Two generations of Corngolds endow a fellowship for Caltech graduate students

At research universities, on Wall Street, and in scientific foundations and federal laboratories across the country, there are Caltech alumni who have Noel Corngold to thank for his part in their success. A professor emeritus of applied physics, he has mentored students for five decades. Now, Corngold and his family have extended that support far into the future by creating a graduate fellowship in his name.

To endow the fellowship, Corngold is completing a pledge with a series of contributions to Break Through: The Caltech Campaign. Son Jordan Corngold and Jordan’s wife, Susannah Blinkoff, also are major contributors.

Noel Corngold timed his contributions so that he would gain four years of tax breaks (read an update on the CARES Act). In addition, the Gordon and Betty Moore Graduate Fellowship Match will provide an extra dollar for every two the family gives.

“Caltech is an important part of my life and my family’s life, and we’re very proud of the place,” Corngold says. “I thought this would be a nice thing to do.”


As a researcher, Corngold is known for elegant theoretical insights into how neutrons behave in reactors and, more generally, how large numbers of tiny particles behave collectively.

He also is highly regarded for his focus on teaching. Students had to attend his classes to succeed. When asked about a course textbook, he would respond, “Le livre c’est moi!” (“The book is me!”) He asked for course evaluations early and honed his instruction in real time.

Corngold particularly cherishes graduate students, the core of the faculty’s research enterprise. While they gain training, experience, and references, he explains, graduate students also help professors pursue more ideas than they could single-handedly.

However, he adds, professors must balance their ambitions with the availability of research grants or departmental budgets to fund graduate students. Those sources wax and wane. By contrast, endowed fellowships provide stability.

“Faculty treasure privately funded graduate fellowships for that reason,” Corngold says.

Students also put a premium on fellowships, which increase their independence. Corngold believes that new graduate students need the freedom that fellowships can confer to sample different research groups. “A new student doesn’t have a feel for what a given field is like and could get locked in,” he says.


Corngold’s life was shaped by a fellowship that helped fund his graduate study at Harvard. The fellowship had been endowed a century earlier and named for Charles Whiting, a talented young Harvard physics professor.

Corngold completed his thesis experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory, then stayed on as a theorist focused on reactor physics. He joined Caltech’s faculty in 1966 to help strengthen the Institute’s program in nuclear engineering. He and his family quickly fell in love with Pasadena, and he was excited by the academic environment. A Harvard professor reaffirmed his choice, saying, “I’ll tell you one thing about Caltech: There’s no dead wood there.”


Over five decades, Caltech has become integral to the Corngolds’ lives. Noel Corngold and his family participated in campus arts clubs, and their children were employed on campus. Son Jordan waited tables at the Athenaeum, which hosted many family celebrations; daughter Cara, while a teenager, organized the nuclear engineering library; and Noel’s late wife, Cynthia, created the Gallery-Goers group at the Caltech Women’s Club. Emily Corngold, Noel’s present wife, was a Caltech publications editor. Noel, Emily, and Jordan Corngold and Susannah Blinkoff are members of the Caltech Associates.

“My dad is 91 now, and he still makes it in to his office,” Jordan Corngold says, noting that the Caltech community treats its members with dignity.

“The fact that his name will be part of Caltech forever means a lot,” Jordan Corngold adds. “As my dad would say, it’s a no-brainer to give back.”