Earlier this year, General Electric asked a brilliant question: What if scientist Mildred Dresselhaus was treated like a celebrity? The idea, aired as a TV commercial, had many of us smiling at the possibility. In the ad, fans stop the nanoscience pioneer in the street to take selfies, a young girl receives a Dresselhaus doll as a birthday gift and a student sends a Millie emoji after acing a physics exam. The ad debuted in February during the Academy Awards telecast, just weeks before Dresselhaus passed away at age 86.
She lived an accomplished life. It’s nice to know the public got to hear about her, even if so late in her life. In reality, few women or, for that matter, men in science are well known outside of their own research circles — and certainly not well enough to appear on billboards or celebrity talk shows.
In the spirit of introducing the world to more innovators, and doing it early in their careers (maybe even in preparation for the next Oscar-worthy commercial), Science News presents its SN 10 for 2017. For the third year, we are spotlighting the work of 10 early- and mid-career scientists, age 40 and under, who stand out to mentors and peers as people who will make a difference.
Some of the researchers profiled here, nominated by Nobel laureates and recently elected members of the National Academy of Sciences, are motivated by the desire to ease the human condition. They want to feed the growing world population, boost our reliance on renewable energy or reduce the burden of global disease. One molecular anthropologist is revisiting the past, while an astronomer has his eyes pointed skyward, to find habitable worlds outside the solar system.
These scientists have been called creative, curious and fearless. They share a willingness to question existing knowledge and forge new paths that is reminiscent of Dresselhaus’ approach to research. Sounds like a winning strategy. — Cori Vanchieri
Meet the SN 10
Plant biologist José Dinneny's studies probe root development, which may have important implications for growing food in a changing climate.
Nanophotonics research by materials scientist Jennifer Dionne could lead to improved drugs, cancer tests or invisibility cloaks.
Computer scientist M. Ehsan Hoque programs emotionally attuned assistants that bring people together.
A physicist by training, Kerwyn Casey Huang tries to understand cell shape, movement and growth.
Astronomer David Kipping became “the moon guy” by deciding no idea is too crazy.
Inorganic chemist Chong Liu mixes bacteria and inorganics into systems that can generate clean energy better than a leaf.
In studies of Toxoplasma, parasitologist Lena Pernas has reframed infection as a battle between invader and a cell’s mitochondria.
To figure out how rich mental lives are created by the brain, neuroscientist Kay Tye applies “a new level of neurobiological sophistication.”
Molecular biologist Christina Warinner works with fossilized dental plaque, which contains a trove of genetic clues to past human diet and disease.
A bold approach to genome editing by biologist Luhan Yang could alleviate the shortage of organs and ease human suffering.