Mental Floss

10 Trailblazing Scientists About to Change Your Future

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by Eric Furman

1. Erich Jarvis, Neurobiologist

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2. Nathan Wolfe, Epidemiologist

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3. Emily Oster, Economist

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4. Hiroshi Ishiguro, Roboticist

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5. Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Forensic Anthropologist

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6. Pardis Sabeti, Biological Anthropologist

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Sabeti now plans on using her algorithm to deconstruct the malaria parasite. By seeing how the parasite has evolved to develop drug resistances, she hopes to detect genetic vulnerabilities in malaria's makeup. If she's successful, future cures will be designed to attack those weaknesses. Meanwhile, Sabeti isn't your typical lab rat. She's the lead singer of the alt-rock band Thousand Days and sounds more than a little like Liz Phair. And did we mention that she's a Rhodes Scholar who just graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School in 2006?

7. Thomas A. Jackson, Aerospace Engineer

Piloting a real-life Luke Skywalker X-wing fighter is every aeronautical engineer's fantasy, and Thomas Jackson is helping make it a reality. A scientist for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Jackson is setting the direction for the supersonic combustion ramjet—aka, the scramjet. By scooping up oxygen from the atmosphere as it ascends, the scramjet eliminates the need for the heavy liquid oxygen and solid oxidizer used by a typical space shuttle. And once it catches on, it will revolutionize air travel. How does a 2-hour flight from New York to Sydney sound? Or a layover on the Moon? And the best thing is, it'll all happen sooner than you think. In April 2007, NASA successfully test-powered a hydrocarbon-fueled scramjet engine to Mach 5.

8. , Probabilistic Roboticist

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Sebastian Thrun is a Stanford professor who drives a Volkswagen—but not just any Volkswagen. Thrun's Touareg is autonomous, and its name is Stanley. The VW drives itself thanks to state-of-the-art road-finding and obstacle-avoidance software, along with radar systems, video screens, and laser range finders. Like every driver, Stanley makes mistakes, and Thrun programmed him with that in mind. Stanley's decisions are based not on absolutes, but on probabilities, which results in more natural and realistic driver reactions. But Thrun isn't so sure people will immediately hand over the keys to a bunch of Stanleys. It may take up to 30 years, he says, "simply because we don't know how to insure a car where no one is at the wheel."

9. Nima Arkani-Hamed, Particle Physicist and Applied String Theorist

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10. Margaret Turnbull, Astrobiologist

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Turnbull's mind-blowing patience has paid off. In 2015, NASA will be launching its Terrestrial Planet Finder, which will use space telescopes to look for planets beyond our solar system, and it'll start with the stars on Turnbull's short list. In other words, nobody's laughing at Turnbull's search for aliens now.

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