The outer limits of the big questions

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Christopher Rose ’79, SM ’81, PhD ’85, received three degrees from MIT in Electrical Engineering but has always been drawn to many disciplines. As an engineering professor at Brown University he works at the frontiers of communications theory, while as an administrator he strives to improve the diversity of students and faculty in STEM disciplines. . And he’s most famous – at least by Wikipedia standards – for a 2004 nature article claiming that scientists trying to detect possible alien civilizations have done everything wrong. Instead of sending or listening to radio messages that will dissipate, he thinks it’s more likely that ETs will use a “message in a bottle” approach, announcing themselves through densely coded physical artifacts with information, like a Cosmic Rosetta Stone. The Nature journal is “emblematic of the kind of work I love to do,” says Rose. “I like looking at the big question, discovering the outer limits and seeing if that tells us we should be doing or thinking about something differently.”

Born and raised in Harlem, Rose began planning her education at the age of five. “I asked my dad, where is the best place to learn science, math and all? And he said MIT, ”he recalls. After graduation he was a researcher at Bell Labs before moving on to academic positions at Rutgers, MIT (as Visiting Professor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), and finally at Brown. His research has implications for the efficiency of wireless data and mobile networks, but he also extends his ideas to unconventional fields such as molecular computing, which involves the storage and manipulation of information in organic molecules. rather than in silicon chips.

Rose also founded STEMJazz, a Brown program of seminars and networking for researchers from different disciplines, especially those from under-represented groups. And last year, he became Brown’s associate provost for STEM initiatives. “The idea is to build sustainable diversity, by changing the way people think,” he explains. “I firmly believe that because of the obstacles that minorities face in these areas, they tend to be really good if they reach a certain level. And on top of that, they tend to be wider and more creative. He quotes a recent Stanford study which revealed that the doctoral theses of women and racial minorities introduce new concepts at rates higher than usual rates. “This breadth allows them to talk from one discipline to another,” says Rose. “This is where I get excited most, at the intersections of disciplines, where breakthroughs occur.”

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