When Dava Newman goes to a cocktail party and people ask, “What do you do?” she says, “I’m a rocket scientist.” Then they laugh and say, “What do you really do?”

But the 36-year-old associate professor, who has three degrees in aerospace engineering, really is a rocket scientist. “Maybe I don’t seem like one,” she says, “but it’s a lot of fun to be able to say it, and I love it. I have the best job in the world.”