Penn State

Penn Staters named to Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’ share their stories

Former Penn State football lineman John Urschel was named to Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” list in January. He is now playing professional football for the Balitmore Ravens, while presuing a doctoral degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Former Penn State football lineman John Urschel was named to Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” list in January. He is now playing professional football for the Balitmore Ravens, while presuing a doctoral degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Centre Daily Times, file

Five men with ties to Penn State were named to Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” list in January. But the story doesn’t end there.

John Urschel, Olivier Noel, Huanyu Cheng and Karan Jani were recognized for their achievements in science, and Greg Glod for his work in law and policy. They were among 600 people named in 20 fields in the annual selections.

When contacted, each had personal thoughts to share about his honor.

John Urschel, 25

The former Penn State football lineman plays guard for the Baltimore Ravens. Last year he also started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a doctoral candidate in mathematics.

“If you would have told me that I was going to be doing both at the same time when I was in college, I would have looked at you like you were a crazy person,” Urschel said.

“I’ve seen far, far too many really good football players who can play in the NFL get out of the NFL very quickly, because it’s a numbers game and it’s always important to have a degree to fall back on,” he said.

Urschel has published six papers on mathematical theories and is working on other projects.

Greg Glod, 29

The 2010 Penn State graduate attended law school in Maryland and interned in civil litigation and criminal defense work. When he realized that wasn’t his passion, he said, he took a chance to work on civil reform for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Forbes recognized Glod for his work on expanding legislation sealing the records of those convicted for nonviolent, nonsexual crimes who complete an assigned probation. The law passed the Texas legislature.

“Knowing that my work will potentially either allow a father to rehabilitate and get back into the community so he can afford college and pay bills for his son or daughter, or have a mother reconnect with her children — that really does help you wake up in the morning,” Glod said.

Olivier Noel, 28

Noel co-founded DNAsimple, an online databank that researchers can use to get samples from a population they are studying.

Potential donors are matched with a study looking for their traits, and those qualifying are sent saliva tests to complete and return, he said.

“The way to get samples, to me, has been very old-school and inefficient,” he said. “I’ve realized that we have all of the technology now, all of the sequence and capabilities, and there’s options for me to look through DNA and analyze it better than we’ve ever done before. But we still struggle with the same problems when it comes to recruitment.”

He is pursuing his medical and doctoral degrees in biochemistry and molecular genetics at Penn State.

After medical school, he said he wants to use his understanding of genetic backgrounds to develop personalized treatments.

Huanyu Cheng, 28

The assistant professor in the department of mechanics at Penn State tells the story of an injury to his father.

“My father fell at a construction site four years ago and broke four of his ribs,” Cheng said. “We drug him into a hospital, and they did a small surgery and the doctor did implant a few supporting structures for the healing process. But that also resulted in a surgical operation six months later to take out those supporting structures. So that is really inconvenient.”

To address problems like that, Cheng is focusing on dissolvable electronics that monitor internal organ function, providing the opportunity for technology to warn about health risks and track recovery.

Cheng said patients could be discharged from a hospital without the wires of current monitoring systems and the data could be recorded virtually. The patient would not need to undergo an operation to remove the monitoring device because it would dissolve in the body.

He also is researching biologically inspired electronics — products worn on the skin to analyze body functions, including temperature, heart rate and hydration levels.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua University in China, Cheng earned a master’s degree and doctorate from Northwestern University.

Karan Jani, 28

“When I was in India, I had never even seen a telescope. I was just curious about the universe,” Jani said.

The astronomer, who came to the university in 2007, was on the team at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory that discovered the first gravitational waves since Albert Einstein’s theory predicted them 100 years ago.

“The very first time I saw a telescope and looked at the universe was when I came to Penn State for my undergraduate. Now I am part of the greatest scientific discovery in 100 years.”

Jani’s focus is on black holes and black hole collisions. He said that when two black holes not surrounded by dust or gas collide, they do not emit any radiation or electromagnetism, so that energy forms gravitational waves.

Jani and his team at LIGO observed the first direct detection of gravitational waves on Sept. 14, 2015, he said.

Aubree Rader is a Penn State journalism student.