The idea is so wildly far-fetched, so enormously brazen, it seems straight out of a science-fiction novel. Ted Berger, 53, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California, is building a brain implant that one day could partially restore physical and mental function in brains damaged by stroke, Alzheimer's, even Parkinson's. "I believe in the end that the implant will not have to be perfect to radically improve how a damaged brain works," Berger says. For the last 15 years, he has led a team of scientists dedicated to dissecting the inner workings of the hippocampus—the region of the brain that controls learning and memory—and translating that onto a computer chip. Berger plans to test the chip in live rats later this year and, if all goes well, will begin human trials in 10 to 15 years.
*The name of this award was originally the Impact Award. In 2008, the awards were renamed as the Inspire Awards.