The list aims to identify and promote standout leadership among inventors, entrepreneurs, visionaries, humanitarians, innovators, and pioneers around the globe. This year, postdoctoral associate in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) Julien de Wit was named Innovators Under 35 -- 2017 Innovator of the Year, Belgium, for his trail blazing work, pushing forward the search for the next habitable, Earth-like planets by developing and applying novel techniques to study planets around other stars than our Sun, with the goal of finding clues that could point to the conditions necessary to support life.
The TR35 award was started in 1999 as the TR100, with 100 winners, but since 2005 now names just 35 winners each year.
For anyone keeping up with recent developments in exoplanetary science, the name Julien de Wit will be familiar: Over the past five years, de Wit, a Belgian national, formerly a graduate student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT, since 2014 a postdoc, has developed and applied innovative analysis techniques to map exoplanet atmospheres, study the radiative and tidal planet-star interactions in eccentric planetary systems, and constrain the atmospheric properties and mass of exoplanets solely from transmission spectroscopy.
In February 2017, de Wit was a member of the international team, led by University of Liège colleague Michaël Gillon, to announce the discovery of seven temperate Earth-sized planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, a small, ultra-cool star just 40 light years from Earth. TRAPPIST-1’s planets are among the strongest planetary candidates to date in scientists’ search for life outside our Solar System. de Wit now plays a critical role in the TRAPPIST project initiated with Gillon, leading the atmospheric characterization of the newly discovered TRAPPIST-1 planets, for which he has already obtained startling results with the Hubble Space Telescope. de Wit’s efforts are now also focused on establishing the SPECULOOS network of telescopes on Earth to continue the search for new potentially habitable TRAPPIST-1-like systems in the northern hemisphere.
"I'm amazed, delighted, and honored to have received this award," said de Wit, adding “especially after hearing all the other candidates’ incredible discoveries”. His work beat out competitors using CRISPR in the design of personalized genome editing therapies, innovative solar cell technology, tunable lenses for age-related farsightedness, and much more. de Wit is now looking forward to the all-Europe round coming up September 14 in Paris.
Watch de Wit’s May 2017 TEDxLiège talk where he reflects on how the discovery of life elsewhere in the Universe could be a paradigm shifting experience for humankind.
Finding Life Elsewhere: an Imminent Paradigm-shifting Experience | Julien de Wit | TEDxLiège
Innovators Under 35 is the most prestigious recognition worldwide bestowed by MIT Technology Review with the main objective of lending visibility to the work of the most talented, young, technological leaders, capable of materializing ideas that will revolutionize the world of technology and business in the near future.