Sumio Iijima, Akira Koshio & Masako Yudasaka (Japan)
Invention: Carbon nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes are ultra-small, cylindrical molecules that can only be seen under powerful microscopes, but catching a glimpse of one is like seeing into the future. Discovered by Sumio Iijima at Japan’s NEC Corporation, they are the hardest substance known to humankind and 1,000 times more conductive than copper. Carbon nanotubes could usher in a new era in which computers are faster and materials stronger than ever thought possible.