Stephen Hawking and beyond: 5 modern scientists making groundbreaking discoveries

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Few people can inspire and move millions to be excited about science – Neil deGrasse Tyson and my 90’s nostalgia for “Bill Nye the Science Guy” come to mind as popular cultural science icons for our generation. But, of course, with his brilliance and cheeky sense of humor, Stephen Hawking has certainly solidified his place in history as well as in pop culture.

His recent passing is a great loss for the scientific community. Hawking was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author with one of his best-selling books A Brief History of Time selling over 10 million copies. Some of Hawking’s most notable accomplishments include developing a mathematical model for Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, his theories of the universe and the Big Bang, Multiverse theory, and work on black holes. And right before his death, Hawking published a paper entitled “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation” that outlines his theory of the end of the universe which I am sure will be studied for generations to come.

Hawking had a rare ability to translate these complicated theories to the general public making them understandable, fascinating, and many times humorous. Indeed, one of Hawking’s more amusing and memorable quotes is: “I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.”

Hopefully Hawking has inspired, and sparked your curiosity in the workings of the worlds around you. Keep following your infinite inquisitiveness with these 5 modern scientists that continue to make discoveries and waves in the universe.

Alan Guth

Certainly Stephen Hawking wasn’t the only scientist looking to the stars. You can still contemplate the cosmos by following the work of Alan Guth. Guth is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist best known for developing the theory of cosmic inflation which delves into theories of the expansion of space and the size of the universe. More recently, Guth has dabbled in other aspects of theoretical physics including time machines. He has won a slew of awards and accolades though Guth is quite proud of winning the “messiest office in Boston” award. Watch an interview with Guth about the cosmos.

Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth Blackburn is the molecular biologist that will extend your life. Winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for her work on anti-aging, Blackburn discovered telomerase: an enzyme that replenishes the caps at the end of chromosomes and when these telomeres are lengthened so does your life and your youth. I like the sound of this. Check out her TED Talk about telomeres and the science of aging.

Craig Venter

Biologist, entrepreneur, and one of the leading scientists of the 21st century, Venter is most well-known for his work on the Human Genome Project. Most recently, he has established several companies including Human Longevity Inc. that focuses on extending the healthy, high performance human lifespan through genomic work as well as founding Synthetic Genomics Inc. which focuses on creating products using synthetic genomics technologies. Watch Venter’s TED Talk on synthetic life.

Ashoke Sen

A theoretical physicist, Ashoke Sen has garnered recognition and won numerous awards for his work in string theory, S-duality, and on black holes. He has won the Fundamental Prize in Physics and, after being nominated by Stephen Hawking, Sen won the Fellowship of the Royal Society. Sen’s contributions and research has certainly made significant and groundbreaking advancements in his field in which he attempts to explain everything we know about all the matter and energy in the universe. 

Noam Chomsky

You probably recognize the name as Noam Chomsky is one of the most cited scholars in modern history and is famously outspoken on current events and foreign policy. Chomsky is considered the father of modern linguistics and has tremendously influenced the fields of psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science. He has authored over 100 books and is creator of the generative grammar theory, the Chomsky Hierarchy, the universal grammar theory, and contributed to the development of the study of language based on the innate structure of the brain. Watch this interview with Chomsky about the concept of language.