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Regina Ragan

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When you're looking at things on that small a scale, on the order of tens of nanometers, it's like you're exploring new properties.

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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 teacher.

"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."

Regina Ragan

Ragan was raised by her mother, who couldn't afford to send her to college. When she finished high school, she went to work as a waitress in Hawaii.

"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 new properties."

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."

About Regina

Education: PhD, applied physics, Caltech
Native country: United States
Joined HP Labs: March 2002
Hobbies: Reading, hiking, biking and shopping
Biggest influence: Sister Maureen (my 3rd, 4th, and 6th grade teacher.)

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