Brave is the engineer who invents a new stove and goes out into the world to demonstrate it, braver still the one who does so in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.
Yet that is where Christina Galitsky, 34, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently found herself, showing refugees how to use her invention—a simply made, highly efficient cookstove, which saves trees in an environmentally fragile place, and, more important, may save lives too.
Like many other up-and-coming people we profile in this special issue of Smithsonian, Galitsky is not only innovating in her chosen field but also crossing disciplines to make a difference in our world. Those honored here are scholars, singers, writers, scientists, musicians, painters, activists—and more than one public-spirited computer maven.
"All of our honorees are age 35 or under," says Smithsonian editor Carey Winfrey. "That is half of the Bible's allotted three score and ten: old enough to have shown what they can do and young enough to have the time they need to do it." And why 37? "Well, it's a prime number," says Winfrey. "And, oh yes, we just completed our 37th year." Winfrey notes that although John Wherry was indeed chosen at age 35, he turned 36 while "we were looking the other way."
Though we didn't know it when we selected them, more than a few of our honorees turned out to be recipients of "genius" grants from the MacArthur Foundation, which encourages pioneering mathematicians like Terence Tao to propound new theorems and poet-playwright Sarah Ruhl to examine the enduring chemistry of love and heartbreak onstage. Another featured innovator, anthropologist Amber VanDerwarker, brings new analytic methods to bear on the mysteries of Olmec culture, while Philippe Cousteau carries on his famous family's tradition of filmmaking, teaching and crusading for the environment. "It can't just be about seeing humpback whales...anymore," says Cousteau. "Now it's about saving us."
Many of those you will meet in this issue will help to shape our future. "These are people to watch," says Kathleen Burke, the Smithsonian senior editor who, with consulting editor Jamie Katz and associate editor Beth Py-Lieberman, shaped this special issue, in which The Dow Chemical Company is the sole advertiser.
Says Burke: "The men and women we honor have already distinguished themselves in some way—like novelist Daniel Alarcón, whose fiction integrates history, politics and character, or the chemical engineer Michael Wong, who plans to use gold dust to clean up toxic waste sites, or Geneva Wiki, whose charter school in Klamath, California, is encouraging Native Americans to stay in high school and get an early exposure to college."
By the time your read this, Alarcón, Wiki, Wong and the other young innovators who populate this issue will have been honored in ceremonies at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. With all that talent concentrated in one room, who knows what earthshaking ideas may have rippled forth. Keep an eye on your seismograph.