Students at the California Institute of Technology campus were able to forget rocket science for a day and harvest olives instead.
Students and faculty put away their laptops Friday to climb 16-foot-high ladders, perch in cherry pickers and grab the black and green fruit that would otherwise stain the university’s walkways.
Their goal is to make some 1,200 bottles of olive oil to raise money for scholarships, staff bonuses and student activities.
“It’s not really just about the olives. It’s about everyone working together,” said freshman math major Tim Black of Wisconsin, who was one of more than 500 people picking olives.
Olive picking became a fall event at the campus more famous for producing math geniuses and rocket scientists after two students began plucking campus trees as a joke last year.
President Jean-Lou Chameau, who saw them, told biology major Ricky Jones and physics major Dvin Adalian he would prepare them a home-cooked meal if they could figure out how to turn the olives into olive oil.
They met the challenge using blenders, concrete blocks, window screens and a centrifuge.
Their efforts garnered so much attention that Caltech decided to create a full-blown harvest festival this year.
Most of the olives that students and faculty plucked were being turned over to the Santa Barbara Olive Co., where they will be professionally pressed and bottled.
But Jones, 22, and Adalian, 20, kept their hand in, designing and helping build a human-powered crusher that rolled two one-ton metal wheels over some of the olives, which were then wrapped in cloth, placed in a press and squeezed into a bin.
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