;Scientific disciplines, as we know them, are a fairly recent invention. As late as the 18th century, both amateur and professional scientists let their intellect range unfettered. The great Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci explored architecture, engineering, geology, botany and more. He is
credited with inventing the helicopter, a diving suit and painting the Mona Lisa.
Only later did scientific disciplines emerge as a powerful way to speed learning as scientific knowledge accumulated rapidly. Today’s scientists, including
this year’s SN 10 researchers, are stepping over these boundaries to borrow
tools and inspiration from other fields to solve knotty questions facing
science and society.
Members of the SN 10 class of 2018 are skilled at moving between scientific
worlds. One uses physics to learn how cell movement in the lungs encourages
asthma. Another sees architecture in how volcanoes build planets. Several
venture into other fields to help answer difficult questions in their own fields:
Maybe the proteins of biology can teach a materials scientist how to make self-repairing batteries.
This is the fourth year that Science News is spotlighting a group of early- and
mid-career scientists who are breaking ground. It’s a confident, tough group.
Try to set limits or box these people in and they bristle. Some had childhood
experiences that opened their minds to the possibilities of scientific research.
Others dug in their heels to do something that an adult said would be too
From a pool of standout researchers nominated by Nobel laureates and
recently elected members of the National Academy of Sciences, Science News
staff chose 10 to introduce on these pages. The scientists, all under 40, come
from different backgrounds and fields of study. But their colleagues and
mentors describe many of them in the same way: fearless, with a thirst for
knowledge and a drive to grasp the unknown, boundaries be damned.
His movies reveal
By Tina Hesman Saey
Ibrahim Cissé expected to join his father’s
law firm one day. “There were no scientists
where I grew up in Niger,” says the MIT
biophysicist. “I certainly didn’t know
[science] was a profession one could do.”
But Cissé’s parents had a telling clue about
their young son’s eventual career path — a
door sign that read: “Laboratoire de Cissé.”
Cissé learned about experiments in books,
but his school in Niger’s capital city, Niamey,
didn’t have a lab. So, when he was about 10
or 11, he converted a storage room in his
family’s house into an experimentation
space. Behind that handmade sign, he tore
apart electronics, rewired them, built new
things with the parts and dreamed about
becoming an astronaut on the space shuttle.
“People knew that anything that went
into my lab was fair game for me to break
apart,” he says.
SCIENTISTS TO WATCH
Meet 10 scientists who
defy limits to tackle big problems
SCIENTISTS TO WATCH
Ibrahim Cissé, 35
PH YSICS AND BIOPH YSICS