Next time you sit with a stranger at a dinner party, pray for someone as interesting as any of the scientists in the ranks of the second annual PopSci Brilliant 10. Someone who is well into an exciting career but still picking up speed. Someone in the grip of an obsessive inquiry into the nature of the world-brainy, resourceful, gutsy-and not afraid to talk about it. This year, we again sought researchers whose work, while watched and admired (and certainly envied) by colleagues, is largely unknown to a public that admits few scientists into the spotlight of fame.
One in this year's group traveled East Africa cajoling people for blood samples, then processed the blood in a centrifuge she had jury-rigged to her Land Rover's battery. Another vowed in junior high to defeat the disease that killed a friend—and may very well keep that promise. Many of the Brilliant 10 work in hybrid fields, because as the divisions between disciplines fade, that's where the action is. They meld biology with engineering, computer science with ecology. Some work in fields so new—molecular anthropology, microfluidics—you've probably never heard of them.
This group is but a tiny cohort of the larger community of researchers doing the work that will reveal—and, by revealing, change—our world.