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The 20 smartest people in the world


Scientists are perhaps the most influential people in the world today. They are responsible not only for the great practical advances in medicine and technology, but they also give us a deep understanding of what the world is and how it works. Their role in shaping the worldview of our culture is unrivaled.

1. Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web by being the first to successfully implement the transfer protocols on which the Web depends.

2. Noam Chomsky, who, though a linguist and philosopher, has fundamentally reshaped the field of psychology, not least by dethroning behaviorism through his ideas about the innateness of language.

3. Richard Dawkins, whose use of evolutionary biology has shaped the way we understand ourselves at the most fundamental levels.

4. Persi Diaconis, who in merging the mathematical theory of groups with statistics has radically reconfigured our understanding of randomness.

5. Jane Goodall, whose work on primates has led the way and given us focus in understanding our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. 

6. Alan Guth, whose idea of inflationary cosmology has revolutionized our understanding of the Big Bang and the large scale structure of the universe.

7. Stephen Hawking, whose work on the nature of space and time remains groundbreaking and whose story of personal triumph despite suffering a neuro-muscular dystrophy has inspired millions.

8. Donald Knuth, whose work on the theory of the algorithm has transformed the field of computer science. (Photo courtesy of Will Robertson) 

9. Lynn Margulis, whose ideas about symbiogenesis have vastly enriched conventional ways of understanding biological evolution. 

10. Gordon Moore, who as founder of Intel merged business and science in bringing about the information technology revolution (“Moore’s Law” is named after him). 

11. Roger Penrose, who has broken new ground not only in fundamental physics but also on its connections to human consciousness. 

12. Allan Sandage, who continued the work of the legendary Edwin Hubble to become the world’s greatest living observational astronomer. 

13. Frederick Sanger, whose research first revealed the structure of proteins, work for which he received the first of two Nobel Prizes in chemistry.

14. Charles Townes, who invented the laser, which is now ubiquitous in technology and ordinary life. 

15. Craig Venter, whose completion of the Human Genome Project and continued work on synthetic genomes and artificially constructed cells is fundamentally challenging our understanding of life.

16. James Watson, whose codiscovery with Francis Crick of the structure of DNA has revolutionized all of biology and is a landmark of the 20th century.

17. Steven Weinberg, whose work on unifying the forces of physics and whose exceptionally well-written popular books on science have made him a key public intellectual for interpreting science to the wider culture. 

18. Andrew Wiles, who in resolving the 300-year old Fermat Conjecture of mathematics decisively demonstrated how seemingly irresolvable problems may eventually yield to solution through creative insight.

19. Edward O. Wilson, whose work on sociobiology has propelled evolutionary thinking into ethics and psychology. 

20. Edward Witten, whose work on the mathematical underpinnings of string theory has made it the theory of everything to beat.

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