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Academia, with its somewhat old-fashioned structure and rules, can appear quite a strange place when observed from the outside. Frequently, through my work as a literary agent, I’ve noticed that if you’re an academic who writes about your work for a general audience, you’re thought by some of your colleagues to be wasting your time and perhaps endangering your academic career. For younger scientists (i.e., those without tenure), this is almost universally true.
There are some good reasons for this peer pressure, the most obvious being that getting published in academic journals is an essential step on the very diffi cult road to tenure. However, one unfortunate result is that those of us outside academia are blocked from looking in on the research being done by this next generation of scientists, some of whom will go on to become leading doers and communicators of science.
This opacity was the impetus for the first essay collection in this series, What’s Next?: Dispatches on the Future of Science. Essays seemed to be an ideal and appropriate way for representatives of this group of scientists to communicate their ideas. The title of the new collection is different, but the organization is the same. Future Science features essays from nineteen young scientists from a variety of fields, writing about what they’re working on and what excites them the most. To come up with the list of contributors, I fi elded recommendations from top scientists on the rising stars in their various disciplines.
Among those you will hear from in Future Science are:
• Kevin P. Hand, a planetary scientist and astrobiologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on the possibilities for life elsewhere in the solar system (and the universe)
• Felix Warneken, who heads the Social Cognitive Development Group at Harvard’s Laboratory for Developmental Studies, on investigating the evolutionary roots of human altruism in his studies of young children and Ugandan chimpanzees
• William McEwan, a virologist and postdoctoral researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, U.K., who probes the biology of antiviral immunity by designing his own viruses
• Anthony Aguirre, a physicist and cosmologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who maintains that infi nity has been brought into the domain of testable physical science
• Daniela Kaufer and Darlene Francis of the University of California, Berkeley, neurobiologists who have taken a transdisciplinary approach to the study of the effects of stress on mind and body
• Jon Kleinberg, a professor of computer science at Cornell University, who is working on ways to extract significance from the enormous data sets we are building in the Internet age.
Working on Future Science has been an extremely rewarding experience, and I look forward to putting together the next collection in this series. These passionate young scientists, by giving us a glimpse of the work they’re doing today, are in a sense providing a window into the world to come.