I was catching up on reading back-issues of magazines that tend to pile up on my coffee table the other day when I came across something of scientific interest in Rolling Stone. In their April 2 issue, the gurus at the magazine published yet another “Top 100” list. I use the qualifier “yet another” because the magazine publishes this sort of list—a veritable what’s hot and what’s not of the music and entertainment world—with a frequency that makes my head spin.
This particular list, entitled “The RS 100 Agents of Change,” caught my eye because of the eclectic collection of people it contains.
Initially, I rolled my eyes at the people the magazine had selected “who are changing America” and who have “the power of making people think”—some predictable and some just plain ridiculous. Hip-hop star Kanye West (#7) was right up there with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (#9), former vice president Al Gore (#18), U2’s Bono (#4), and, of course, President Barack Obama (#1). For those who are not subscribers, Rolling Stone is not exactly subtle about its liberal opinions. And I nearly choked on my tea and cookies when I saw that rapper Lil Wayne, whose music is truly thought-provoking, was allotted the #19 spot on the list (with all due respect to any Lil Wayne fans out there).
But just as I was losing all hope for humanity (these lists are to be taken VERY seriously), I spotted Nathan Lewis at #17 and Angela Belcher at #31. Lewis, a professor of chemistry at Caltech, conducts studies of light-induced electron transfer reactions, with a focus on artificial photosynthesis and solar cells, and develops sensor arrays to be used as electronic noses. Belcher, a materials scientist at MIT, engineers biological systems such as viruses and yeast to build technologically important materials. For instance, she recently used a virus and some carbon nanotubes to wire the cathode of a lithium-ion battery (C&EN, April 6, page 6).
When I contacted Lewis about his high placement in this rockin’ list, he said he was pleased to have totally “creamed LeBron James in the rankings.” Poor Lebron—he only clocks in at #52. “On the other hand, Tina Fey [#8] deservedly placed higher,” Lewis said. “She’s invited to visit our lab anytime.”
Inspired by the music magazine’s efforts to rank innovative scientists, I decided to turn things around and ask scientists about the musicians that inspire them. Belcher, who said she was relieved Rolling Stone asked her only questions about science instead of music, admits to being a huge fan of country crooner Lyle Lovett. Lewis’ tastes run more toward rock; he lists the Rolling Stones (of course), Styx, and Journey among his faves.
Other scientific notables on the “Agents of Change” list are Energy Secretary Steven Chu (#24); Jay Keasling (#40), a bioengineer at the University of California, Berkeley; Lisa Randall (#43), a theoretical physicist at Harvard University; Anna Barker (#58), deputy director of the National Cancer Institute; Leroy Hood (#63), inventor of the automated DNA sequencer; and J. Craig Venter (#71), founder of the Institute for Genomic Research.
Perhaps, in the end, I was too quick to dismiss Rolling Stone’s choices of people changing America. What do you think, “C&ENtral Science” readers? Is there anyone you’d like to see on such a list?