Two long-standing APS members made the final cut for a special issue of Time magazine, identifying 18 best and brightest American minds in science and medicine. The August 13 cover story named Carlos Bustamente of the University of California, Berkeley, as the best scientist in molecular mechanics, while. Princeton University's David Spergel won the top spot for astrophysics.
Bustamente came to the US from Peru 26 years ago as a Fulbright Scholar, and succeeded in measuring the elasticity of a DNA molecule in the early 1990s with colleagues at the University of Oregon - establishing that large molecules could be mechanically manipulated in the process. Now an investigator at UCB's Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Bustamente went on to use an atomic force microscope and laser tweezers to read the topography of molecules and manipulate them. By 1997 he had managed to grasp a single protein and pull it apart, to better study how proteins and nucleic acids fold into complex structures, which would have important ramifications for drug designers. And last year he applied the lessons learned from his past research to describe, step by step, how a lone enzyme copies a DNA sequence into RNA.
Spergel is a theoretical astrophysicist whose contributions include the discovery that the Milky Way galaxy is not just a simple spiral of stars of gas, but rather a complex construction with warped edges and a bar of stars across the middle. He has also grappled with the problem of dark matter and cosmic structure, most notably why galaxies tend to clump together rather than spread uniformly through space. Recently his work has taken a decidedly experimental bent: he helped design the Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) satellite launched this past June to probe the outer edges of the universe. In the months to come, he will help decipher the data the 1800-pound satellite beams back from space. And he has already been asked to help design a second spacecraft to find Earthlike planets orbiting other stars, resulting in a revolutionary idea for a telescope capable of spotting a dim planet in the glare of a bright star.
To read more about America's Best in science and medicine, see the interactive Website at www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2001/americasbest.
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Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette