scientist, on paleoclimate to gain a better understanding of climate models. My project specifically looked at correlations between shifts in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and various energetic properties among various models. We hope to understand how the equations used in climate models are interconnected, and this insight could be used to make more accurate models moving forward.

What did you enjoy most about your SURF experience?

It was a hands-on experience, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with Professor Schneider and having this mentoring relationship. Even though it was stressful at the beginning to work so closely with him, as I didn't want to ask a dumb question, it was great access and a wonderful learning environment. I also enjoyed the flexible schedule that this type of computational research allowed—I could sleep in if I stayed up too late the night before working on a project and still get the work done.


Where do you see yourself after Caltech?

I will definitely go to graduate school and most likely study paleoclimate, exploring how climate was thousands of years ago and how to determine it. I am drawn to the subject of climate and atmospheric science and also like the idea that the work I can do could be something good for the world.

Do you have a favorite spot on campus?

My favorite spot to work is Gates 27, and my favorite spot to relax is Broad Café.

Can you share a unique Caltech experience?

I have fond memories of Tom Mannion's cooking classes. We could show up to the class and just cook—it was a great way to relieve stress. I then became a TA for the cooking class and have had a lot of fun cooking with my fellow students and learning more through experience. Each year, Ruddock House celebrates Thanksgiving by hosting a big dinner, and it was great to put my cooking skills from the class to work. I also have great memories from the Interhouse parties, where we socialize with the other houses. One year I helped my fellow Ruds build a three-story dance platform—it not only complied with safety regulations, but it was an impressive structure.

Closing sentiments?

By funding SURF, the Associates enabled me to broaden my research experience and better understand the different fields available to me. I am very grateful for this enriching opportunity to explore other research topics.

Update: I graduated from Caltech this June and I am excited to be headed to Georgia Tech for graduate school, specifically in Earth and Atmospheric Science.