Science relies on work of young research standouts

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Sandy Schaffer

This issue marks the second year that Science News has reached out to science notables and asked: Which up-and-coming scientist is making a splash? Whose work impresses you? Tell us about early- to mid-career scientists who have the potential to change their fields and the direction of science more generally.

This year, we expanded the pool of people we asked. We reached out to Nobel laureates again and added recently elected members of the National Academy of Sciences. That allowed us to consider shining lights from a much broader array of fields, from oceanography and astronomy to cognitive psychology. Another difference this year: We spent time face-to-face with many of those selected, to get a better sense of them both as scientists and as people.

The result is the SN 10, a collection of stories not only about science, but also about making a life in science. They are stories of people succeeding because they have found what they love, be it working in the lab on new ways to probe molecular structures or staring up to the stars in search of glimmers of the early universe. In my interviews with chemist Phil Baran, I was struck by his drive to do things in new ways, whether devising chemical reactions or developing ideas about how to fund research. (If you can, he says, go private.) Laura Sanders, who met with neuroscientist Jeremy Freeman, was intrigued by his way of seeing a problem (siloed data that can’t be easily shared or analyzed) and figuring out solutions, even if those solutions were outside his area of expertise.

Of course, there are many ways to identify noteworthy scientists — and there’s plenty more fodder out there for future years. Our approach was to seek standouts, asking who deserved recognition for the skill of their methods, the insights of their thinking, the impacts of their research. Not all of the SN 10’s work has made headlines, but they all share something more important: They are participants in building the science of the future.

Notably, many of them do basic research. I think that’s because it’s the type of work that other scientists notice, even if it’s not always on the radar of the general public. But that’s where fundamental advances are often made, as scientists explore the unknown.

That edge of what’s known is where Science News likes to explore, too. Such as the bet-ending, head-scratching results from the Large Hadron Collider, which have failed to reveal the particles that the equations of supersymmetry predict. As Emily Conover reports in “Supersymmetry’s absence at LHC puzzles physicists,” that means that either the theory must be more complicated than originally thought, or not true, letting down those who looked to supersymmetry to help explain a few enduring mysteries, from the nature of dark matter to the mass of the Higgs boson. 

Other mysteries may be closer to a solution, as Sanders reports in “New Alzheimer’s drug shows promise in small trial.” A new potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease reduced amyloid-beta plaques in patients. It also showed hints of improving cognition. That’s standout news, a result built on decades of basic research by many, many bright young scientists.

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