National Geographic’s 2014 Class of Emerging Explorers Is Announced

14 New Emerging Explorers Represent Next Generation of Scientists, Innovators and Storytellers Pushing Boundaries of Discovery, Adventure and Global Problem-Solving
May 15, 2014 4:00 PM ET
National Geographic’s 2014 Class of Emerging Explorers

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 15, 2014 /3BL Media/ — The National Geographic Society has selected its 2014 class of Emerging Explorers, a group of 14 visionary, young trailblazers from around the globe whose innovative ideas and accomplishments are making a significant difference in the world. One of the group, Jack Andraka, is just 17 years old and is the youngest person ever to be chosen as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

The Emerging Explorers Program recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists and innovators who are at the forefront of discovery, adventure and global problem-solving while still early in their careers. Each Emerging Explorer receives a $10,000 award to aid further research and exploration.

The 2014 Emerging Explorers are inventor Jack Andraka; educator Shabana Basij-Rasikh; conservation biologist Shivani Bhalla; ecologist and epidemiologist Christopher Golden; marine biologist David Gruber; paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim; creative conservationist Asher Jay; conservation biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira; artist, writer and musician Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky; environmentalist Maritza Morales Casanova; social entrepreneur Sanga Moses; author and campaigner Tristram Stuart; electrical engineer Robert Wood; and nanoscientist Xiaolin Zheng.

The new Emerging Explorers are introduced in the June 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine, and more information on them can be found at

National Geographic Emerging Explorers may be selected from virtually any field, ranging from the Society’s traditional arenas of anthropology, archaeology, photography, space exploration, earth sciences, mountaineering and cartography to the worlds of technology, art, music and filmmaking.

“National Geographic’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet, and our Emerging Explorers are outstanding young leaders whose endeavors further this mission. We are pleased to support them as they set out on promising careers. They are visionaries and innovators in their respective fields and will help lead the world in a new age of exploration,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s chief science and exploration officer.

Inventor Jack Andraka, of Crownsville, Maryland, is not your typical teenager. Two years ago, at the age of 15, he invented a new, potentially lifesaving tool for detecting pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancer. The test, using a dipstick-type sensor, filter paper and a basic instrument for measuring electrical resistance, detects an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of these cancers during early stages when there is higher likelihood of a cure. The test costs three cents and takes five minutes to run. Based on promising preliminary results, Andraka calculates his sensor is 90 percent accurate, 168 times faster, 26,000 times cheaper and 400 time more sensitive than current pancreatic, lung and ovarian cancer-detecting methods. He holds an international patent on the device and hopes to bring it to market within 10 years. He believes the same detection method could be applied to virtually any disease. Andraka won the grand prize at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He advocates for open access to federally funded scientific research.

Educator Shabana Basij-Rasikh was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan. She attended high school in the United States through an exchange program and then earned her degree at Middlebury College in Vermont. During college, she co-founded School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), a nonprofit to give young Afghans access to quality education abroad and jobs back home. She also founded HELA, a nonprofit organization to empower Afghan women through education. After graduating, she returned to Kabul to turn SOLA into the nation’s first boarding school for girls. She is the president of the nonprofit school that provides college preparatory courses and helps graduates enter universities worldwide and return to substantive careers in Afghanistan, often being the first women to enter certain fields. SOLA has helped girls from dozens of provinces across the country access more than $7.7 million in scholarships.

Conservation biologist Shivani Bhalla, a fourth-generation Kenyan, is working to safeguard the future of Kenya’s rapidly declining lion populations. She is founder and executive director of Ewaso Lions, a conservation organization that uses scientific research and community outreach to promote coexistence between people and lions who share habitats. It is the only organization that focuses on lions that live both inside and outside protected areas in northern Kenya. There are now fewer than 2,000 lions in Kenya, and they could vanish within two decades if habitat loss and conflict with humans continues. Ewaso Lions’ innovative community outreach programs, which involve young tribal warriors as well as women and children, are helping foster local support for conservation. Her team has dramatically changed local attitudes, and the lion population she monitors has grown to its highest numbers in a dozen years.

Ecologist and epidemiologist Christopher Golden is studying the effects of global environmental trends on human health. His goal is to quantify how problems like wildlife depletion, land-use change or climate change affect the well-being of people and then to link those results to actionable policies. Based at the Harvard School of Public Health, he was recently appointed director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Health & Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages (HEAL) program. Golden has conducted ecological and public health fieldwork in Madagascar since 1999. His study on wildlife hunting in that country proved people and wildlife were in peril and inspired efforts to replace hunting with chicken husbandry. Two HEAL projects Golden is involved with are quantifying how the global fishery collapse affects food security and worldwide malnutrition; and in a partnership with Facebook, he is studying the role of green spaces and national parks in providing mental health benefits, increasing happiness and alleviating stress.

Marine biologist, ocean explorer and professor David Gruber searches the undersea world for bioluminescent and biofluorescent marine animals. Gruber’s discoveries are providing a wealth of new insights into a secret “language” of shining colors and patterns that help many marine creatures communicate, interact and avoid enemies. He and his collaborators have illuminated and discovered novel fluorescent molecules from marine animals and are searching for connections between glowing sea life and the ability to visualize the inner workings of human cells. His research group at City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History has deciphered the genomic code of scores of new fluorescent proteins, which are being developed as tools to aid in medical research and illuminate biological processes. On land, his team designs submersibles and other technologies to revolutionize ocean exploration and discovery. He is also designing extremely-light-sensitive cameras to film the shimmering sea creatures in much sharper resolution and employs submarines, robotic undersea vehicles and technical diving to push the boundaries of our understanding of life in the deep sea.

German/Moroccan paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim, a postdoctoral scholar in vertebrate anatomy and paleontology at the University of Chicago, scours the deserts of North Africa for clues to life in the Cretaceous period, when the area was a large river system teeming with a profusion of diverse life forms. In addition to unearthing many huge dinosaur bones, he has discovered fossil footprints and a new species of flying reptile with an 18-foot wingspan that lived 95 million years ago. His upcoming paper describing the ecosystem of what is now Morocco’s Sahara Desert in the mid-Cretaceous period will be a milestone, providing the most detailed account of the diversity, paleoecology and geologic context of fossil vertebrates from North Africa. His description is especially important, since northern Africa and the mid-Cretaceous period are underexplored and underrepresented in paleontology. “We found an entire lost world; a window on a moment of major evolutionary change,” he says.

Creative conservationist Asher Jay is a designer, artist, writer and activist who uses creative concepts and design to advance animal rights, sustainable development and humanitarian causes. Her art, sculpture, design installations, films and advocacy advertising campaigns bring attention to everything from oil spills and dolphin slaughters to shrinking lion populations. Much of her best-known work spotlights the illegal ivory trade, including a huge animated billboard in Times Square and an ambitious project aimed at China’s ivory-hungry rising middle class. She participated in the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt in New York, where her oval oeuvre went on to raise money for anti-poaching efforts in Amboseli, Kenya. Upcoming projects will tackle biodiversity loss during the Anthropocene and expose threats to the world’s most traded and endangered mega fauna. “The power of art is that it can transcend differences, connect with people on a visceral level and compel action,” she says.  

Conservation biologist Juliana Machado Ferreira fights illegal wildlife trafficking in Brazil using science, political articulation, professional training and educational outreach to curb demand, strengthen laws, empower police and build international partnerships. Every year, poachers take 38 million animals from natural habitats in Brazil to supply all kinds of illegal wildlife trade. The business brings in $2 billion a year. Machado Ferreira founded FREELAND Brasil to combat the thriving illegal trade, which she fights on many fronts. In Brazil, where keeping wild songbirds, parrots and macaws is a widely embraced cultural norm, her organization educates the public about the devastating impact this can have on nature. She also helps police to identify, count and provide triage care for birds seized during raids along with SOS Fauna. She holds a Ph.D. in genetics and has developed molecular markers that can aid in identifying the origins of birds seized by police and help return rehabilitated birds to the right spot in the wild.

Composer, writer and musician Paul D. Miller’s multimedia performances, recordings, art installations and writings immerse audiences in a blend of genres, raising awareness about climate change, sustainability, global culture, the role of technology in society and other pressing environmental and social issues. His multimedia composition, book and installation “The Book of Ice” creates an experiential visual and acoustic portrait of Antarctica’s disappearing environment. In “Nauru Elegies,” he explores, through a string ensemble, video, animation and live Internet feed, problems facing the environmentally exploited South Pacific island of Nauru. He also founded Vanuatu Pacifica Foundation, a sustainable arts center on the island of Vanuatu. Miller first rose to worldwide fame as hip-hop turntablist “DJ Spooky” and now lectures and performs at prestigious venues, arts institutions and universities on every continent. His free, open-source iPad app, DJ Mixer, has been downloaded over 20 million times. It gives users DJ tools to mix, scratch and add electronic effects to tracks from their own digital libraries. Miller was the first artist-in-residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Environmentalist Maritza Morales Casanova has spent the last two decades working to revolutionize environmental education and awareness in Mexico — and she’s only 29. At age 10, she founded the environmental organization HUNAB (Humanity United to Nature in Harmony for Beauty, Welfare, and Goodness) when she saw neighborhood children harming animals and vegetation. The organization has grown to become the force behind a major educational park focused not only on empowering children with conservation knowledge but also with leadership skills to become strong activists and agents of change. Today, Ceiba Pentandra Park provides a free, interactive learning experience for children and teachers on topics ranging from climate change and wetland conservation to wildlife protection and pollution. When completed, it will accommodate 64,000 children each year. The park’s most unusual aspect is its teachers: other children. “I know children have great capacity to be leaders because I lived that experience,” she observes.

Social entrepreneur Sanga Moses has a vision: to provide clean, inexpensive cooking energy to all Africans while improving socioeconomic outcomes and reversing deforestation. In 2009, he quit his job in a top bank in Uganda to pursue his dream. He worked with engineering students to design kilns and briquetting machines that could turn food waste into fuel. Four years after he founded the social enterprise Eco-Fuel Africa, 2,500 farmers use his kilns, and each earns an average of $30 a month in extra income. His company has created a network of 460 women retailers who each earn about $150 a month from retailing his clean-cooking fuel. More than 19,167 Ugandan households or about 115,000 people now use his clean-cooking fuel on a daily basis and are able to save at least $200 a year in energy costs. Cleaner-burning green charcoal also reduces indoor air pollution, respiratory disease and medical bills. Instead of spending hours gathering wood, girls can stay in school, and women can grow kitchen gardens or start businesses.

Author and campaigner Tristram Stuart is a renowned activist waging a worldwide war against food waste. One-third of the world’s food is wasted from plow to plate. The planet’s 1 billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food wasted in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe. Irrigation used to grow food that is thrown away could meet the domestic water needs of 9 billion people. The scale of food waste was largely unexposed and unaddressed until Stuart’s book “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal” was published, and his grassroots initiatives lifted the topic to priority status worldwide. In 2009, he launched “Feeding the 5,000” in London. This free public feast of food that would otherwise be wasted has been replicated around the world. His “Pig Idea” seeks to change laws that restrict using food waste to feed pigs. He also has successfully campaigned for U.K. retailers to relax strict cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables, and his Gleaning Network initiative sends thousands of volunteers into fields to harvest surplus produce that would otherwise rot. The food is then given to U.K. charities that distribute it to the hungry.

Electrical engineer Robert Wood is an expert in robots that fly, robots you wear, squishy robots and tiny robots the size of a nickel. He founded the Microrobotics Lab at Harvard University, where he leads a team that invents and develops entirely new classes of microrobots and robots made of soft materials that may one day play a transformative role in medicine, search-and-rescue missions and agriculture. For years, the team has focused on creating autonomous flying microrobots called RoboBees that could be sent on missions deemed too dangerous, remote or tedious for humans or animals. The machines have a housefly-sized thorax, three-centimeter wingspan and a weight of 60 milligrams. The latest prototype flaps wings 120 times a second, hovers and flies along preordained paths. In the field of soft robotics, the lab invents new materials and embodies them with electrical or mechanical functionality so that they can safely interact with humans. For example, his team has created sensors and actuators for applications in rehabilitation and human-robot interactions that are as soft as skin.

Chinese nanoscientist and Stanford professor Xiaolin Zheng leads a research team that created a groundbreaking invention that unlocks the practical potential of solar power. The team created solar cells in the form of flexible stickers — only a 10th the thickness of plastic wrap. The skinny, bendable solar cells produce the same amount of electricity as rigid ones. Since solar stickers are lighter, they will be easier and less expensive to install. And because they are extremely flexible, they can be attached to any surface — the back of a mobile phone, a skylight, a wall, a curved column. Zheng predicts peel-and-stick solar cells could one day paper the sides of buildings, cover sidewalks to light walkways, energize home security systems and help power solar cars or planes. Along with industrial uses for the flexible solar cells, Zheng envisions people being able to stop at their corner store to pick up a pack of solar cells the way one buys batteries today.

National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers are part of the Society’s Explorer Programs, which include National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence and National Geographic Fellows.  

About the National Geographic Society

Founded in 1888, the National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. With a mission to inspire people to care about the planet, the member-supported Society offers a community for members to get closer to explorers, connect with other members and help make a difference. The Society reaches more than 500 million people worldwide each month through its media platforms, products and events. National Geographic has funded more than 11,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit

NOTE: For images of the Emerging Explorers, contact Carol King Woodward at or visit the ftp site (username: press / password: press).