High school: North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, N.C.
Invention: Magnetic space sail
Nikita Khlystov is a born builder. As a kid, he designed and assembled countless model cars. He even managed to make a working grandfather clock out of plastic building blocks. By his sophomore year he was designing and machining brake pedals for the Duke University motor-racing team as the only high-school student on the squad.
This year, he’s moved on to fuel-efficient propulsion systems for spaceships. Khlystov led the design of a magnetic solar sail that could be used to propel astronauts and robots through the cosmos. To address the problem of getting a big object into orbit, he and his team made the mile-long metal sail foldable so that it could be more easily stashed inside a spaceship. The design was a finalist in the 2010 Conrad Foundation Spirit of Innovation competition.
Not only an inventor, Khlystov is also an avid photographer, a chess player and a German-spelling-bee master.
College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology