The Princeton-educated Amazon founder, Washington Post owner and new-economy pioneer also helms an innovative spaceflight company, Blue Origin, which he founded in 2000. This year it became the first aerospace manufacturer to launch, land and relaunch a rocket into space—an essential leap toward our extraterrestrial future. Bezos aims to revolutionize travel and work in space by making spaceflight so inexpensive that entrepreneurs will rush to create new businesses that have not even been imagined yet. Blue Origin’s achievement has been described as comparable to the shift from the sail to the steam engine. (Photo Credit: John Keatley)

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This tech-savvy researcher of our past uses satellites and other remote-sensing tools to discover and explore stunning new evidence of lost cultures—including, just this year, another possible Viking site in North America. In addition, she has located an astonishing number of ancient Egyptian remains—thousands of settlements, lost tombs and hidden pyramids. A Yale- and Cambridge-trained Egyptologist and archaeologist, Parcak is a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she serves as founding director of the Laboratory for Global Observation. (Photo Credit: Tobias Hutzler)

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The actor, comedian and author is being honored for his starring role as Dev Shah in “Master of None,” the Netflix series that he created with Alan Yang. Like the character he plays, Ansari is the son of Indian immigrant parents, and his smart, surprising take on life, love, technology and cultural identity in the United States has helped make the show “the year’s best comedy straight out of the gate,” as the New York Times put it. Among Ansari’s other accomplishments are his unforgettable portrayal of the loopy Tom Haverford on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” his best-selling book about dating in the internet age, Modern Romance (co-authored with Eric Klinenberg), and his blockbuster stand-up act that sold out Madison Square Garden. (Photo Credit: Landon Nordeman)

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Specializing in the whimsical and unexpected, these artistic dynamos have collaborated on some of the most arresting music videos ever made. This year’s “Upside Down & Inside Out” showcases the OK Go band members in a gravity-defying gambol shot aboard a Russian jetliner flying parabolas to induce periods of weightlessness. (“Here It Goes Again,” a treadmill ballet released in 2006, won a Grammy Award for best short-form video.) OK Go, formed in Chicago in 1998 and now based in Los Angeles, features Tim Nordwind (bass), Andy Ross (guitar), Dan Konopka (drums) and Damian Kulash Jr. (vocals and guitar). “Upside Down & Inside Out” is the fourth video that Kulash has co-directed with Sie, an acclaimed choreographer and film director who is also his sister. (Photo Credit: Brinson + Banks, Art Streiber)

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Christopher Gray is the founder and CEO of Scholly, the groundbreaking web and mobile app that matches current or future college students who need financial support with scholarships that can help them. Scholly has been downloaded 850,000 times and has connected college students with some $50 million in scholarships. Philadelphia-based Gray, an ABC “Shark Tank” winner and recipient of a $100,000 grant from philanthropist Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest competition, sees his digital platform as a 21st-century tool for helping countless young Americans achieve their college dreams without piling on crushing debt. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Barkat)

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As a filmmaker, Lynch has a reputation for creating dark, surreal movies such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart as well as the TV show “Twin Peaks.” In the education world, he's becoming known for something very different: promoting inner peace. Over the past decade, the David Lynch Foundation has sponsored Transcendental Meditation classes for half a million children in places as far-flung as the Bronx, Detroit, Los Angeles, Congo and the West Bank. The program, called Quiet Time, is now at the center of one of the largest-ever studies of meditation for children—a 6,800-pupil research project conducted by the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago and designed to learn if meditation can help kids in highly stressful environments fare better at home and in school. (Photo Credit: Brinson Banks)

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The director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Atala is a surgeon and leading expert in creating living human tissues and organs to replace those that are defective or damaged. He has spent the past decade attempting to construct living organs using 3-D printing technology. Atala implanted the world’s first laboratory-grown organ into a human in 1999 and, this year, he and his colleagues “printed” cartilage, bone and muscle tissue before successfully implanting them into a lab animal. That’s a crucial first step toward Atala’s long-term goal of overcoming the dire shortage of donated organs with custom-made body parts. (Photo Credit: Alex Boerner)

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In February, physicists announced the first-ever detection of gravitational waves—a phenomenon Albert Einstein predicted back in 1915. The faint reverberation, from two merging black holes 1.3 billion light-years ago, registered in the two giant detectors that make up the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. It took decades for LIGO’s founders—Weiss, of MIT, and Thorne and Drever, of Cal Tech—to amass the necessary funding and brainpower. Barish, a particle physicist at CalTech, became LIGO’s director and expanded its work to include more than 1,000 researchers worldwide. Their revolutionary achievement opens the way for a new understanding of the universe, perhaps even a glimpse of the Big Bang. (Photo Credit: Brinson Banks and Courtesy Caltech)

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The duo joined forces to protect tens of thousands of people during the disastrous water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Walters, a Flint resident, grew suspicious when her tap water changed color and her family suffered odd maladies. Officials insisted that the problems were limited to her household, but she refused to accept that answer and sought out Edwards, a Virginia Tech civil engineering professor and a veteran of municipal water wars. Combining political action and scientific credibility, the testing initiative undertaken by Walters and Edwards showed that the city’s water supply was contaminated with toxic chemicals—an explosive finding that finally forced state and local officials to address the dangers. (Photo Credit: Tobias Hutzler)

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