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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

James Collins, 34

Boston University

Without James Collins, stochastic resonance might have ended up science trivia--now it may give a big boost to patients. Stochastic resonance is a paradox in signal detection: Adding noise to a signal can sometimes make it easier to perceive. Collins had the outside-the-box idea that electrical noise could make mechanical signals easier for people to sense. It does: He found that people feel otherwise undetectable pricks in the presence of low-level electrical noise, opening the way to sensory prosthetics for touch-impaired diabetics, stroke patients and the elderly.

What’s more, Collins has taken similar approaches down to the

biomolecular level, showing how electric fields can cause controlled increases of protein production in laboratory bacteria. According to former BU colleague Charlie Cantor, now chief scientist at Sequenom, a San Diego biotech company, this physics-based approach to biology is totally new. Collins, says Cantor, "is applying nonlinear dynamics principles and methods to build molecular control systems to change the properties of living cells. This kind of work has the potential to revolutionize areas like gene therapy."

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