"Much of what we consider our humanity is imbued in our skin," Nina Jablonski tells us. This insight came to her in 1981, as she observed a jittery anatomy class warm to a cadaver only after cutting through its skin. As it turns out, marvels abound of this sweaty, hardwearing, social -- and underappreciated -- organ. Many are collected in her book, Skin: A Natural History, a look at what makes our skin unique and, perhaps, more important than we realize.
A fascination with the multicolored, multi-talented human hide fits Jablonski, a truly eclectic scientist. She's also a paleontologist and primatologist, studying the form, behavior and diet of mammals in light of climate change and evolution. She teaches at Penn State and recently found the world's oldest chimpanzee fossil.