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  • Chris Rogan (left), Jessie Rosenberg (middle), and Kelly Littlepage
01/27/2012 08:00:00

Forbes Magazine Recognizes Three Caltech Leaders

Two alumni and one graduate student from Caltech have been named to Forbes magazine's 30 Under 30, a list of notable leaders who have yet to reach their 30th birthdays. The list, which was released in December, honors people from 12 fields that range from finance and science to music and entertainment.

Graduate student Chris Rogan made the list in the science category. Rogan has lived in Geneva, Switzerland, for almost six years working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful particle accelerator in the world and perhaps the most complex science experiment ever conducted. The LHC slams protons together to produce particles that then decay into a flurry of other particles in a fleeting moment. Rogan is part of Caltech's team involved in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), one of the main detectors of the LHC that's sifting through heaps of particle-collision data to tease out evidence for new types of particles and exotic theories of physics.

"The coolest part of my work is that our experiment is truly able to look at the world in a way that no one has been able to do before," Rogan says. "The CMS experiment is like an incredibly complex camera that takes pictures in both space and time of what happens in high-energy collisions-a camera that represents the work of thousands of physicists and engineers. It's been a very fortunate and exciting time to be a graduate student working on the LHC."

An endeavor as ambitious as the LHC would be impossible without students like Rogan, says Maria Spiropulu, professor of physics at Caltech and Rogan's advisor. "His work changes the way we search for new physics at the LHC, and he continues to push the boundaries, and as he learns, he also teaches his colleagues," she says. "He is incredibly driven and does not cease to impress me."

Jessie Rosenberg (PhD '10) came to Caltech when she was 17 years old-as a graduate student. Rosenberg learned how to read at age three and a half, learned about the Pythagorean theorem at age eight, and took physics at the University of Virginia in the eighth grade. She skipped high school and went to Bryn Mawr College before studying applied physics at Caltech, where she worked with Oskar Painter, professor of applied science, on devices called optical resonators, which are used to trap and manipulate light.

"I got into physics because I was always interested in math but wanted that connection to the physical world," she says. Growing up, she read popular physics books like Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps. "As I got older, I became more interested in applied science: how we could use this knowledge to make the world a better place."

She's now a researcher at IBM TJ Watson Research Center, developing faster ways for computers to communicate with one another. The limit of today's supercomputers isn't computation power, she explains, but in sending and receiving data. Computers are now connected with thick, electrical wires, which lose power as electrical signals travel through the cable. But if optical fibers replaced electrical wires-if instead of delivering data with electrons you use photons-then data can be transferred with negligible data and power loss. Using silicon photonics, as the technology is called, tomorrow's computer networks can be vastly improved in speed, efficiency, and cost, she says.

Rosenberg credits Caltech for making her a better researcher. "I think everything I did there helped me get to where I am now," she says. "My time there helped me to not be scared of pulling out the schematics for a complicated piece of cleanroom equipment and crawling under there with a screwdriver. I learned that even if something doesn't work the first fifteen times, maybe it'll work the sixteenth."

Making the list in the finance category is Kelly Littlepage (BS '09), who majored in applied math and business and minored in control and dynamical systems. While a senior, he started working at Crabel Capital Management, where he's now the director of microstructure, working on financial strategies and algorithms for trading.

By the time he arrived on Caltech's campus, he knew he wanted to get into finance. "I love the high-energy environment and the application of math and scientific computing to an increasingly technical field," he says. "The problems are completely open ended, the data sets are intractably large, and the stakes are large. Financial markets share much with academia: there's always something new to research, and theories are constantly in motion. I never get bored and I never run out of work." He adds, "I could make a more meaningful contribution to science through business. Building synergies between the two is a big goal of mine."

Littlepage is a proud member of Fleming house, where he was the treasurer and head waiter, working with dining services to coordinate dinners and bearing responsibility for carrying on House traditions. During his senior year, he threw discus and shot put for the track and field team. Some of his favorite memories of being a Techer? Hanging out with Stephen Hawking at a dinner hosted by Tom Mannion, senior director of student activities and programs, and the prank war with MIT over the Fleming cannon. After MIT stole the cannon, he says, "My house amassed an army to retrieve it from Cambridge."

One of the most valuable qualities he's learned from Caltech is the confidence to tackle any problem. "Caltech instilled in me the mindset to glue myself in a chair with a pad of paper and Google on my screen until I solved the problem," he says. "The daily exposure to some of today's best minds was awesome. It was through my friends and the housing system that I learned how to work hard, solve problems collectively, and get the job done."

Written by Marcus Woo