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Smartest Academic: Danah Boyd
Social Media Researcher, Microsoft Research

When Danah Boyd gave the opening remarks at this year's influential SXSW Interactive Festival, her thoughts on privacy were e-mailed, blogged, and tweeted by and to tech influencers. Boyd, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center and a social scientist at Microsoft Research, might be a 32-yearold academic, but when she speaks the whole tech world -- from CEOs to engineers -- takes notice.

Boyd conducts research on social media, and the self-identified geek has made a career of questioning the status quo. She's not afraid to ruffle some feathers in the process. "When I hit raw nerves, I know I need to actually go deeper," she says. Her SXSW address took on two of the Internet's giants, Google and Facebook, accusing the companies of failing to understand consumers' privacy concerns.

She is the reigning expert on how young people use the Internet, and she's writing a book on the subject. Boyd's research is the real deal, a potent blend of theory and ethnographic data. And she has real tech street cred too, courtesy of a degree in computer science from Brown. --B. K.

NEXT: Academic runner-up: Joseph Hellerstein
Last updated July 09 2010: 1:19 PM ET