Image: Erica P. Johnson

They come from disparate parts of the world and study disciplines as diverse as diabetes research, protein chemistry, and mammalian development. Yet David Lynn, Martin H. Johnson, and Peter Stralfors share a common bond: For each, teachers inspired his life's work.

As a child, Lynn used his chemistry set to concoct explosive potions. But when it came to choosing a career path in college, Lynn admits he was as bewildered as the next student until a chemistry professor gave him direction. "I fell in love with the course and my fate was pretty much sealed," says Lynn, a professor of biology and chemistry at Emory University in Atlanta. "One professor found the right button. He was an excellent teacher."

Across the ocean, Johnson arrived at Cambridge intent upon becoming a physician. During a third-year physiology class, Martin discovered he enjoyed the intellectual challenge of research....

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