Jonathan Rothberg

What fascinates Jonathan Rothberg about science is the ability to learn something no one knew before or to create an instrument that enables the discovery of something new. He is a serial entrepreneur best known for inventing high-speed, massively parallel DNA sequencing. The company he founded, 454 Life Sciences, brought to market a new method for sequencing genomes. After creating the next generation sequencing, he went on to develop the first sequencing on a semiconductor chip enabling the $1,000 genome. With this discovery he founded Ion Torrent where they actually sequenced the genome of Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.

The idea for the high-speed sequencing came to him when his infant son was rushed to intensive care and he realized how critical personal genomes were to human health. That invention is now in use at major pharmaceutical companies, universities, genome centers, and medical centers around the world and his son, Noah, lived to inspire yet another company. Rothberg has made gifts to MIT in support of projects led by Max Tegmark of the Physics Department and Maria Zuber of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He decided to get involved because of the tremendous scope of the projects these scientists are pursuing and the vision behind them. About Professor Zuber, Rothberg says, “she really thinks big,” and he notes that “Max Tegmark is one of those people who, as Steve Jobs was fond of saying, is actually putting a dent in the universe.” Professor Tegmark intends to map the universe at a resolution never before obtainable, and Professor Zuber is using sequencing technology to detect life on Mars.

“Ultimately it is research that raises the quality of life, and if you love science and discovery and people, then you should support basic research.” -Jonathan Rothberg

Although his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering is from Carnegie Mellon and his Ph.D. in biology from Yale, Jonathan Rothberg encourages others to support science at MIT. “Ultimately it is research that raises the quality of life, and if you love science and discovery and people, then you should support basic research.” Ion Torrent was acquired in 2010 by Life Technologies. Rothberg also founded CuraGen Corporation, a company dedicated to using genome technologies in drug development; RainDance Technology, a company developing general droplet microfluidic lab-on-chip technologies; and Clarifi Corporation, an analytical software company. Rothberg is inspired to create companies that impact the quality of life, and he is always looking for like-minded people to join him.

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