The Game Changers
Meet the new generation of innovators.
THE STARGAZER // Making science cool again
Bobak Ferdowsi is changing the face—and haircut—of space exploration.
When the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012, it wasn’t just the pictures of the Red Planet coming back that sparked so much attention. An image of a young NASA employee with a mohawk celebrating the landing seemed to signal to the world that the sciences weren’t for stiffs anymore. Bobak Ferdowsi, a systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the guy from the viral image, agrees. “There aren’t the telltale signs of socks-and-sandals and other things that people kind of expect,” he says.
Ferdowsi, 33, is more than just a smart guy with degrees from the University of Washington and MIT. He’s a game changer in the best, most symbolic sense, because the status quo—and pocket protector image—has been overturned. He’s a young, mohawked dude who works in one of the most complex engineering environments in the world.
Born in the Philadelphia area but raised in Tokyo, Japan, Ferdowsi remembers it was reading Arthur C. Clarke, watching Star Trek, and seeing the images from the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission that guided him toward the final frontier. “I think I’ve always loved space exploration and probably loved science fiction as a kid a little too much,” he says. “So it was a natural fit.”
While working at the JPL after school, Ferdowsi helped the Curiosity rover land on Mars—a project that was years in the making—all while wearing his now-trademark mohawk. He’s always looking up, sometimes for aliens. “The more we learn about our universe, the more we’re beginning to realize how many places there are where life could survive,” he says. We’re (cautiously) looking forward to what the JPL finds next. —Ben Radding
Fit Fact: Ferdowsi rides his (non-rocketpropelled) bike to work, and lifts weights two to three times a week.
THE FOOD SHEPHERD // Betting the farm on fresh
Josh Lawler is growing the locavore movement from farm to table and beyond.
Tilling a small plot behind his parents’ 18th-century farmhouse in Pennsylvania started 12-year old Josh Lawler’s fascination with fresh, local food. He remembers the first time he saw a yellow tomato, one that he grew, before the heirloom craze swept the foodie landscape. “I would make all of these crazy concoctions,” he says, “and my parents would eat them.” Now 34, Lawler runs The Farm and Fisherman in Philadelphia, where he assembles brilliant, simple, sincere dishes like the wildly popular Bloody Beet Steak. (He honed his skills at high-end restaurants in Philly and New York City before finally landing a gig as chef de cuisine at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, inarguably a hub of the farm-totable movement.)
Lawler’s latest contribution to the locavore crusade features a protein that lesser chefs would shy away from: bycatch. “A couple of weeks ago we did a ‘trash fish’ dinner,” he says. “If trawlers are netting fluke, they’re going to pull up all these other fish that get kicked overboard. We designed the whole menu based on bycatch fish. We did sea robin, grey mullet, butterfish—which is usually used as bait to catch tuna—and bluefish.” Lawler made a crudo plate of the four fish to start the tasting and people loved the new textures and flavors. “It’s more economical, plus the fish are local, and interesting,” he says. “You’re not just flying sashimi in from the West Coast.”
Up next for Lawler: an extension of his popular restaurant in Cherry Hill, NJ, called The Farm and Fisherman Tavern and Market, opening at the end of this month. —Adam Bible