From biotechnology and digital media to sustainable energy and cloud computing, almost everything today is somehow affected—and sometimes entirely reshaped—by scientific and technological advances.
By science in this article we mean the natural and engineering sciences (we thus exclude pure mathematics as well as the social sciences). Thus, in this article, we focus on scientists in the biological, medical, and physical sciences as well as those concerned with technology and especially computers.
As a society, we have come to take the fruits of science for granted, such as our use of computers, our access to running water and electricity, and our dependence on various forms of transportation and communication. But all such benefits follow from the discoveries and inventions of scientists as they pursue deep insights into the workings of nature and its materials.
This article focuses on the 50 most influential scientists alive today and their profound contributions to science. These are scientists who have invented the Internet and fiber optics, challenged AIDS and cancer, developed new drugs, and in general made crucial advances in medicine, genetics, astronomy, ecology, physics, and computer programming.
In referring to the scientists on this list as “influential,” this article attempts to gauge their influence on science as such. In other words, the scientists listed here are influential because of the groundbreaking scientific work they have done and its impact on the world.
Some scientists are enormously influential as popularizers or culture critics or public intellectuals. In this respect, figures like Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, or Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould a generation back, come to mind. The scientists on this list, however, are here because of their preeminence as scientists doing science.
The scientists described here are all creative and brilliant. Many of them are also unusual and interesting—colorful personalities that it would be a pleasure to know!
As you feast on the names and biographies of the scientists on this list, also check out our article “The World’s 50 Smartest Teenagers.” Some of the most influential scientists in the future will be drawn from this list.
|Name||Field of Influence||Name||Field of Influence|
|1. Alain Aspect||Quantum Theory||26. Martin Karplus||Quantum Chemistry|
|2. David Baltimore||Virology—HIV & Cancer||27. Donald Knuth||Computer Programming|
|3. Allen Bard||Electrochemistry||28. Robert Marks II||Computational Intelligence|
|4. Timothy Berners- Lee||Computer Science (WWW)||29. Craig Mello||Molecular Medicine|
|5. John Tyler Bonner||Evolutionary Biology||30. Luc Montagnier||Immunology—HIV|
|6. Dennis Bray||Molecular Biology||31. Gordon Moore||Physicist—Intel Corp.|
|7. Sydney Brenner||Biology—Genetics||32. Kary Mullis||DNA Chemist|
|8. Pierre Chambon||Genetics & Cellular Biology||33. C. Nüsslein- Volhard||Developmental Biology|
|9. Simon Conway Morris||Evolutionary Paleobiology||34. Seiji Ogawa||fMRI Technology|
|10. Mildred Dresselhaus||Carbon Science||35. Jeremiah Ostriker||Astrophysics|
|11. Gerald M. Edelman||Neuroscience||36. Roger Penrose||Mathematics & Physics|
|12. Ronald Evans||Molecular Genetics||37. Stanley Prusiner||Neurodegeneration|
|13. Anthony Fauci||Immunology—HIV|| 38. Henry F. Schaefer III||Quantum Chemistry|
|14. Anthony Fire||Genetics—RNAi||39. Thomas Südhof||Neurotransmission|
|15. Jean Fréchet||Biotechnology||40. Jack Szostak||Genetics|
|16. Margaret Geller||Astronomy||41. James Tour||Nanotechnology|
|17. Jane Goodall||Primatologist||42. Charles Townes||Quantum Electronics|
|18. Alan Guth||Inflationary Cosmology||43. Harold Varmus||Oncology|
|19. Lene Vestergaard Hau||Quantum Physics||44. Craig Venter||Human Genetics|
|20. Stephen Hawking||Physics & Cosmology||45. James Watson||Molecular Biology—DNA|
|21. Peter Higgs||Physics—Higgs Boson||46. Steven Weinberg||Theoretical Physics|
|22. Leroy Hood||Systems Biology||47. George Whitesides||Chemistry—Spectroscopy|
|23. Eric Kandel||Neuroscience||48. Edward Wilson||Biology—Myrmecology|
|24. Andrew Knoll||Paleontology||49. Edward Witten||String Theory|
|25. Charles Kao||Fiber Optics||50. Shinya Yamanaka||Stem Cell Research|
1. Alain Aspect
Alain Aspect holds the Augustin Fresnel Chair at the Institut d’Optique and is also a Professor at the École Polytechnique, both in Paris. He is also a member of the French Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Technologies. A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure de Cachan (ENS Cachan), Aspect passed the agrégation in physics in 1969 and received his master’s degree from Université d’Orsay.
In 2013, on the 100th anniversary of Niels Bohr’s pioneering atomic model, the Danish Society of Engineers, in collaboration with the Niels Bohr Institute and the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, awarded the Niels Bohr Medal to Aspect.
Aspect made his most crucial breakthroughs in quantum theory. In 2005, he was awarded the CSNR Gold Medal by settling a 70-year-old dispute between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein over the basic understanding of quantum physics by demonstrating the fascinating phenomenon of entanglement (non-local instantaneous interactions between particles, which Einstein rejected for propagating physical influences faster than the speed of light). Aspect’s work is foundational to the field of quantum computing.
Some of his best-known experiments confirmed that “quantum entanglement” for twinned photon pairs is irreconcilable with Einstein’s worldview. These experiments measured two particles that were released at the same time and from the same source in opposite directions. The results were conclusive proof of entanglement.
Aspect continues his experiments, which are fundamental to our understanding of how everything in the world is interconnected. He is currently studying the localization of waves in solids using ultra-cold atoms.
Web resource: Alain Aspect’s Home Page.
David Baltimore is currently Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, where he served as president from 1997 to 2006. He also serves as the director of the Joint Center for Translational Medicine, which joins Caltech and UCLA in a program to translate basic science discoveries into clinical realities.
Baltimore is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Rockefeller University. In 2004, Rockefeller University gave Baltimore an honorary Doctor of Science.
In 1975, at the young age of 38, David Baltimore received the Nobel Prize, along with Howard Temin and Renato Dulbecco. They were awarded the prize for their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell. One of Baltimore’s most significant contributions was in virology, for his discovery of the protein reverse transcriptase, essential for the reproduction of retroviruses such as HIV.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded Baltimore the National Medal of Science for his prodigious contributions to science. He has had a profound influence on national science policy, spanning everything from stem cell research to cloning to AIDS.
Baltimore is past president and chair of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (2007–2009). He was recently named a Fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).
Baltimore has published 680 peer-reviewed articles. His recent research focuses on the control of inflammatory and immune responses, on the roles of microRNAs in the immune system, and the use of gene therapy methods to treat HIV and cancer.
He is also a member of numerous scientific advisory boards, including the Broad Institute, Ragon Institute, Regulus Therapeutics, and Immune Design.
Web resource: David Baltimore’s Home Page.
Allen J. Bard is a professor at the University of Texas, where he also serves as director of the Center for Electrochemistry and holds the Norman Hackerman-Welch Regents Chair. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1958.
In 2011, Bard was awarded the National Medal of Science for his contributions in electrochemistry, including electroluminescence, semiconductor photo-electrochemistry, electro-analytical chemistry, and the invention of the scanning electrochemical microscope. His discovery of electrogenerated chemiluminescence (ECL) has enabled the medical community to detect the HIV virus and analyze DNA.
Bard is considered the “father of modern electrochemistry.” In 2013, President Obama awarded Bard with the National Medal of Science. Other awards he has received include the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 2008, the Priestley Medal in 2002, and the Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1990.
He has published three books: Electrochemical Methods, with Larry Faulkner, Integrated Chemical Systems, and Chemical Equilibrium. He has also published over 600 papers and chapters, while editing the series Electroanalytical Chemistry (21 volumes) and the Encyclopedia of the Electrochemistry of the Elements (16 volumes). He is currently editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Bard’s current research focuses on harnessing the power of natural sunlight to produce sustainable energy. His lab at the University of Texas tests different chemical compounds in the hopes of discovering a material that will carry out artificial photosynthesis. Bard feels strongly that such discoveries must be sought and made because otherwise humanity will be in deep trouble as fossil fuels run out.
Web resource: Allen J. Bard’s Home Page.
Timothy Berners-Lee is a computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He was honored as the “Inventor of the World Wide Web” during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. In 2009, he was elected as a foreign associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences. And in 2004, Berners-Lee was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his pioneering work.
Berners-Lee graduated from Queens College, Oxford. He worked as an independent contractor at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) from June to December 1980. While there, he proposed using hypertext to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. Over a decade later, he built the first website at CERN, and it was first put online in August of 1991.
In November 2009, Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web Foundation “to tackle the fundamental obstacles to realizing his vision of an open Web available, usable, and valuable for everyone.” In 2013, the Alliance for Affordable Internet was launched, and Berners-Lee is leading the coalition of public and private organizations, including Google, Facebook, Intel, and Microsoft.
In 2013, Berners-Lee was one of five Internet and Web pioneers awarded the inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. He was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of St. Andrews. And in 2012, Berners-Lee was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame by the Internet Society.
Web resource: Timothy Berners-Lee’s Home Page.
John Tyler Bonner is one of the world’s leading biologists, primarily known for his work in the use of cellular slime molds to understand evolution. He has led the way in making Dictyostelium discoideum a model organism central to examining some of the major questions in experimental biology. He is the George M. Moffett Professor Emeritus of Biology in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University.
Bonner studied at Harvard University. His PhD studies were interrupted by a stint in the United States Army Air Corps, so he completed his studies in an unusually short period of time. He soon joined the faculty of Princeton University. He holds three honorary doctorates and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was made a National Academy of Sciences fellow in 1973.
Some of his works include: The Cellular Slime Molds, The Evolution of Culture in Animals, Life Cycles, and The Ideas of Biology. Bonner’s work argues for the underappreciated role that randomness, or chance, plays in evolution. In one of his latest works, Randomness in Evolution, Bonner shows how the effects of randomness differ for organisms of different sizes, and how the smaller an organism is, the more likely it is that morphological differences will be random and selection may not be involved to any significant degree.
He also discusses how sexual cycles vary depending on size and complexity, and how the trend away from randomness in higher forms has even been reversed in some social organisms. Bonner’s present research interests include experiments designed to understand how this reversal is achieved in a number of species that vary morphologically.
Web resource: John Tyler Bonner’s Home Page.
Dennis Bray is a professor emeritus in the Department of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. He was trained as a biochemist at MIT and a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School before returning to the UK, where he had a long research career in the fields of nerve growth and cell motility.
Bray has authored numerous textbooks on molecular and cell biology such as Molecular Biology of the Cell and Cell Movements. His most recent book, Wetware, is for a general audience. In it, Bray taps the findings of the new discipline of systems biology to show that the internal chemistry of living cells constitutes a form of computation. In the book he argues that the computational power of cells provides the basis of all the distinctive properties of living systems, allowing organisms to embody in their internal structure an image of the world, which accounts for their adaptability, responsiveness, and intelligence.
Bray received the Microsoft European Science Award for his work on chemotaxis in E. coli. He used detailed computer simulations, tied to experimental data, to ask how the macromolecular pathway controlling cell motility in bacteria works as an integrated unit. His team found that the physical location of molecular components within the molecular jungle of the cell interior is crucial to understand their function.
Bray’s most recent work includes the propagation of allosteric states in large multi-protein complexes. He has also recently published several more popular articles, including a contribution to a 2012 Alan Turing centenary symposium in Nature entitled “Is the Brain a Good Model for Machine Intelligence?,” as well as an essay entitled “Brain versus Machine” in the collection Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment.
Web resource: Dennis Bray’s Home Page.
Sydney Brenner is a biologist and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared with H. Robert Horvitz and John Sulston. His major contributions are in elucidating the genetic code. Brenner is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Crick-Jacobs Center at the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences.
Among his many notable discoveries, Brenner established the existence of messenger RNA and demonstrated how the order of amino acids in proteins is determined. Beginning in 1965, he also began to conduct the pioneering work with the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, which ultimately led to his Nobel Prize. In this research, he laid the groundwork to make C. elegans—a small, transparent nematode (worm)—a major model organism for research in genetics, neurobiology, and developmental biology.
Brenner, along with George Pieczenik, created the first computer matrix analysis of nucleic acids using the TRAC computer language, which Brenner continues to use. They returned to their early work on deciphering the genetic code with a speculative paper on the origin of protein synthesis, where constraints on mRNA and tRNA co-evolved, allowing for a five-base interaction with a flip of the anticodon loop, and thereby creating a triplet code translating system without requiring a ribosome. This is the only published paper in scientific history with three independent Nobel laureates collaborating as authors (the other two were Francis Crick and Aaron Klug).
Brenner has been awarded the Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award in 1971, and ultimately the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002.
Most recently, Brenner is studying vertebrate gene and genome evolution. His work in this area has resulted in new ways of analyzing gene sequences, which have developed into a new understanding of the evolution of vertebrates.
Web resource: Sydney Brenner’s Home Page.
Pierre Chambon is professor at the University of Strasbourg’s Institute for Advanced Study, honorary professor at the Collège de France, and emeritus professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Strasbourg.
He is the founder and former director of the Institute for Genetics and Cellular and Molecular Biology (IGBMC), and the founder and former director of the Institut Clinique de la Souris (Clinical Institute for the Mouse), in Strasbourg, France.
Chambon made significant contributions to the discovery of the superfamily of nuclear receptors, and to the elucidation of their universal mechanism of action that links transcription, physiology, and pathology. These discoveries revolutionized the fields of development, endocrinology, and metabolism, as well as their disorders, pointing to new tactics for drug discovery and important new applications in biotechnology and modern medicine.
The author of more than 900 publications, Chambon has been ranked fourth among the most prominent life scientists during the 1983–2002 period. Some of his awards include the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 2010 (for the elucidation of fundamental mechanisms of transcription in animal cells and the discovery of the nuclear receptor superfamily), the Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 2004, and the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology in 2003.
Chambon is a member of the Académie des Sciences (France), the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He also serves on a number of editorial boards.
Web resource: Pierre Chambon’s Home Page.
Simon Conway Morris is Chair of Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the Earth Sciences Department at Cambridge University. He is renowned for his work on the Burgess Shale fossils. Conway Morris’s views on the Burgess Shale are reported in numerous technical papers, and have been recounted for a more general audience in Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life and in Conway Morris’s own book, The Crucible of Creation.
The Burgess Shale Formation, located in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, is one of the world’s most productive fossil fields, famous for the exceptional preservation of the soft parts of its fossils. At 505 million years old, it is one of the earliest fossil beds containing soft-part imprints.
As a paleobiologist, Conway Morris is known for being a devout Christian, one who tries to show that the evidence from paleobiology and evolution supports the existence of God. He is an increasingly active participant in discussions relating to science and religion. He is active in the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and has lectured there on “Evolution and Fine-Tuning in Biology.” In 2007, Conway Morris was invited to give the prestigious Gifford Lectures at University of Edinburgh; they were titled “Darwin’s Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Song of Creation.” In these lectures Conway Morris makes several claims that evolution is compatible with belief in the existence of a God.
Some of his awards include Texas A&M’s Trotter Prize in 2007, the GSL Charles Lyell Medal in 1998, and the Paleontological Society’s Charles Schuchert Award in 1989. In recent years, Conway Morris has been studying evolutionary convergence—the phenomenon whereby unrelated groups of animals and plants develop similar adaptations—the main thesis of which is put forward in his popular Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe.
Web resource: Simon Conway Morris’s Home Page.
Mildred S. Dresselhaus is a professor of physics and electrical engineering, as well as the Emerita Institute Professor at MIT. Having attended Hunter College in New York City as an undergraduate, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to attend the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University. Dresselhaus received her master’s degree at Radcliffe College and her PhD at the University of Chicago.
Known as the “queen of carbon science,” Dresselhaus began her MIT career at the Lincoln Laboratory. During that time she switched from research on superconductivity to magneto-optics, and carried out a series of experiments which led to a fundamental understanding of the electronic structure of semi-metals, especially graphite.
A leader in promoting opportunities for women in science and engineering, Dresselhaus received a Carnegie Foundation grant in 1973 to encourage women’s study of traditionally male-dominated fields, such as physics. She was also appointed to the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Chair, an Institute-wide chair, endowed to support the scholarship of women in science and engineering.
Some of her awards include the Karl T. Compton Medal for Leadership in Physics, the American Institute of Physics in 2001, the Medal of Achievement in Carbon Science and Technology by the American Carbon Society in 2001, and an Honorary Member of the Ioffe Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2000.
In 2012, Dresselhaus was awarded the prestigious Kavli Institute’s prize in nanoscience. In 1990, she received the National Medal of Science in recognition of her work on electronic properties of materials.
Web resource: Mildred S. Dresselhaus’s Home Page.
Gerald M. Edelman is a biologist, immunologist, and neuroscientist. He is the founder and director of the Neurosciences Institute, a non-profit research center that studies the biological bases of higher brain function in humans, and he is on the scientific board of the World Knowledge Dialogue project.
Edleman received an MD from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine. He shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work with Rodney Robert Porter on the immune system. Their research uncovered the structure of antibody molecules as well as the deep connection between how the components of the immune system evolve over the life of the individual and how the neural circuitry of the brain evolves over that same life.
The Karolinska Institutet lauded Edelman and Porter’s work as a major breakthrough, stating: “The impact of Edelman’s and Porter’s discoveries is explained by the fact that they provided a clear picture of the structure and mode of action of a group of biologically particularly important substances. By this they laid a firm foundation for truly rational research, something that was previously lacking in immunology. Their discoveries represent clearly a break-through that immediately incited a fervent research activity the whole world over, in all fields of immunological science, yielding results of practical value for clinical diagnostics and therapy.”
Edelman is noted for his theory of consciousness, which he has documented in several technical books, as well as books written for a general audience, including Bright Air, Brilliant Fire, A Universe of Consciousness (with Giulio Tononi), Wider than the Sky, and Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge.
Web resource: The Neurosciences Institute’s Home Page.
Ronald M. Evans is the March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. He is best known for his work in the physiology and the molecular genetics of muscle performance, metabolic disease, inflammation, and cancer, and for using this information to devise small-molecule therapy.
Evans received his PhD from UCLA and conducted his postdoctoral training at Rockefeller University. In addition to his work at the Salk Institute, Evans is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
In 2004, he shared the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award with Pierre Chambon (#8 on our list) and Elwood Jensen for the discovery of the superfamily of nuclear hormone receptors, and for the elucidation of the unifying mechanism that regulates embryonic development and diverse metabolic pathways.
Other awards he has received include the Wolf Prize in Medicine in 2012, the Albany Medical Center Prize (shared with Solomon Snyder and Robert Lefkowitz) in 2012, the Harvey Prize in 2006, and the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 2006, among numerous other awards.
Other research of Evans focuses on a new hormone that appears to be the molecular trigger controlling the formation of fat cells. Identifying this trigger represents one of the newest and most important advances in understanding problems arising from obesity and the potential treatment of adult onset Type II diabetes.
Web resource: Ronald M. Evans’s Home Page.
Anthony S. Fauci received his MD from Cornell University’s Medical College. He is head of the Clinical Physiology Section and chief of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Fauci has an extensive research portfolio that includes applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses (including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases), illnesses from potential agents of bioterrorism, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma, and allergies. He is widely recognized for delineating the precise mechanisms by which immunosuppressive agents modulate the human immune response.
A 1985 Stanford University Arthritis Center Survey of the American Rheumatism Association membership ranked the work of Dr. Fauci on the treatment of polyarteritis nodosa and Wegener’s granulomatosis as one of the most important advances in patient management in rheumatology over the previous 20 years.
Fauci has made seminal contributions to the understanding of how the AIDS virus destroys the body’s defenses, leading to its susceptibility to deadly infections, and he continues to devote much of his research time to identifying the nature of the immunopathogenic mechanisms of HIV infection and the scope of the body’s immune responses to the HIV retrovirus.
He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Fauci has authored, co-authored, or edited more than 1,000 scientific publications as well as several textbooks.
Web resource: Anthony S. Fauci’s Home Page.
Andrew Z. Fire is a scientist and professor of pathology and genetics at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Prior to his current position, he was on the faculty in the department of biology at Johns Hopkins University.
Fire conducted his graduate work in biology at MIT, and then joined the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. He then joined the staff at the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore, where he and Craig C. Mello (#29 on our list) conducted their 2006 Nobel Prize winning research, which resulted in the discovery of RNA interference (RNAi), a mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information.
Nick Hastie, director of the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit, commented on the scope and implications of Fire’s research by stating: “It is very unusual for a piece of work to completely revolutionize the whole way we think about biological processes and regulation, but this has opened up a whole new field in biology.”
Fire is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also serves on the Board of Scientific Counselors and the National Center for Biotechnology, National Institutes of Health. He has won numerous awards including the Wiley Prize in 2003, the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology in 2003, and the Meyenburg Prize in 2002 from the German Cancer Research Center.
His recent research focuses on the molecular understanding of the RNAi machinery and its roles in the cell, as well as on the identification of other triggers and mechanisms used in the recognition of, and response to, chemical information coming from outside the cell.
Web resource: Andrew Z. Fire’s Home Page.
Jean M.J. Fréchet is a chemist and the Henry Rapoport Chair of Organic Chemistry in the department of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the vice president of research at the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Saudi Arabia.
Fréchet holds over 70 U.S. patents and his research is conducted in the areas of organic synthesis, polymer chemistry, nanoscience, and nanotechnology, in which he has authored nearly 800 articles, with a major emphasis on the design, fundamental understanding, synthesis, and applications of functional macromolecules.
Fréchet, who was born in France, has received numerous awards, including the American Chemical Society Cope Scholar Award in 2001, the American Chemical Society Award in Polymer Chemistry in 2000, and the Society of Imaging Science and Technology’s Kosar Memorial Award in 1999, among others.
Fréchet is a member of the American Chemical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Academia Europaea. He also serves as the associate editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Fréchet’s current research focuses on the fundamental and applied aspects of organic, polymer, and materials chemistry. He has noted that most of his projects involve three stages: (1) design; (2) synthesis; and (3) characterization, where the function of the structure and properties are tested.
Web resource: Jean M.J. Fréchet’s Home Page.
Margaret J. Geller is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She received her PhD in physics from Princeton University and was an assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard University.
She made pioneering maps of the large-scale structures of the universe, which led to the discovery of the filamentous galactic superstructure popularly known as the “Great Wall”—the largest known superstructure in the universe. Geller has also developed innovative techniques for investigating the internal structure and total mass of clusters of galaxies and the relationship of clusters to the large-scale structure.
In addition, she is a co-discoverer of hypervelocity stars, stars ejected at high velocity from the Galactic center.These stars can travel across the Milky Way and may be an important tracer of the matter distribution in the Galaxy
Geller’s current main research interests include a project she leads called the “Smithsonian Hectospec Lensing Survey” (SHELS), which uses the phenomenon of gravitational lensing tomap the distribution of the mysterious, ubiquitous dark matter in the universe. She is also investigating the implications of the discovery of hypervelocity stars, as well as heading up a project called “HectoMAP,” which uses large databases of information to map clusters of galaxies, and which in turn aids us in understanding how these systems develop over the history of the universe.
Geller has made films about science. Her eight-minute video, “Where the Galaxies Are,” produced in 1989, was the first graphic voyage through the universe based on observation. The video was displayed at several major science museums, and graphics from it were widely broadcast. Later, a 40-minute film was produced that contains prize-winning graphics, which are on display at the National Air and Space Museum.
Geller is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society in 2013, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society in 2010, the James Craig Watson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, and the Magellanic Premium of the American Philosophical Society in 2008, among several others.
Web resource: Margaret J. Geller’s Home Page.
Jane Goodall is a primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist. She has studied the social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees for over 40 years, and is thus considered the foremost expert on chimpanzees. She studied at Darwin College in Cambridge and holds several honorary doctorates from universities such as Syracuse University, Rutgers University, the University of Liverpool, and the University of Toronto, among others.
Goodall has conducted most of her research, starting in 1960 with no scientific training, at Gombe Stream National Park, which is located in the western Kigoma region of Tanzania, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Goodall advocates for chimpanzee welfare, the conservation of biodiversity, and general stewardship of the Earth. The research conducted by Goodall at Gombe Stream not only is scientifically important but also benefits the park itself.
in 1977, Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute, as well as the youth-focused environmental group Roots & Shoots in 1991. the latter has now grown to include over 800 local chapters in nearly 90 countries around the world. She has also published numerous books about her work at the Gombe Stream station, notably My Life with the Chimpanzees, In the Shadow of Man (with Richard Wrangham), and, most recently, Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe.
One of Goodall’s most notable awards was her appointment as Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE), in 2004. Other notable awards include the Discovery and Imagination Award in 2005, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science in 2003, the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment Award in 2003, and the John & Alice Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 1997, among numerous other awards for her work and dedication.
Today, Goodall devotes virtually all of her time to advocacy on behalf of chimpanzees and the environment, traveling nearly 300 days a year. Goodall is also a board member for Save the Chimps located in Fort Pierce, Florida. It is the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary outside of Africa.
Web resource: The Jane Goodall Institute.
Alan Guth is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, who currently serves as the Victor Weisskopf Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Guth is the originator of the inflationary cosmology, a theory of the universe that answers the conundrum posed by the Big Bang of why the universe appears flat, homogeneous, and isotropic, when one would expect (on the basis of the physics of the Big Bang) a highly curved, heterogeneous, and anisotropic universe. His theory, if correct, would explain the origin of the large-scale structure of the cosmos.
Guth’s first step to developing his theory of inflation occurred at Cornell in 1978, when he attended a lecture by Robert Dicke about the flatness problem of the universe. Dicke explained how the flatness problem showed that something significant was missing from the Big Bang theory at the time. Guth first made public his ideas on inflation at a seminar in 1980 after he submitted his paper, titled “The Inflationary Universe: A Possible Solution to the Horizon and Flatness Problems,” to the journal Physical Review.
In 1997, Guth authored the book The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins. In 2012, he was awarded the Fundamental Physics Prize.
Much of Guth’s current work concerns the density fluctuations arising from inflation, such as the implications of novel forms of inflation and whether the underlying theory can be made more rigorous. Guth is also interested in pursuing the possibility of inflation in “brane world” models, which propose that our universe is a four-dimensional membrane floating in a higher-dimensional space.
Web resource: Alan Guth’s Home Page.
Lene Vestergaard Hau is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University. One of her well-known achievements is using a superfluid to slow a beam of light to a standstill. This work led to further experiments on the transfer of light to matter, then from matter back into light, which led to important implications for quantum encryption and quantum computing.
Hau and her associates at Harvard University have demonstrated exquisite control over light and matter in several experiments, but her experiment with two condensates is one of the most compelling. In 2006, they successfully transferred a qubit from light to a matter wave and back into light, using Bose-Einstein condensates. While the matter is traveling between the two Bose-Einstein condensates, it can be trapped for minutes, then reshaped into something else. This novel form of quantum control has implications for the developing fields of quantum information processing and quantum cryptography.
During her doctoral studies in quantum theory at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, Hau worked on ideas similar to those involved in fiber optic cables carrying light, but her work involved strings of atoms in a silicon crystal carrying electrons.
Hau’s latest research has continued to be centered on cold atoms and Bose-Einstein condensates. Her group uses laser cooling to efficiently precool atoms to temperatures in the micro-kelvin range. Recently, the Hau group succeeded in reducing the light speed—initially to 17 meters per second, and later to almost zero m.p.s.—by optically inducing quantum interference in a Bose-Einstein condensate.
Ultra-slow light creates a unique new tool for probing the fundamental properties of Bose-Einstein condensates.
Web resource: Lene Vestergaard Hau’s Home Page.
Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He is the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.
Hawking is known for his work on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called “Hawking radiation.”
Hawking attended Oxford University as an undergraduate, and then Cambridge University for his graduate studies. When Hawking began his graduate studies, there was much debate in the physics community about the prevailing theories of the creation of the universe. Inspired by Roger Penrose’s theorem of a spacetime singularity in the center of black holes, Hawking applied the same thinking to the entire universe, and during 1965 he wrote his thesis on this topic. The thesis made a seminal contribution to Big Bang cosmology.
He has authored several popular science publications on cosmology, including A Brief History of Time, which remained on the best-seller list of the British Sunday Times for 237 weeks, and The Universe in a Nutshell. He recently published My Brief History, which is about his journey from a post-war London boy to his years of international acclaim and celebrity.
Hawking, who has suffered for many years from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), has received numerous awards, including the Special Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012, the Copley Medal in 2006, and the Albert Einstein Award in 1978.
Read more about Stephen Hawking in our article The 50 Greatest Living Geniuses.
Web resource: Stephen Hawking’s Home Page.
Peter Higgs is a theoretical physicist and emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh. He is best known for his work in the 1960s on a theory now known as the “Higgs mechanism,” which predicted the existence of the Higgs boson (sometimes popularly called the “God particle”), and which is generally accepted as a crucial element in the Standard Model of particle physics. According to the Standard Model, the Higgs mechanism is the means by which the fundamental particles of the Standard Model acquire their individual masses.
The existence of the Higgs boson was experimentally confirmed in 2012 by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland. As a result of this experimental verification of his 40-year-old prediction, the following year (2o13) Higgs was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (shared with François Englert).
The discovery of the Higgs boson validated the last untested area of the Standard Model’s approach to fundamental particles and forces, and now inspires physicists to probe for still deeper theories and discoveries in particle physics.
Higgs studied for his doctorate in molecular physics at King’s College London, where he wrote his thesis on problems in the theory of molecular vibrations. He has served as chair of Theoretical Physics at Edinburgh, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, was awarded the Rutherford Medal and Prize in 1984, and became a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 1991. He retired in 1996, when he became an emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh. In 2012, Edinburgh University established the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics to be housed in the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy.
In addition to the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013, Higgs has earned many other awards, such as the Sakurai Prize in 2010, the Wolf Prize in Physics in 2004, and the Dirac Medal in 1997.
Web resource: Peter Higgs’s Home Page.
Leroy Hood is co-founder and President of the Institute for Systems Biology, a relatively new field of biology which he has helped to pioneer. In 2011, he won the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize for automating DNA sequencing that revolutionized biomedicine and forensic science.
Hood received an MD from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from the California Institute of Technology, where he also served as a faculty member for 22 years.
Hood and his colleagues at Cal Tech created the technological foundation for the sciences of genomics and proteomics by fostering the development of five groundbreaking instruments: the protein sequencer, the protein synthesizer, the DNA synthesizer, the automated DNA sequencer, and the ink-jet DNA synthesizer. Not only did these instruments help to decipher biological information, they also introduced the concept of high-throughput data accumulation through automation and parallelization of protein and DNA chemistries.
In 2000, Hood participated in founding the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), a nonprofit, biomedical research organization based in Seattle, Washington. The ISB was established to integrate biology, technology, and computation to create a new approach to the study of biological systems from an integrated or whole-system perspective.
One of the signature projects of Hood’s own research group within the ISB is the “predictive, personalized, preventive, and participatory” (“P4”) approach to medicine.
Hood has received several notable awards, including the National Medal of Science in 2011, the Heinz Award in 2006, and the Albert Lasker Award in 1987, among others.
Web resource: The Institute for Systems Biology.
Eric R. Kandel is University Professor & Kavli Professor of Brain Science in the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Additionally, he is Director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Co-director of the Mind-Brain-Behavior Initiative, and Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Kandel also founded the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia.
Kandel received the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard, for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system, and its relation to physiological basis of memory storage in the brain
Kandel attended New York University’s Medical School, where he later took a position in the Departments of Physiology and Psychiatry; eventually, he formed the Division of Neurobiology and Behavior there.
Kandel has authored many books, including Principles of Neural Science, which is often used as a textbook and reference text in medical schools. In 2006, he wrote , In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, which is a popular account of his life and career. It was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.
Kandel has been awarded the Wolf Prize in Medicine in 1999 and the Harvey Prize in 1993, along with the Nobel Prize in 2000.
Web resource: Eric R. Kandel’s Home Page.
Andrew H. Knoll is the Fisher Professor of Natural History and a Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. He is a Precambrian paleontologist and biogeochemist.
Knoll is primarily known for discovering microscopic traces of early life (“microfossils”) in numerous locations, including Spitsbergen, Greenland, Siberia, China, Namibia, western North America, and Australia. He was among the first to apply principles of taphonomy and paleoecology to the interpretation of microfossils.
Knoll’s work has been pivotal to our understanding of the history of life on earth during the Precambrian period, especially the Ediacaran fauna. However, he has also worked on problems of the Phanerozoic period. For example, he and his colleagues were the first to hypothesize that rapid build-up of carbon dioxide played a key role in end-Permian mass extinction 252 million years ago.
Knoll has authored and co-authored four books, including Biology: How Life Works, Fundamentals of Geobiology, The Evolution of Primary Producers in the Sea, and Life on a Young Planet: The First Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. He received the Phi Beta Kappa Book Award for Life on a Young Planet.
Knoll is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Microbiology.
Knoll is continuing to study Archean and Proterozoic paleontology and biogeochemistry, as well as selected problems in Phanerozoic earth history. He has also served as a member of the science team for NASA’s MER rover mission to Mars.
Web resource: Andrew H. Knoll’s Home Page.
Charles K. Kao is an electrical engineer and physicist known as the “godfather of broadband.” In 2009, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering research into the transmission of laser light through glass fibers in optical cables, which has led to the widespread use of fiber optics in modern telecommunications. Unusually, he shared the Prize with two other physicists who had pursued unrelated work.
Kao earned his PhD in electrical engineering from University College London. He then joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he founded the Department of Electronics. He also served as Vice Chancellor of the university for a decade. Today, he lives in retirement.
Kao began his experiments with fiber optics in the 1960s with strands of glass fibers thinner than a human hair and cheaper to produce than fishing line, which transmitted nearly limitless amounts of digitized data via pulses of laser light. Today, fiber optic cables make up the main infrastructure of modern telecommunications systems, including both telephony and data transmission. Thus, the Internet depends directly upon Kao’s work.
Kao, a native of Shanghai, also founded the Independent Schools Foundation Academy (ISF) in Hong Kong in 2000. The Academy is a non-profit, bilingual, private independent school for grades one through 12, and is an inquiry-based learning environment.
Kao has received numerous awards, including the Asian of the Century Award in 1999, the Prince Philip Medal in 1996, and the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal in 1985, in addition to the Nobel Prize.
Web resource: Charles K. Kao’s NobelPrize.org Page.
Martin Karplus, a theoretical chemist, Emeritus Professor and the Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University. He is also Director of the Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory, a joint laboratory between the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Strasbourg, France.
In 2013, Karplus received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel, for developing multi-scale models for complex chemical systems. Their contribution was ground-breaking, because they managed to make Newton’s classical physics work side-by-side with quantum mechanics. This approach makes possible computer simulations that are so realistic they closely resemble the outcome of traditional laboratory experiments.
Karplus earned his PhD from the California Institute of Technology and was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford University. He has made many contributions to physical chemistry, quantum chemistry, and molecular dynamics. The Karplus equation, which describes the correlation between coupling constants and dihedral angles in protein nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, is named after him.
Karplus, who was born in Austria, has also made numerous contributions to the field of theoretical chemistry through textbooks, such as Proteins: A Theoretical Perspective of Dynamics, Structure and Thermodynamics, and Atoms and Molecules: An Introduction for Students of Physical Chemistry. His current research interests are concerned with the physical properties of molecules of biological interest.
Web resource: Martin Karplus’s Home Page.
Donald Knuth is a mathematician and computer scientist. He is Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming (a chair created especially for him), at Stanford University. He is the author of the multi-volume work, The Art of Computer Programming, which is the “bible” of the field of computer programming. As of 2013, the first three volumes and part one of volume four of this magnum opus had been published.
Knuth earned his PhD in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology, where he then became a professor and began work on The Art of Computer Programming. Knuth is known as the “father of the analysis of algorithms.” He created the WEB and CWEB computer programming systems designed to encourage and facilitate literate programming.
Knuth has been honored with numerous awards, including the Stanford University School of Engineering Hero Award in 2011, Fellow of the Computer History Museum in 1998, and the National Medal of Science in 1979, among others.
Knuth was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1975, and in 2003, he was elected as a foreign member of the Royal Society of London. In 2009, he was elected as a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and in 2012, he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
Web resource: Donald Knuth’s Home Page.
Robert J. Marks II is the Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Previously, he was on the faculty of the University of Washington for 25 years. He is a pioneer in the field of computational intelligence (which includes neural networks, fuzzy sets, and evolutionary computing), and was the first president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Neural Networks Council.
Marks received his PhD in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University. He has over 300 peer-reviewed journal publications. He is also a proponent of intelligent design, holding that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
Marks has made important technical contributions across widely diverse areas, such as the spacing of radium inserts to treat prostate cancer, signal display, remote sensing, optical image sampling, optical computers, and the use of fuzzy logic to control the electrical grid (how electricity is delivered today depends crucially on the work of Marks). He has served as a consultant to companies such as Microsoft and Boeing corporation.
Marks has authored several books including, the Handbook of Fourier Analysis and Its Applications, Neural Smithing: Supervised Learning in Feedforward Artificial Neural Networks, and Applications of Neural Networks to Power Systems, among others.
Marks has received numerous awards, including the IEEE Distinguished Lecturer twice, once from the IEEE Neural Networks Council in 1991–92, and again from the IEEE Neural Networks Society in 2002–03, as well as the Golden Jubilee Medal in 1999 from the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society. He is a fellow of the IEEE.
In 2007, Marks founded the Evolutionary Informatics Lab at Baylor to study the information-theoretic underpinnings of intelligent design. The research of that lab has produced a steady stream of peer-reviewed engineering publications that are influencing many in the engineering community to accept intelligent design, controversial though it remains, as a legitimate scientific theory.
Web resource: Robert J. Marks II’s Home Page.
Craig C. Mello is a biologist and professor of molecular medicine at the University of Massachusetts. In 2006, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, along with Andrew Z. Fire (#14 on our list), for the discovery of RNA interference (RNAi).
Mello earned his PhD from Harvard University and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Fire and Mello’s Nobel Prize–winning research has shown that RNAi plays a key role in gene regulation.
Mello is involved in several RNAi-based biotechnological companies. He co-founded the scientific advisory board member of RXi Pharmaceuticals, which is now Galena Biopharma. He serves on the Technology Advisory Board of Monsanto, formerly Biologics, a company focused on development of RNAi products for honeybee health and various veterinary and agricultural applications.
Mello has earned numerous other notable awards and honors besides the Nobel Prize, including the Hope Funds Award of Excellence in Basic Research in 2008, the Massry Prize in 2005, and election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005.
Web resource: Craig C. Mello’s Home Page.
Luc Montagnier is a virologist and a professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University in China. He is also the founder and president of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention. In 2008, Montagnier was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus.
In 1983, Montagnier led the team which first isolated the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a new type of retrovirus previously unrecognized in humans, and brought the first evidence that this virus was the causative agent of AIDS.
Montagnier has also conducted research, along with colleagues, that has indicated that electromagnetic signals emitted by medicines can remain in water and have dramatic biological effects.
Montagnier, a native of France, has been honored worldwide with many awards, including the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour in 2009, the induction to the National Inventor Hall of Fame in 2004, and the Lasker Prize in Medicine in 1986, among numerous other awards.
Montagnier is the author or co-author of 350 scientific publications and of more than 750 patents. His current studies aim at the diagnosis and treatment of microbial, viral, and epigenetic factors associated with cancers, neurodegenerative, and articular diseases, using innovative technologies.
Web resource: Luc Montagnier’s Home Page.
Gordon Moore is the co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Intel Corporation and the author of Moore’s Law, which is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.
Moore received his PhD from in chemistry, with a minor in physics, from the California Institute of Technology. He then completed his postdoctoral research at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.
Moore co-founded NM Electronics, which later became Intel Corporation, with Robert Noyce in 1968. He served Intel as Executive Vice President, President, Chairman of the Board, and finally Chief Executive Officer. Moore was named Chairman Emeritus of Intel Corporation in 1997.
In 2001, Moore and his wife donated $600 million to Caltech, to be used for research and technology. In 2007, they donated $200 million, again to Caltech and also to the University of California, for the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which is the world largest optical telescope.
In 2000, the Moores created the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, California. The Foundation is privately endowed, and holds a portfolio of high-risk, high-tech, large-scale initiatives in the areas of fundamental science, medicine, and the environment.
Moore has received numerous awards, including the IEEE Medal of Honor in 2008 and the Bower Award for Business Leadership in 2002. In 1998, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum.
Web resource: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
Kary B. Mullis is a biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993, along with Michael Smith, for automation of a chemical process known as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The new technique has had far-reaching applications in medicine, genetics, biotechnology, and forensics. PCR, because of its ability to extract DNA from fossils, is also the basis of the new scientific discipline of paleobiology.
Mullis joined the Cetus Corporation in Emeryville, California, as a DNA chemist in 1979. During his seven years there, he conducted research on oligonucleotide synthesis and invented his new PCR technique. Mullis’s process made it possible to make multiple copies of DNA in a relatively short time, which led to an explosion of research activity and ushered in the modern age of recombinant DNA technology.
In 1987, Mullis began consulting on nucleic acid chemistry for more than a dozen corporations, including Cytometrics, Eastman Kodak, and Specialty Laboratories.
Mullis has received numerous awards, including the Ronald H. Brown American Innovator Award in 1998, the Japan Prize in 1993, and the National Biotechnology Award in 1991, among others. He was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1996.
Mullis also holds several patents. His latest one involves a revolutionary technique for instantly mobilizing the immune system to neutralize invading pathogens and toxins. This patent has led to the formation of his latest commercial venture, Altermune Technologies, LLC.
Web resource: Kary B. Mullis’s Home Page.
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard is Director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. She won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, alongside Eric Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis, for her research on the genetic control of embryonic development.
In 2006, Nüsslein-Volhard published a book called Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development, which explains the genetic and cellular basis of animal development, and also explores the ethical implications of recent progress in genomics and biotechnology.
Nüsslein-Volhard, a native of Germany, earned her PhD in molecular biology from the University of Tübingen. She has received countless awards, including the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 2009, the Otto Warburg Medal of the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2002, and the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1991, along with several other awards and honorary doctorates.
Nüsslein-Volhard also heads the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, which supports women scientists with young children.
Web resource: Christian Nüsslein-Volhard’s Home Page.
Seiji Ogawa is a biophysicist who is the Distinguished Visiting Professor and Director of fMRI Research with the Neuroscience Research Institute at Gachon University of Medicine & Science, in South Korea.
Ogawa won the Japan Prize in 2003 for his contribution to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, which is used to visualize the regions in the living human brain activated by thought, voluntary movements, and other responses to external stimulation. The technique does this indirectly by measuring increases in the presence of oxygen, as a proxy for increased blood flow, in the affected brain regions.
Functional MRI (fMRI) has been used to map the visual, auditory, and sensory regions in the brain. More recently, the technique has been moving toward higher brain functions, such as cognition. One of the most revolutionary investigative techniques in the recent history of biomedical science, fMRI has become an essential tool for the modern investigation of brain functioning.
Ogawa earned his PhD in chemistry from Stanford University after being trained as an applied physicist in his native Japan. He worked for AT&T Bell Laboratories for over 30 years conducting biophysics research.
Ogawa has earned other notable awards such as the International Society of Magnetic Resonance Prize in 2007, the Nakayama Prize from the Nakayama Foundation for Human Science in 1998, and the Biological Physics Prize from the American Physical Society in 1996, among others.
Web resource: Seiji Ogawa’s Home Page.
Jeremiah P. Ostriker is an astrophysicist and Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University. He is best known for his research in the areas of dark matter and dark energy, the Warm-Hot Intergalactic Medium (WHIM), galaxy formation and black hole growth, and the interaction between quasars and their surroundings.
Ostriker earned his PhD in astrophysics from the University of Chicago and conducted his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cambridge. He was a professor at Princeton University and Harvard University before coming to Columbia University.
On June 20, 2013, Ostriker was given the White House Champions of Change Award for his role in initiating the Sloan Digital Sky Survey project, which makes all of its astronomical data sets available publicly on the Internet. He has also been honored with numerous other awards, including the James Craig Watson Medal in 2012, the Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal in 2004, and the Henry Norris Russell Prize of the American Astronomical Society in 1980, among others.
Ostriker has authored or co-authored more than 500 scientific publications. His current work in theoretical astrophysics is in those areas of cosmology that can be best approached by large-scale numerical calculations.
Web resource: Jeremiah P. Ostriker’s Home Page.
Roger Penrose is a mathematician and mathematical physicist. He serves as as an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College and as the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, both at the University of Oxford.
Penrose shared the Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics in 1988 with Stephen Hawking (#20 on our list) for his contribution to our understanding of the universe. He is best known for his work in general relativity and cosmology.
Penrose has authored or co-authored more than 10 books, including Techniques of Differential Topology in Relativity, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, and Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe.
Penrose, who earned his PhD at Cambridge University, did important early work in pure mathematics on the problem of tiling (filling a plane with various shapes, leaving no gaps). He also popularized the Penrose triangle, the Penrose stairs, and other similar paradoxical structures, which he called “impossibility in its purest form.” These ideas have featured prominently in the works of artist M.C. Escher, whose earlier depictions of impossible objects partly inspired them.
Penrose also invented twistor theory, which is a novel way to look at the structure of spacetime, leading us to a deeper understanding of the nature of gravity.
Along with the Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics, Penrose has received numerous other awards, including the De Morgan Medal (for his wide and original contributions to mathematical physics) in 2004, the Naylor Prize of the London Mathematical Society in 1991, and the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1975.
Penrose has stated his belief that there are some facets of human thinking that can never be emulated by a machine. He maintains that his work explains what physics and mathematics can tell us about how the mind works, what they can’t, and what we need to know to understand the physical processes underlying our conscious experience.
Web resource: Roger Penrose Home Page.
Stanley B. Prusiner is the Director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and a Professor of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1997, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Prusiner is best known for discovering a new class of pathogens that he named “prions.” Prions are infectious proteins that cause neurodegenerative diseases in animals and humans.
Prusiner demonstrated that prions may be formed when a normal, benign cellular protein acquires an altered shape. His concept of infectious proteins, as well as his proposal of multiple biologically active shapes or conformations for a single protein, were considered heretical at the time, but are now widely (though not universally) acceptedIn humans, prions are now believed to cause such neurodegenerative diseases as Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease and kuru.
Prusiner conducted his medical school training at the University of Pennsylvania and his postgraduate clinical training at the University of California, San Francisco. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.
Aside from winning the Nobel Prize, Prusiner has been honored with the United States National Medal of Science in 2008, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1994, and the Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer’s Disease Research from the American Academy of Neurology in 1991, among other awards.
Web resource: Stanley B. Prusiner’s Home Page.
Henry F. Schaefer III is a theoretical and computational chemist and the Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He is also a fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.
Schaefer received his PhD from Stanford University and is known for inventing the field of computational quantum chemistry, developing it into a reliable quantitative discipline in chemistry. Using supercomputers and simulations rather than actual chemical substances, his lab uncovers chemical structures by crunching numbers. His theoretical research has been directed at one of the most challenging problems in molecular quantum mechanics, the problem of electron correlation in molecules.
Schaefer is the author of more than 1,300 scientific publications, the majority appearing in the Journal of Chemical Physics and the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Some of his research challenges the work of Nobel Prize winner Gerhard Herzberg regarding the geometry of triplet methylene.
In 2014, Schaefer will receive the American Chemical Society Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry. He also received the Alexander von Humboldt Award and the SURA Distinguished Scientist Award in 2012, among numerous other awards.
Web resource: Henry F. Schaefer III’s Home Page.
Thomas C. Südhof is a biochemist and professor in the School of Medicine in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. He is best known for his work in the area of synaptic transmission, which is the process by which signaling chemicals known as neurotransmitters are released by one neuron and bind to and activate the receptors of another neuron.
Südhof won the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Randy Schekman and James Rothman.
Südhof, a native of Germany, obtained his MD from the University of Göttingen and conducted his postdoctoral training in the department of molecular genetics at the University of Texas’s Health Science Center. During his postdoctoral training, he worked on describing the role of the LDL receptor in cholesterol metabolism, for which Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1985.
Südhof started his own laboratory at UT Southwestern in 1986, where he helped identify a DNA element in the LDL gene that produced sterol-mediated end-product repression when inserted in a viral promoter. Sterols are a major class of biomolecule and critical for life. This discovery led to the development of statin-derived cholesterol medications such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), which is today a top-selling branded pharmaceutical drug.
Südhof’s research has greatly increased our understanding of the processes underlying synaptic transmission, advancing medical knowledge of the mechanisms behind diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and autism.
Some of Südhof’s numerous awards include the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 2013, the Bernhard Katz Award from the Biophysical Society in 2008, and the MetLife Award in 2004, among others.
Web resource: Thomas C. Südhof’s Home Page.
Jack W. Szostak is a biologist and a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. He also serves as the Alexander Rich Distinguished Investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol W. Greider, for discovering the details of telomere function. During the 1980s, Szostak and his colleagues demonstrated in a series of experiments that telomeres—regions of repetitive nucleotide sequences located at each end of a chromosome molecule—protect the ends of chromosomes from deterioration and from fusion with neighboring chromosomes.
Szostak earned his PhD in biochemistry at Cornell University. Subsequently, he started his own lab at the Sydney Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School. He has made many contributions to the field of genetics. He is credited with the construction of the world’s first yeast artificial chromosome.
In addition to winning the Nobel Prize, Szostak has also won the Dr. H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics in 2008 and the Lasker Award in 2006. He is a member of National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and New York Academy of Sciences.
The Szostak Lab is currently researching the origin of life—the chemical and physical processes that facilitated the transition from chemical evolution to biological evolution on the early earth. As a way of exploring these processes, his laboratory is trying to build a synthetic cellular system that undergoes Darwinian evolution.
Web resource: Jack W. Szostak’s Home Page.
James M. Tour is a synthetic organic chemist, specializing in nanotechnology and serves as the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and Professor of Computer Science at Rice University.
Tour earned his PhD in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry from Purdue University, and conducted his postdoctoral training in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University.
Tour was ranked one of the top 10 chemists in the world over the past decade by Thomson Reuters in 2009. He is best known for his work in molecular electronics and molecular switching molecules. Tour holds more than 60 United States patents, plus many non-US patents.
Tour’s most important contributions have been in molecular electronics, which involves nanoscale electronic devices utilizing molecular switiching molecules. His team at Rice has constructed many different kinds of nanoscale elecro-mechanical systems. One of the best know of these is the “nonocar,” a nanoscale “automobile.”
In 2001, Tour signed the Discovery Institute‘s statement, “A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism.”
Tour has won the ACS Nano Lectureship Award from the American Chemical Society in 2012, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society in 2007, and in 2005, Tour’s journal article, “Directional Control in Thermally Driven Single-Molecule Nanocars,” was ranked the Most Accessed Journal Article by the American Chemical Society.
Tour has over 500 research publications and is active in consulting on several national defense-related topics, in addition to numerous other professional committees and panels. The Houston Chronicle reports that Tour wakes up at 3:30am every morning to study the Bible for two hours.
Web resource: James M. Tour’s Home Page.
Charles H. Townes is a physicist who taught at several universities, including the University of Tokyo, the University of Paris, the University of California, and Columbia University, among others. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964, along with Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov, for fundamental work in the quantum electronics of oscillators and amplifiers. Their work opened up the whole field of modern lasers.
Townes received the PhD degree from California Institute of Technology with a thesis on isotope separation and nuclear spins. During World War II, he worked on designing radar systems and he holds a number of patents in that area. From there, he began to apply the microwave technique of wartime radar research to spectroscopy, providing a powerful tool for the study of the structure of atoms and molecules, as well as a potential new way of controlling electromagnetic waves.
Townes has authored three books, including How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist, Microwave Spectroscopy, and a memoir, Making Waves.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Townes has won several other awards, including the Nancy DeLoye Fitzroy and Roland V. Fitzroy Medal in 2012, the National Medal of Science (presented by President Ronald Reagan) in 1982, and the Niels Bohr International Medal in 1979.
Web resource: Charles H. Townes’s NobelPrize.org Page.
Harold E. Varmus is a biologist and the current Director of the National Cancer Institute. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1989, along with J. Michael Bishop, for their discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes.
Varmus earned his PhD from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and conducted his postdoctoral studies at the University of California-San Francisco.
Most of Varmus’s scientific research was conducted at the University of California-San Francisco’s Medical School, where he and his colleagues studied the cellular origins of oncogenes in a chicken retrovirus. Their discoveries led to the isolation of many cellular genes that normally control growth and development and are frequently mutated in human cancer.
Varmus is also widely known for his research on the replication cycles of retroviruses and of the hepatitis B family of viruses, as well as on the functions of genes implicated in cancer and the development of mouse models of human cancer.
In addition to winning the Nobel Prize, Varmus also won the Double Helix Medal in 2011 and the National Medal of Science in 2001. He has authored over 300 scientific papers and five books, including The Art and Politics of Science.
Web resource: Harold E. Varmus’s Home Page.
Craig Venter is a biologist and entrepreneur. He is known for tying with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in first sequencing the human genome. Venter founded Celera Genomics, a private research group, to carry out his sequencing of the human genome, in direct competition with the government effort at the NIH to accomplish that result.
Venter also founded the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), and the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), and is now working at JCVI to create synthetic biological organisms. JCVI is home to more than 300 scientists and other staff, has more than 250,000 square feet of laboratory space, and is the world leader in genomic research.
Venter earned his PhD in physiology and pharmacology from the University of California, San Diego. Then he became a professor and taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1984, he joined the National Institutes of Health.
During the 1990s, Venter was a main contributor to the Human Genome Project (HGP). The HGP was an international scientific research project whose aim was to identify and map the entire sequence of DNA base pairs that make up the human genome. The HGP also attempted to identify and map the various biological functions for which the human genotype is responsible. It remains the largest collaborative biological project in history.
Venter’s JCVI is also committed to science education, offering programs in science, math, and technology for students of all ages. They provide several opportunities for students to “learn by doing” to advance their discovery of science.
Venter was awarded the Dickson Prize in 2011, the National Medal of Science in 2008, and the Kistler Prize in 2008, among other honors and awards.
Read more about Craig Ventor in our article The 50 Greatest Living Geniuses.
Web resource: The J. Craig Venter Institute.
James D. Watson , a molecular biologist, geneticist, and zoologist, is the co-discoverer of the chemical structure of DNA—the famous “double helix.” He has been Director, then President, and then Chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), one of the premier biological institutes and field research stations in the world.
Watson greatly expanded the CSHL’s level of funding and research, making it into a world-leading research center in molecular biology. Later, he shifted the laboratory’s research emphasis to the study of cancer.
Watson received his PhD from Indiana University, and a little over a decade later received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, which he shared with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, for their discovery of the molecular structure of desoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and its significance for information transfer in living systems.
Watson taught at Harvard University for many years, where he received a series of academic promotions from assistant professor to associate professor to full professor of biology. He continued to teach at Harvard University for a time after his appointment as Director of CSHL.
Aside from the Nobel Prize in 1962, Watson has received countless other honors and awards, including the CSHL Double Helix Medal Honoree in 2008 and the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences in 2001.
Web resource: James D. Watson’s Home Page.
Steven Weinberg is a theoretical physicist and the Josey Regental Chair in Science at the University of Texas at Austin. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, along with Sheldon Lee Glashow and Abdus Salam, for their contributions to a unified theory of the weak and electromagnetic interactions between elementary particles. Their work, which involved the prediction of the weak neutral current interactions (W and Z bosons), which were later experimentally confirmed—achieved the unification of two of the four fundamental forces of nature.
Weinberg earned his PhD from Princeton University, and then conducted his postdoctoral work at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, where he was later promoted to the faculty. He later became the Higgins Professor of Physics at Harvard University.
Weinberg has conducted pioneering researched in many areas of physics, including quantum field theory, gravitational theory, supersymmetry, superstrings, and cosmology. He has also worked on a family of theories called “technicolor,” which postulates various physical theories beyond the Standard Model.
Weinberg’s influence and importance are confirmed by the fact that he is frequently among the top scientists with the highest research effect indices, such as the h-index and the creativity index.
Weinberg is also well-known for his outspoken negative opinions on religion. He once told a New York Times interviewer that “for good people to do evil things, that takes religion,” and his dislike of religion has only grown over the years.
Weinberg has a large number of awards to his name, including the National Medal of Honor in 1991, the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievements in Sciences from the American Philosophical Society in 2004, and the James Joyce Award in 2009, among many others.
Web resource: Steven Weinberg’s Home Page.
George M. Whitesides is a Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University. He is known for his work in a very wide variety of areas of chemistry, notably NMR spectroscopy, organometallic chemistry, soft lithography, micro-fabrication, microfluidics, nanotechnology, molecular self-assembly and self-organization, and research into the origin of life.
Whitesides earned a PhD in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, where his graduate work focused on the use of NMR spectroscopy in organic chemistry. He is the author of more than 1,200 scientific articles and is listed as an inventor on more than 50 patents. He has also co-founded over 12 companies with a combined market capitalization of over $20 billion, including Genzyme, Theravance, Surface Logix, and WMR Biomedical.
Among Whitesides’s many awards are the Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences in 2009, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry in 2009, and the National Medal of Science in 1998. Whitesides has one of the highest Hirsch index rating of all living chemists, which measures both the productivity and impact of the published work of a scientist or scholar.
Whitesides’s current research interests continue to span a very wide array of fields, from cell-surface biochemistry to science for developing economies.
Web resource: George M. Whitesides’s Home Page.
Edward O. Wilson is a biologist and naturalist. His specialty is myrmecology—the study of ants—on which he is considered to be the world’s leading authority. He was for many years the Joseph Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. Upon his retirement in 1996, he assumed the titles of Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology.
Wilson is also famous for his many popular books on evolutionary biology, for his advocacy of environmental causes (specially preserving biodiversity), and for his efforts to advance the secular humanist worldview. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
Wilson first tried to enlist in the United States Army, but he failed his Army medical examination due to his impaired eyesight. He completed his undergraduate education and later completed his PhD in biology at Harvard University.
In 1975, Wilson entered the public eye through the controversy surrounding publication of his Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, a highly ambitious and equally controversial work on the genetic basis of cooperative or “social” behavior in ants and other species, including humans.
In 1990, Wilson and co-author Bert Hölldobler published The Ants , a magisterial synthesis of Wilson’s life’s work on ant taxonomy, biology,and behavior. He and Hölldobler subsequently published several popular books on ants.
In addition to his work in myrmecology, Wilson has also authored a number of best-selling popular works on various aspects of biology and the philosophy of science, including On Human Nature, Biophilia and Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. The latter was another controversial work which argued that the natural sciences are destined to replace the social sciences and even the humanities.
Wilson, who was raised in Alabama as a Southern Baptist, adheres to the philosophy of scientific humanism, which he sees as “the only worldview compatible with science’s growing knowledge of the real world and the laws of nature.” He argues that it is best suited to improve the human condition.
Wilson has long taken a special interest in preserving endangered species. In 2005, he assisted in establishing a nonprofit, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, devoted to achieving this goal.
Wilson has been honored with countless awards, including the American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year in 1999, Time magazine’s 25 Most Influential People in America in 1995, and the Pulitzer Prize for The Ants in 1991.
Web resource: The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.
Edward Witten is a theoretical physicist and professor of mathematical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In 2004, Time magazine stated that Witten was widely thought to be the world’s greatest living theoretical physicist.
Witten earned his PhD in physics from Princeton University, but initially enrolled in applied mathematics. Witten then held a junior fellowship at Harvard University, and a few years later a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.
Witten coined the term “topological quantum field theory” to denote a physical theory in which the expected values of observable quantities encode information about the topology of spacetime. He also discovered that Chern-Simons theory could provide a framework for understanding the mathematical theory of knots and 3-manifolds.
Witten is best known for his fundamental mathematical insights into string theory. His finding that various string theories can be mapped onto one another by certain rules, called dualities, led to a flurry of work now known as the “second superstring revolution.”
In 1990 Witten became the first—and so far, the only—physicist to be awarded a Fields Medal by the International Mathematical Union, which is often viewed as the greatest honor a mathematician can receive, and has been described as “the Nobel Prize of mathematics.”
Witten has also been awarded the National Medal of Science in 2002, among many other honors.
Web resource: Edward Witten’s Home Page.
Shinya Yamanaka is a physician and researcher who studies adult stem cells. He is Senior Investigator with the Gladstone Institutes, which are associated with the University of California-San Francisco. He also serves as Director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, and as a professor with the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, at Kyoto University in Japan.
Yamanaka was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, along with John Gurdon, for their discovery that mature (adult) somatic cells can be converted into stem cells with regenerative properties (pluripotency) similar to those of embryonic stem cells.
Yamanaka, a native of Japan, received his PhD from Osaka City University Graduate School, after which he conducted a residency in orthopedic surgery at National Osaka Hospital and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease. He was an associate professor when he began the research that led him to the Nobel Prize. In addition to his present academic positions mentioned above, he also currently serves as President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.
Yamanaka showed, for the first time, that an intact, differentiated (adult), somatic cell could be reprogrammed to become pluripotent, thus having unlimited powers to differentiate itself. This work opened up completely new lines of research, in the process bypassing much of the rancorous public debate surrounding research on embryonic stem cells.
Yamanaka’s scientific discoveries were deemed so significant that he was recognized as a “Person Who Mattered” in the 2007 Person of the Year edition of Time magazine. He also was awarded the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for his work. In addition to these honors and the Nobel Prize, he has alsoreceived the Wolf Prize in Medicine in 2011, the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 2009, and the Meyenburg Cancer Research Award in 2007.
Web resource: Shinya Yamanaka’s Home Page.