Big questions inspire the scientists on this year's SN 10 list – Science News Magazine

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This year’s scientists are studying sea level rise, the habitability of alien worlds, how curly hair evolved and how to stop the next coronavirus.

Inspiration doesn’t play by any set rules. It can come from anywhere and strike when it’s least expected. A first hint of a big idea can hang on in the recesses of the mind and push people ahead in roundabout ways.
Our SN 10: Scientists to Watch list is a brief study in inspiration. For the seventh year, Science News is featuring 10 early- and mid-career scientists driven by their curiosity and sense of wonder, and moved to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Each is making a mark on their chosen field. Inspired by the beauty he saw in a video of a developing embryo during a middle school science class, Marcos Simões-Costa seeks to understand how cells differentiate during development. It was starry skies in Scotland that pushed planetary scientist Robin Wordsworth to study if and how life might survive elsewhere in the cosmos. And for Jacky Austermann, a love of math and the outdoors led her to physics, then the inner Earth — and ultimately climate change.
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Each year we seek SN 10 nominations from Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Sciences and past SN 10 scientists. This year’s names came from those notable folks, and then some. For the first time, we opened up nominations to other scientists and the wider public, expanding the breadth of our list. It’s led to another impressive crew – many of them also set on inspiring others.
Biological anthropologist Tina Lasisi, who studies the evolution of human variation, hosts a PBS Digital Studios show and is a popular voice on TikTok. She wants to inspire people of color to ask questions important to them. “Research is me-search,” she says. Neutrino physicist Carlos Argüelles-Delgado is passionate about supporting physics students who don’t have role models who look like them. “It’s about not giving up, right?” Argüelles says. Environmental engineer Smruthi Karthikeyan pulled elementary school students into her coronavirus tracking efforts by letting them name the wastewater-collecting robots.
There are a lot of sparks for new ideas in these scientist stories. We hope they will inspire you, too. — Elizabeth Quill
Carlos Argüelles-Delgado hunts for particles beyond the standard model.
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Jacky Austermann looks to the solid earth for clues to sea level rise.
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Christopher Barnes aims to create a universal coronavirus vaccine.
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Josep Cornella breaks boundaries to seek new and better catalysts.
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Emily Jacobs studies sex hormones to demystify the female brain.
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Smruthi Karthikeyan turned to wastewater to get ahead of COVID-19.
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Tina Lasisi wants to know how and why curly hair evolved.
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Huijia Lin proved that a “holy grail” of cryptography is possible.
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Marcos Simões-Costa believes the developing embryo is “our best teacher.”
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Robin Wordsworth asks whether alien worlds could host life.
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Want to nominate someone for the next SN 10 list? Send their name, affiliation and a few sentences about them and their work to
Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at
A version of this article appears in the October 8, 2022 issue of Science News.
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