“The stories of these ten people capture some of the most memorable scientific events in 2018,” says Nature's chief features editor, Rich Monastersky, “and they force us to confront difficult questions about who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.”


Physicist Yuan Cao was only 21 when he helped discover a trick to make graphene capable of conducting electricity without resistance, launching a new area of physics.


Cao admits that his situation is unusual, but says he isn’t special. After all, he did spend a full four years at university: “I just skipped some of the boring stuff in middle school.”


Cao loves to take things apart and rebuild them. At heart, he is “a tinkerer”, his supervisor says.


“Every time I go in, it’s a huge mess, with computers taken apart and pieces of telescope all over his desk.”


Despite his youth and shy manner, colleagues say that Cao’s maturity shines through in his persistence.


“He wasn’t happy, but he just rolled up his sleeves and continued working,”


“There are so many things we can do,” says Cory Dean, a physicist at Columbia University in New York City. “The opportunities at hand now are almost overwhelming.”


Palaeogeneticist Viviane Slon helped make one of 2018’s most surprising discoveries when she and her colleagues sequenced DNA from a 90,000-year-old bone and found that it came from the offspring of a union between a Neanderthal mother and a father from the extinct human group known as Denisovans.


Another physicist, Jess Wade, made news through her remarkable efforts to raise the profile of women and people of color in science, including by writing hundreds of Wikipedia entries for female scientists.


Robert-Jan Smits made waves in publishing by launching Plan S, a bold effort to make more scientific papers open access.


Open data was also central to the work of Barbara Rae-Venter, who used public genome data to help identify the Golden State killer, who committed multiple murders in California during the 1970s and 1980s.


Another data set preoccupied astronomer Anthony Brown, whose team coordinated the release of a massive trove of information from the Gaia spacecraft, which has tracked more than a billion stars.


Meanwhile, Makoto Yoshikawa led the Hayabusa2 mission at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to visit a dumpling-shaped asteroid to collect samples and then return them to Earth.


Climate researcher Valérie Masson-Delmotte had a key role in the stark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that nations might have only a dozen years before Earth’s temperature reaches a point that would transform ecosystems and destroy many coral reefs.


Bee Yin Yeo, Malaysia’s minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate change, is featured for leading environmental efforts to reduce single-use plastics.


Chinese scientist He Jiankui captured global attention last month when he announced he had edited the genomes of twin baby girls. This drew widespread condemnation over concerns that he had ignored ethical considerations and exposed the infants to potential risks.


He, who is now not speaking to the press, disappeared from the world stage as quickly as he had emerged.


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