Growing up in Bath, England, Adam Kucharski had broad interests, ranging from history to physics. But when it was time to choose a degree at the University of Warwick, he settled on math. During his time as a PhD student in applied math at the University of Cambridge, he veered increasingly towards studying epidemiology, modeling the evolution of viral diseases. Today, as a researcher at Imperial College London’s MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling, he studies the effects of immunity and social structure on the spread of disease, which he writes about in his feature “Factoring In Face Time.” “There are so many often hidden aspects we’ve got to deal with as epidemiologists,” he says. “Even when I was quite young I was interested in trying to work out what’s going on behind what we see.” Kucharski started writing for science magazines during his graduate studies, which he says helps keep him abreast of a broader range of work than just his own. He also enjoys playing hockey and cricket.
When she was 6 years old, Temple Grandin built one of her first inventions, a bird-shaped kite made of heavy watercolor paper and adhesive tape to fly behind her tricycle. “I experimented with all different ways to make the wings,” she says, hitting upon using the turned-up wing tips found on many airplanes. Grandin, who has autism, thinks in pictures and has a knack for evaluating designs. She studied psychology as an undergraduate at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, where a class on animal behavior redirected her interests. She got her master’s degree at Arizona State University in animal studies, and put her inventive mind to work designing new methods and facilities for handling livestock. Following graduation, Grandin began working as an animal husbandry consultant. She received her PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989, and has spent her academic career as a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, where she teaches her students how to become better observers and to pay especially close attention to the methods section of research papers. Grandin, a much sought-after speaker and the author of several books about autism, worries that the current educational system selects against the type of thinking that has served her so well. “A visual thinker is good at making equipment work,” she says. For more on these ideas, which she discusses in her newest book The Autistic Brain, read her essay (here).
When Kate Yandell left Los Angeles to attend Williams College in western Massachusetts, she loved English literature and assumed she would end up in the humanities. But an engaging Bio 101 professor changed her mind. “It just made me realize how amazing and happening-now science is,” she says. So she decided to double-major in English and biology. For a while, she stayed rooted in her love of literature, spending her junior year abroad at the University of Oxford, where she immersed herself in Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf. But she found herself missing biology. “I realized I didn’t want to abandon science,” she says. She mulled over the idea of going into science journalism, and after a summer living on a Massachusetts farm making and selling cheese, she decided to apply to the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP) at New York University, where she completed her master’s in December. During her time there, she interned for the science section of The New York Times, where she wrote about environmental and personal-health issues, and at Audubon magazine. In January, Yandell began an internship at The Scientist, where she regularly contributes both print and online articles and manages the TS Facebook page. “I like writing for multiple types of audiences but it’s kind of satisfying to write about more complicated things sometimes,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about different kinds of science since coming here.”
This year’s list of winners celebrates both large leaps and small (but important) steps in life science technology.