The president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., came to that job in 1999 with a stellar resume. Besides being the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shirley Ann Jackson headed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the Clinton administration and was a physicist at Bell Laboratories and other notable research institutions. How did this lightning-quick thinker develop her interest in both science and education policy? Look for a hint in this chapter excerpt (pdf) of a book for young people that chronicles Jackson's early life as someone with "a curious mind and a passion for uncovering the secrets that lay hidden in the world around us."

Read more about her in Strong Force: The Story of Shirley Ann Jackson, Joseph Henry Press, an imprint of The National Academies Press, 2006.

For an in-depth Q&A with Dr. Jackson about our energy future and strengthening science eduation, read "Speaking Out on the "Quiet Crisis"" in the December issue of Scientific American.