The next Einstein? America's best and brightest minds

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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” So said Albert Einstein, creator of the theory of relativity that revolutionized modern science.

Mar. 14 marked the 134th anniversary of Einstein’s birthday, but science has hardly stood still: In research labs, classrooms and even garages across the country, today’s best minds in science and technology haven’t stopped questioning.

These men and women haven’t created a formula as famous as e=mc2 – not yet, anyway. But their contributions to science are poised to change the way we live today, and will continue to influence our culture in the coming decades.

A Cure for Blindness
Biologist Ann Morris has been conducting creative research on vision in zebrafish, a University of Kentucky spokesman explained. “Because the fish can re-grow lost cells and tissue … Dr. Morris is studying how precursor cells in their eyes generate the rods and cones necessary for vision.”

You read that right: Some fish can regenerate the biology needed for vision.

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The doctor’s lab at the University of Kentucky believes its work will lead to new therapies for degenerative diseases like retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration and retinal detachment.

Someday, her work could cure some forms of blindness.

No More Collapsing Bridges?
Earlier this month, three engineers from GE’s Global Research Center -- Peter Andresen, Robert Schafrik, and Jan Schilling -- were named as new members of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

“These three individuals represent some of the best minds and brightest talent that we have across our company,” said Mark Little, GE’s chief technology officer. (His company was founded by yet another genius: Thomas Alva Edison.)

Andresen, a principal scientist at GE, was honored for more than three decades of work into the very slow growth of cracks in the hot water environments common to nuclear, steam turbine, and geothermal systems.

Much of his work has focused on detecting and predicting the growth of cracks on stainless steels, which are nominally resistant to corrosion but can still susceptible to "stress corrosion cracking."

That is, his work can save bridges from collapsing, and preserve other essential infrastructure.

Andresen holds 26 patents and is GE’s most prolific researcher, having authored more than 450 publications.

“My father was an engineer and I always pestered those around me to understand how things worked. The blend of sophisticated experimental measurements, underlying science, and technical intuition makes the work endlessly fascinating,” he said.

The Best and Brightest
A number of names consistently come up on lists assembled by scientific organizations of the best American brains:

•  Gordon Moore, who as founder of Intel merged business and science in bringing about the information technology revolution. “Moore’s Law” is named after him.

•  Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web by being the first to successfully implement the transfer protocols on which the Internet relies.

•  Edward O. Wilson, whose work on sociobiology has led to evolutionary thinking into ethics and psychology.

•  Andrew Wiles, who in solving the 300-year old Fermat Conjecture of mathematics decisively demonstrated how seemingly unsolvable problems may eventually yield to solution through creative insights.

•  James Watson, whose co-discovery with Francis Crick of the structure in the 1950s of DNA has revolutionized all of biology and is a landmark of the 20th century.

•  Craig Venter, whose leadership of the Human Genome Project and continued work on synthetic genomes and artificially constructed cells is fundamentally challenging our understanding of life.

•  Charles Townes, who decades ago invented the laser, which is today ubiquitous in technology and ordinary life.

But there are less well known names whose legacy may be felt even more in the future.

Saving lives through 3D

Jessica Lee, a healthcare executive at Alere Inc., cited Dr. Ben Carson -- a pediatric neurologist of the Johns Hopkins University, who has several inventions to his name.

“When it comes to innovation in medical science he is bar-none the man whose work has and will change the world,” she told

Carson was in the news recently for his remarks on Obamacare, but you should know his name for another reason: He has completed many complicated -- and famous -- surgeries. In 2003, he faced perhaps his biggest challenge: separating adult conjoined twins.

Ladan and Laleh Bijani were Iranians joined at the head. For 29 years, they had lived together in every way, sharing experiences, but as they aged and developed their own individual aspirations, they knew they could never lead independent lives unless they separated. They told Carson at one point, "We would rather die than spend another day together."

This type of medical procedure had not been attempted. But Carson had been conducting brain surgery for nearly 20 years and had performed several craniopagus separations. With more than 100 surgeons, he traveled to Singapore for what would be a 52-hour operation.

On July 6, 2003, Carson and his colleagues used a 3-D imaging technique he had created that let the team to conduct a virtual surgery before the real operation. During the procedure, they followed a digital reconstruction of the twins' brain. A specially created chair allowed the operation to be conducted, successfully, while both sisters were in a sitting position.

Let’s hear it for continuing to question!