In a recent poll, more than four-fifths of U.S. adults could not name a living scientist. Of those who could, the plurality (40 percent) named Stephen Hawking. (The next highest response was Neil deGrasse Tyson, followed by Jane Goodall.) No offense to the rightfully famous Hawking, but at Science News we would like to change these results. Why aren’t more scientists, particularly those who are young and accomplished, household names? Where, we want to know, are the Taylor Swifts of science?
You’ll find some of them below. For the second year in a row, Science News is highlighting 10 early- and mid-career scientists on their way to widespread acclaim. The SN 10: Scientists to Watch includes a laser physicist with laserlike focus, a materials scientist challenging what it means to be alive and a computational biologist willing to get personal with his microbiome, among many others who are making important advances in their chosen fields.
Though none of these scientists have recorded hit singles — at least not that our reporting uncovered — all were nominated by a Nobel laureate or recently elected member of the National Academy of Sciences. And all were age 40 or younger at the time of nomination.
These remarkable individuals have diverse personalities and talents: They are tenacious and creative, practical-minded and dreamers. They are lab animals and data heads. Some seek simplicity, others complexity. If there is one unifying trait, though, it would have to be their passion — a quality so cliché among successful scientists that it has to be true. As Marie Curie famously wrote in a letter to her sister, “Sometimes my courage fails me and I think I ought to stop working…. But I am held by a thousand bonds.” She did not know, she confessed, whether she could live without the laboratory.
Meet the SN 10
Evolutionary geneticist Aneil Agrawal is equally at home with real and hypothetical fruit flies.
Chemist Phil Baran draws on artistry and creativity to efficiently synthesize molecules that could improve people's lives.
Cognitive neuroscientist Jessica Cantlon wants to find out how humans understand numbers and where that understanding comes from.
Materials scientist Qian Chen is coaxing nanomaterials to self-assemble in new and unexpected ways.
Computational biologist Lawrence David regularly opens himself to new scientific challenges, including tracking his own microbiome.
Astronomer Anna Frebel discovered the most pristine star in the galaxy, among other record-breaking stellar finds.
As a group leader at the Janelia Research Campus, Jeremy Freeman is equal parts neuroscientist, computer coder and data visualization whiz.
Theoretical computer scientist Shayan Oveis Gharan has identified connections between unrelated fields to tackle the traveling salesman problem.
Drawn to the water early, oceanographer Melissa Omand now leads research cruises studying how carbon and nutrients move through the seas.
Physicist Tenio Popmintchev has created a tabletop X-ray laser, a Swiss army knife made of light.