For the third straight year, we have pounded on the doors of academe, scrutinized professional journals, and scoured the rosters of awards-granting organizations to select 10 scientists to watch–people who are gaining recognition from their peers yet remain virtually unknown to the public.

They are a varied bunch. Our mathematician ponders topics so rarefied that only a few people truly understand them. Our computer scientist, meanwhile, developed the animation method used to create lifelike characters–such as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films–that have delighted millions. Some in this year’s batch are practical, building devices to protect against chemical weapons, or laying the groundwork for new cancer and Alzheimer’s treatments. Others pursue their interests without regard for real-world applications. What unites them is passion, intellectual curiosity and–in more cases than you might expect from earnest workaholics in white lab coats–a quirky sensibility.

What we’ve learned from the Brilliant 10 project [see Brilliant 10 Update] is that unorthodox thinkers are the ones who find solutions where others have failed. And so we are honored to introduce to you, in the following pages, the class of 2004.