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.