There was a time when Regina Ragan, now a researcher in quantum
mechanics, wondered if she'd ever go to college.
Ragan attended a high school in Southern California that had
few math teachers. Her geometry teacher was trained as an English
"He'd sit there with the book, and I remember myself and
another girl would sometimes correct him," she recalls. "It
got to the point where I taught myself."
"That was a pivotal experience. I thought, I can't do this
for the rest of my life," she says.
Determined to get an education, Ragan left what many think of
as paradise to return to school. A year out of high school, she
was ineligible for most scholarships and loans, so she got a job
handling billing and schedules at a trucking company while attending
a junior college part-time.
After some time at this, she decided it was taking too long to
finish school, so she quit her job and transferred as a full-time
student to UCLA. Initially, she majored in chemical engineering,
planning to complete school and go to work. That was until she
discovered quantum mechanics.
She was influenced by a young, enthusiastic professor, and she
went to work in his quantum molecular dynamics lab.
"He reminded me that I could still do whatever I wanted,"
Ragan recalls. She graduated as the top student in the school
of engineering and applied sciences at UCLA.
She received her PhD in applied physics from the prestigious
California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She's now partly
through a two-year post-doc position at HP Labs.
"I had offers for permanent jobs, but I wanted to work here
more than anywhere else," she says. "I was impressed
with the people I'd be working with."
Ragan's job involves using the Scanning Tunneling Microscope
to grow and analyze the nanoscale wires.
"When you talk about nanotechnology, you start getting
into the area where you may have quantum effects - a lot of them,"
she says. "When you're looking at things on that small a
scale, on the order of tens of nanometers, it's like you're exploring
Although her path has been rockier than many, Ragan says she
isn't sorry to have experienced what she did. "It taught
me that I could jump any hurdles to achieve what I want."