By Brittany Levine, USA TODAY
Their duties can sound ordinary until you look more closely: One dusts for footprints — of black holes. Another is a cartographer — using laser beams to map a rain forest. Another is an Internet repairman — who actually is restructuring the Internet to protect websites from hackers.
Collectively, they are among the "Brilliant 10" scientists and researchers identified in October's Popular Science. The sixth annual issue, which lands on newsstands Tuesday, honors these bright young minds:
•Greg Asner, 39; Carnegie Institution, Stanford University. Google Earth has nothing on Asner. This engineer-turned-cartographer flies over the Hawaiian rain forest in a small twin-engine airplane zapping laser beams and snapping hyperspectral images. By doing this, he can map the makeup of the forest down to each individual plant, detect the water level, predict drought, and track nitrogen and carbon levels.
•Gàspàr Bakos, 31; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This stargazer turned his homemade telescopes, which cost less than $50,000, into planet finders. Bakos, a native Hungarian, has found eight new planets by using six of these telescopes, which he built with three astronomer friends in Hungary and then stationed in Hawaii and Arizona.
•Martin Bazant, 37; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bazant discovered a way to let researchers control fluids at the microlevel with electricity. Although scientists first observed this property long ago, they figured out a way to control and shoot liquid only in a straight line; Bazant devised a way to redirect fluid coming from multiple directions down different paths.
•Helen Blackwell, 35; University of Wisconsin-Madison. Like a good librarian, she knows how to say "SHHH!" Only for Blackwell, the thing she's shushing is bacteria. By using chemicals she has created, she stops bacteria from talking to each other, which then prevents infections.
•Yoky Matsuoka, 36; University of Washington. Matsuoka is trying to turn prosthetics into puppets. She is building lifelike prosthetics that she plans to connect directly to the brain to mimic all the motions real hands make. Eventually, she wants to create a grab-and-go version that can be popped on and then start working immediately.
•Frans Pretorius, 34; Princeton University. Just as a detective dusts for fingerprints at a crime scene, Pretorius' computer simulations dust for the "footprints" of black holes, which help him predict what happens when black holes collide. His next project is using his models to test whether we live in a multiverse — a universe with hidden dimensions.
•Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, 39; Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. A farmworker turned brain surgeon, Quiñones-Hinojosa is on a quest to fight brain cancer both in the operating room and in the research lab. When he's not conducting surgery or working on projects as the director of the brain tumor program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, he is in one of his two research labs.
•Laurie Santos, 32; Yale University. Monkeys think like us and even make the same mistakes we do, says Santos, who has been researching monkeys for more than 10 years. Santos' most recent research makes monkeys economists and tests whether they make the same economic decisions that humans do.
•Mark Schnitzer, 37; Stanford University. Schnitzer wants to dig into the tiny crevices of your brain and map out the maze of your mind. His current research uses tiny microscopes to study the way mice store and forget memories. Thus research gives a first look at how individual cells behave deep in the brain.
•Emingün Sirer, 36; Cornell University. He can't fix your kitchen sink, but Sirer has repaired part of the Internet. Three years ago, Sirer tried to show that the structure of the Internet, which relied on big central servers, or communication centers, made it vulnerable to hackers. To prove it, he hacked into the FBI's website. No one knew such hacking was a problem until Sirer informed the feds. Then he began reorganizing the Internet by replacing a few central servers with thousands of smaller computers that help protect websites on a worldwide academic network.
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