Joe Jacobson, 34
MIT Media Lab
Electronic books hold great promise as a better way to read, but because of the limitations of display technology, they have lower resolution than the printed page, and thus are tough on the eyes. That may change thanks to the work of the Media Lab’s Joe Jacobson. He and his group have developed a system using "microspheres"--two-toned particles about the size of grains of laser toner--embedded in a sheet of paper to display text and graphics. A conductive, transparent "ink" is used to flip the microspheres into the correct position, all controlled by a microprocessor printed directly onto the paper.
In 1997 Jacobson co-founded a startup, E Ink, to commercialize the technology. Its first product, large signs that can display changing messages, was put to use in J.C. Penney stores this year. In addition, the ability to print microprocessors on paper and other surfaces could drastically change computing. "This technology puts forth the possibility of completely remaking both the chip industry and the fundamental way in which we make high technology devices," claims Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte.