**Terence Tao**

Mathematician, University of California Los Angeles

Many of the great mathematicians of our era probably scored a perfect 800 on the math section of their SATs. Terence Tao squeaked by with a 760—when he was 8 years old.

A quarter century later, Tao, now 33, is one of the most prolific and esteemed mathematicians in the nation. In 1999 he became UCLA’s youngest professor at age 24 and later won the 2006 Fields Medal, considered the Nobel Prize of math. In a discipline where one can spend a lifetime working on a single problem, Tao has made major contributions in a number of categories ranging from nonlinear equations to number theory—which explains why colleagues continually seek his guidance.

“In every generation of mathematicians, there are a few at the very top,” says Charles Fefferman of Princeton University, a mathematical giant in his own right. “He belongs in that group.”

Tao’s best-known research involves patterns of prime numbers (numbers divisible only by one and themselves). While he mainly sticks to the theoretical, his breakthrough work in compressed sensing is allowing engineers to develop sharper, more efficient imaging technology for MRIs, astronomical instruments, and digital cameras.

“Research sometimes feels like an ongoing TV series in which some amazing revelations have already been made, but there are still plenty of cliff-hangers and unresolved plotlines that you want to see resolved,” Tao says. “But unlike TV, we have to do the work ourselves to figure out what happens next.”

Tao says there are big puzzles he’d love to solve, but the only way to reach that point is by chipping away at smaller, more manageable problems. “If there is something that I should know how to do but don’t, it bugs me,” he says. “I feel like I have to sit down and work out exactly what the problem is.” *—Andrew Grant*

**Jeffrey Bode**

Organic Chemist, University of Pennsylvania

Organic chemists don’t have many ways to stitch complicated molecules together, says Jeffrey Bode, 34, who has discovered a new method that could prove a boon for producing expensive peptide-based drugs such as insulin and human growth hormone. Many organic chemists had thought the established methods for building these proteins—adding individual amino acids like beads on a string—worked pretty well, Bode says. “That is true as long as you want to make relatively short ones or you want to make only small amounts of them.” As the strands get longer, if an individual bead doesn’t make it onto the peptide string, it becomes harder to separate those mistakes from the correct sequence. To remedy this, Bode discovered a new chemical reaction that creates amide bonds (a reaction between alpha-keto acid and hydroxylamine), which he uses to connect small, easily synthesized peptides—strands of amino acids—into longer peptides. Bode notes that in organic chemistry, “it’s possible to come up with a way of doing something that is perhaps better and more elegant and more efficient than what’s already out there.” *—Sarah Webb*