Little did Greider know that her research as a 25-year-old graduate student at Berkeley would ultimately win her the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. While scientists knew that chromosomes were tipped like a shoelace, they did not know how these tips prevented chromosomes from unraveling during cell division. Greider and her colleagues, with whom she shares the Nobel, discovered a new enzyme, telomerase, that adds DNA to the ends, reducing the chances of mutations and lengthening the chromosomal lifespan. Their research catalyzed an eruption of studies connecting telomerase to cancer, anemia, age-related degenerative diseases, and other illnesses. Today Greider is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
It’s hard to remember the time before “Google” became both a verb and one of the world’s most powerful forces for change. As the executive chairman of Google (and its former CEO), Schmidt has led the company through more than a decade of unprecedented expansion into politics, business, culture, privacy, copyright, and other broad interests. He also tackles issues of ever-increasing personal and global importance, including the responsible use of natural resources. Schmidt was named the Cal Alumni Association’s 2012 Alumnus of the Year. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter @ericschmidt.
While some believe the world will end in fire, Perlmutter argues that it will end in ice. A physics professor at UC Berkeley and senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Perlmutter led one of the two teams that simultaneously discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe. He received the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. The discovery led to speculation that a “dark energy” is pushing the universe apart until, in the distant future, it will be cold and dark. Perlmutter is working with NASA and the Department of Energy to build the first space-based observatory designed to understand this enigmatic force.
From the classroom to the lab to the White House, Chu has addressed the enormity of climate change through the tireless pursuit of renewable and sustainable energy sources. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for developing laser techniques to cool and trap atoms and molecules, Chu is now the U.S. secretary of energy. He is charged with implementing President Obama’s ambitious agenda to invest in clean energy, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create new jobs. The Cal Alumni Association named Chu its 2011 Alumnus of the Year. Follow him on Facebook.