Arnaud Brignon, 33
Lasers are found in everyday products, from compact-disc players to bar code readers. But in a laser beam strong and focused enough to shoot down an enemy aircraft or chisel pin-sized mechanical parts out of metal blocks, the hyperexcited photons have to be controlled so they don’t scatter. Improvements on solid- state lasers have been stymied by the tendency of a beam to distort as the crystal at the heart of a laser heats up. Arnaud Brignon, who was born eight years after the laser was invented in 1960,has solved this problem by developing a self-correcting mirror made from nonlinear crystals that cancels the distortions. His division of multinational aerospace giant Thales, in Orsay, France, is identifying markets for commercial versions of the laser, which Brignon says could be ready in three years. While working on a next-generation laser, Brignon finds time to hunt for dinosaur remains in the fields of France. He recently discovered a tooth from a 100-million-year-old armored ankylosaur that was previously undocumented in his country.