I grew up in New City, NY. It's a small town about 20 miles northwest of New York City. My sister, who's 14 years older than me, was at home until I was around three, at which point she left to go to college at MIT. I've never forgiven her for this. Unlike her, I was born in New York City. Both of my parents (and my sister) are from Russia and moved to the US several years before I was born. Although I've never been to Russia, I can speak, read, and write the language fairly well.
As a child, I participated in many different activities, including playing soccer and hockey, earning a black belt in Taekwondo, and even playing the piano. Of all these, I still love ice skating and have even played in a hockey game or two since then. I've also always enjoyed swimming, both in the ocean and in pools. I still try to do it as much as possible.
Starting in my sophomore year I began working as a web developer for a local internet provider, later moving on to consulting for a company that specialized in building financial planners' websites. I continued working for them through my freshman year in college. After my junior year of high school, I spent 6 weeks of my summer at Cornell University taking college-level courses and fell in love with the campus. The fact that Cornell had a great computer science program made going there an even easier choice, since that's what I was planning to study.
I was accepted to Cornell early decision later that year (which was great, since I hadn't started any other application) and started there in August 2002. After a year-and-a-half of computer science courses I decided that physics was a lot more interesting and declared my major to be physics, completely to the surprise of the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science. However, I still worked for the computer science department as a teaching assistant and my knowledge of computers has helped me with most of my work in physics.
Although a physics major, I focused on astrophysics and specifically on studying gravity and cosmology. After my sophomore year I spent a summer at Notre Dame (in Indiana) working on Project GRAND as part of the Notre Dame REU program. For the summer of 2005 I was stuck in the middle of nowhere Washington (a.k.a. Richland, WA) playing with lasers and doing optical simulation work at the LIGO Hanford Observatory.
After graduating from Cornell, I spent a year in the Spitzer/IRS group at Cornell working on data analysis software and then started as a graduate student at Caltech in August 2007. Since then I've been taking classes in physics and astrophysics, spending part of my time at JPL, and studying all sorts of cool things.