Lyle Small ’93 & Gillian Opatrny ’08
Lyle Small ’93
Lyle Small has always been an inventor. When he was six, he fashioned a makeshift beekeeper suit—a ski mask, cowboy boots, a pair of ski goggles, and his mom’s oven mitts—so he could play outside without getting stung. During his sophomore year on the Hill in the agricultural and biological engineering program, Small became fascinated with thermochromic materials, which change color due to shifts in temperature. At the time, thermochromic T-shirts were all the rage on campus, and Small wanted to find other applications for the technology. “I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of making things that the world has never seen before,” he says.
A month before graduation, Small launched what would become Chromatic Technologies, Inc. Headquartered in Colorado Springs since 1996, the firm is a leader in specialty inks and coatings, manufacturing an average of 150,000 pounds of materials each year and shipping to more than sixty countries. It not only specializes in thermochromic inks but also those that glow in the dark and others that are photochromic, meaning sensitive to ultraviolet light or sunlight.
One of the company’s best-known products is used in the “Cold Certified” labels on Coors Light beer cans. In 2006, Coors came out with the slogan, “When the mountains turn blue, it’s as cold as the Rockies.” When a thermochromic can is chilled to 39 degrees, the mountains in the logo turn from white to blue, indicating that the beer is at the optimal temperature. “I started out as a nerd, and I’ve become this quasi-executive person,” Small says. “To get to travel the world and sell the things I’ve invented is a huge kick.”
Gillian Opatrny ’08
If you walk past Sweet Lady Jane bakery on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, California, you might catch a glimpse of Gillian Opatrny in the store window, putting the finishing touches on a custom cake. But if you go inside to ask her opinion on cake flavors, you’d find that she can’t offer one—having never tasted them herself.
At sixteen, Opatrny was diagnosed with Celiac disease—meaning that she has an intolerance to gluten, which is found in wheat-based baked goods including the cakes she decorates daily. What motivated someone with Celiac to become a pastry chef? A yearning for creativity. After graduating with a sociology degree, Opatrny got a job as a marketing associate for Johnson & Johnson in New York. “I learned really quickly that I had a hard time working at a desk,” she says. Having grown up in a family of avid cooks, she often fantasized about working with food. So she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, California—where she focused on baking, despite her instructors’ qualms about her inability to taste most of what she made.
Opatrny eventually became fascinated with cake decorating; at Sweet Lady Jane, a high-end patisserie with two locations in the Los Angeles area, she designs cakes ranging from simple nine-inch rounds to extravagant concoctions costing upwards of $1,000. Her creations have included a tea-partythemed birthday cake with a floral teapot resting on a tablecloth of frosting; a three-tiered cake shaped like the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz; and a baby shower cake featuring individual toy blocks. “Working in a bakery, I don’t get bored,” she says. “It’s creative and fun—and if I make a mistake, I can just scrape it off.”
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