When I was in grade school, science seemed like the stuff of solitary geniuses. We learned about Edison, Einstein and Darwin as great men laboring alone in search of their breakthrough discovery. But science is a team sport, a fact that’s often obscured by the “lone genius” trope. Edison, for one, employed dozens of young men, whom he called “muckers,” to develop materials for phonograph records and insulation for electrical wires. Many of his assistants went on to do great things on their own, but Edison’s is the name that endures in the textbooks.
This issue of Science News marks our fifth year celebrating the work of early- and mid-career scientists. Although we recognize 10 individuals a year, it’s striking how for many of them, collaborating and making cross-disciplinary connections is central to their work, revealing modern science as a diverse global enterprise.
This year’s class of “SN 10” achievers, all men and women under age 40, exemplify that diversity. They’re applying their curiosity about the world and their formidable technical skills to solving real-world problems. And some of the scientists have ranged far from their original field of study. They include a chemist who probes the cosmos, an economist trying to make school choice more equitable and an engineer who wants our brains to be able to command machines just by thinking.
Interviewing these fascinating people and introducing them to our readers is a treat for us, since so much of the time we’re focused on the results of scientific studies. “So rarely do we get to peek into the lives of the scientists,” says Elizabeth Quill, special projects editor for Science News. Quill directs the SN 10 enterprise, which itself is a collaborative effort involving dozens of people, including British artist Sam Falconer, who brings each scientist’s work to life in his delightful cover illustration. Quill is particularly intrigued by the spark that leads young people to devote themselves to science, and that keeps them going through incorrect hypotheses, data dead ends and funding challenges.
We hope you’ll enjoy reading about these remarkable young scientists as much as we have enjoyed profiling them. And we invite you to join us on October 22 for a live online discussion with earth and climate writer Carolyn Gramling and Malin Pinsky, an SN 10 scientist who investigates how climate change is affecting fish populations. Details about the event are available at www.sciencenews.org/webinars.
And as always, in this issue we’re keeping you up to date on the latest news in science, including the discovery that a planet beyond our solar system may have cloudy skies and rain showers, raising the question of whether the planet could be “habitable.” Physics writer Emily Conover reports on a leaked paper that describes how researchers at Google may have achieved “quantum supremacy,” with a quantum computer performing a calculation that could not be done by a standard computer. Will these turn out to be major discoveries, or intriguing blips? We’ll stay on the case and keep you informed as these stories develop.