Yale News

Two Yale professors were recently named among Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” of 2024. 

On Tuesday, Time named Priyamvada Natarajan — the Joseph S. and Sophia S. Fruton Professor of Astronomy and Physics — in the category of pioneers, and Akiko Iwasaki — Sterling Professor of Immunobiology — in the category of innovators, as two of the 100 most influential people of the year.  

“This was not even in the realm of possibility for me, I never thought of it as something that might happen,” Natarajan said. “We live in a society where one isn’t used to thinking of scientists as [people who] have this kind of influence.” 

Astrophysicist Sheperd S. Doeleman wrote an introduction honoring Natarajan, in which he praised her novel and creative approach to unlocking some of the basic mysteries in astrophysics. Doeleman noted that evidence from the James Webb Space Telescope confirmed Natarajan’s long-standing theories on the origins of the many black holes at the center of galaxies. 

Anthony Fauci, the former chief medical advisor to the president of the U.S., honored Iwasaki, especially by highlighting her research to understand the mechanisms behind long COVID-19. Iwasaki has published several seminal studies on long COVID-19 and pioneered several projects, including The LISTEN Initiative, a research and networking group for patients and researchers who focus on long COVID-19. 

In an interview with the News, Natarajan emphasized the honor of being recognized alongside one another. 

“It’s a real privilege to be recognized along with someone as amazing as [Iwasaki,]” Natarajan said. “I really admire her. I just think she’s brilliant and her work is amazingly creative. We are a mutual admiration club.”

In an email to the News, Iwasaki also expressed her admiration for Natarajan’s research and the impact she has had on the STEM community at large. 

“It is a special honor to be listed alongside Professor Natarajan,” Iwasaki wrote. “She is a fiercely creative astrophysicist who is shattering many boundaries and serving as a role model. There is still much work left to do to bring equity to women and underrepresented populations in STEM, but Dr. Natarajan highlights the incredible female talent that exists at Yale!”

Both Natarajan and Iwasaki are scientists who are also women of color. Natarajan highlighted the need for such role models to inspire future scientists and expand society’s understanding of who can contribute to scientific change.

“We are breaking the stereotype of who gets to do science in our world,” Natarajanshe said. “Science is something that anyone who loves it, and has mastery of what they do, can excel in. You don’t have to look a particular way. It doesn’t matter what you look like, you can be really successful.” 

Natarajan also reflected on the importance for scientists to be recognized for such a public-facing award. She said that there is a dire need for Americans to have a greater understanding of scientific truth. 

“There is a rampant denialism of science and I think that is very, very worrisome,” Natarajan said. “It’s a paradox in American society today because we are the world’s leading research superpower in science and technology. Yet, we have a large fraction of our public that actually doesn’t believe in a lot of basic scientific facts. What I would like us as a community of scientists to shift is the public’s understanding of science.” 

In an email to the News, Iwasaki wrote that an important aspect of her scientific research is teamwork. 

“Even though my name is on the list of TIME100, this recognition is a reflection of the work carried out by so many incredible individuals in the lab and our collaborators, past and present, who are dedicated to understanding the disease in the hope of helping the patients,” Iwasaki wrote in an email to the News. 

Iwasaki also mentioned the importance of public media and popular awards in helping bring more awareness to under-researched areas, such as post-acute infection syndromes, or PAIS, like long COVID-19. 

“The awareness brought about by long COVID to many other PAIS is an unprecedented opportunity to do deep and meaningful studies to unravel the causes of these diseases and test existing medicines for therapy,” Iwasaki wrote. 

Harlan Krumholz ’80, a cardiology professor at the School of Medicine who co-founded The LISTEN Initiative with Iwasaki, also emphasized the impact of their research on long COVID-19.  

“The long COVID work is important, and yet, I predict the best of it is yet to come,” Krumholz wrote in an email to the News. 

The first TIME 100 list was published in 1999. 

Asuka Koda covers the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale School of Public Health. From New York City, she is a first-year in Davenport majoring in Mathematics and Philosophy.