Some might argue that neuroscientist-turned-bestselling author David Eagleman, with his lean, angular good looks and dark shirt-dark jacket hipster wardrobe, is a bit too conventionally cool to be a genuine nerd. But look at it this way: Anyone who wins a 2011 Guggenheim fellowship to research the topic of "neurobiology and genetics of synesthesia at the perceptual, neurobiological, and genetic levels, with an aim to understand differences in conscious sensory experience across the population," is blithely tap-dancing out on a ledge where mere non-nerdy intellects fear to tread [source: Guggenheim Foundation].
Indeed, Eagleman survived an actual childhood fall from a rooftop, in which his most vivid memory is of time seeming to slow down. That experience may be what ultimately inspired him to spend most of the past decade at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where he's an assistant professor of neuroscience, tracing the neural and psychological circuitry of the brain's biological clocks. In addition to his work as director of the university's Laboratory for Perception and Action, Eagleman also has become an accomplished writer. His 2010 story collection, "SUM," has been published in 27 languages, and a nonfiction digital book/iPad app, "Why the Net Matters: Six Easy Ways to Avert the Collapse of Civilization," was a finalist for the Digital Book World Innovation Awards. In 2011, he published "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain," a look at some of the more mysterious areas of the conscious mind, which made the New York Times Bestseller List [source: Eagleman.com].