The Rubipy: A Toast to an Eminent Caltech Personality


The Rubipy is a striking cocktail, even at a casual glance. Just as well. How else would it attract attention on a campus replete with eccentric and extraordinary traditions?

This vibrant red drink, adorned with its signature neon bracelet, is almost irresistible. Order just one at the Athenaeum, the California Institute of Technology's (Caltech's) faculty club, and the dining room will soon be aglow with a sea of these tipples.

The man who inspired the Rubipy cocktail is equally inspirational. Beckman Professor of Chemistry Harry B. Gray brings a refreshing attitude to the traditionally serious and demanding Caltech environment. During his academic career, Harry has firmly established himself as a premier scientist. But his reputation, at Caltech and in the scientific community at large, is also based on his animated personality.

"My students and I, we have a great social group. I think we're number one in social life," he boasts. "I think people who play together and have fun together, do good science together. It's just that simple. You've got to really like the folks you work with, and we've formed sort of a family."

Harry's playful nature impressed the managers of the Athenaeum during Caltech's annual Staff Appreciation Seminar. The seminar is designed to show appreciation to the members of the Caltech community who often go unnoticed and includes activities such as awards for outstanding commitment to the university, documentaries of the staff in action, and a short seminar by one of the faculty members. At the 2002 seminar, Harry described his seminal work with the compound tris(2,2'-bipyridine) ruthenium(II), nicknamed Ru(bipy), on electron tunneling events in proteins important in solar energy conversion. His presentation style was unusual: "I did the Rubipy cheer with them and taught them how to say 'Roo-bippy' properly," he recalls.

The Rubipy

    1 oz vodka

    1.5 oz Watermelon Pucker

    0.5 oz orange liqueur (Cointreau or Triple Sec)

    splash of lime juice

    optional splash of grenadine

Courtesy of the bartender at the Athenaeum, Caltech's faculty club

Athenaeum General Manager Crystal Thomas, Food and Beverage Director Jorge Alvarado, and Executive Chef Edward Ungre had already been captivated by Harry's spirit during their social interactions at the Athenaeum. His presentation at the seminar inspired them to create a drink in his honor, one that mimicked the beautiful red color and the fun name of the compound Ru(bipy).

"At first we thought we should rename the Cosmopolitan, which is cranberry juice, vodka, and lime. But then we decided we should create our own drink, something different," says Alvarado.

Alvarado and his co-workers experimented with different recipes for a unique red drink and finally narrowed the search to four possibilities. Then they invited Harry and his students to conduct a taste-test of the four finalists. The winner was a brilliant red mixture of vodka, watermelon liqueur, a triple sec liqueur, lime, and an optional dash of grenadine for those with an assertive sweet tooth.

Harry has been awarded so many prestigious honors for his scientific achievements and contributions that many might not consider the Rubipy to be important in comparison. However, Harry is not one to belittle this acknowledgment. "I think this is a different kind of recognition, so I put this really high on the list. This is right up there with being honored by the Queen of Denmark," he beams.

Given his commitment to the social life of Caltech, it is fitting that Harry should be the first faculty member honored with his own cocktail. The Rubipy is an affirmation of the spirit Harry spreads across campus and his attitude toward life: work hard and play hard.

The cocktail has met with great success and has acquired a loyal following, especially among Harry's students. Encouraged by this achievement, the managers at the Athenaeum plan to further enrich the menu with additional faculty-inspired cocktails. "We are looking into getting other professors to put their names on new drinks. We'd like to work with Caltech's Nobel Prize winners next. It's an ongoing project at the Athenaeum," says Mr. Alvarado.

While the Rubipy has not yet entered the surrounding L.A. social scene, it has followed the lead of its inspirer and established itself as a new Caltech icon. Perhaps, given time, it will become a mainstream favorite. According to Harry it has a chance, within scientific circles at least, especially since a lot of people work with Ru(bipy).

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