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Two faculty among Popular Science's 'Brilliant 10'

Popular Science magazine has named MIT faculty members Rebecca Saxe and Francesco Stellacci to its annual "Brilliant 10" list of the country's top young scientists to watch. The list appears in the November issue of the magazine, which hits newsstands Thursday, Oct. 14.

Rebecca Saxe, whom the magazine called "The Infant's Philosopher," is the Frederick A. and Carole J. Middleton Career Development Assistant Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience. Saxe, 29, received an MIT PhD in 2004.

"By studying babies' behavior and eye movements, this philosopher-turned-scientist wants to answer the big questions in neuroscience," Popular Science wrote about Saxe's work. "How does the brain deal with the information coming in from the eyes and the ears? How does it turn that information into thoughts that we then act on?

"Saxe is starting to answer those questions by investigating one specific case: How do we come to know the thoughts of others? She ended a decades-long argument among neuroscientists when she showed that there is a specific part of our brains dedicated to thinking about others' desires."

Stellacci, dubbed "The Materialist" by the magazine, is the Paul M. Cook Career Development Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering.

According to Popular Science, earlier this year Stellacci, 35, announced that his group "had developed a material that can suck 20 times its weight in oil out of a sample of water. The material can be used to clean up massive crude-oil spills, and some have called the work a blueprint for scientists designing nanomaterials to help protect the environment.

"Yet Stellacci doesn't consider this his best work. He's excited about tricking cells and designing nanomaterials with outrageous abilities."

Two other members of the Brilliant 10 have MIT connections. John Santini, 36, earned his MIT PhD in 1999 in chemical engineering. Now founder and CEO of MicroCHIPS, Santini is building under-the-skin microchips that deliver drugs straight into the blood. Kristi Anseth, 40, was a postdoctoral associate in Institute Professor Robert Langer's lab. Now at the University of Colorado, she develops hydrogels, a class of materials that look and feel like gelatin, only they trigger rapid healing in human tissue.

Past Brilliant 10 honorees from MIT include: Angela Belcher, Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering (2002); Linda Griffith, School of Engineering Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering (2002); and Martin Bazant, an associate professor of applied mathematics (2007) now at Stanford University.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 22, 2008 (download PDF).

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