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Rockstars of Technology

There’s a disconnect for many kids in America between the science and technology they study in school and the real world. Most kids know what an iPhone is but have no idea who Steve Jobs is.

“I need scientists and engineers who would be what LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal are to their industry,” said Dean Kamen the inventor of the Segway personal transporterand founder of FIRST, an organization designed to help foster innovations by kids in science and technology. “You need to put world class pros in front of kids.”

The tide of cool is starting to turn when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math, thanks to tech superstars like Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. And, seeing the names of Microsoft's Bill Gates, Apple's Steve Jobs or the Google guys on the list of the world's billionaires doesn't hurt either.

Still, if you do an informal poll of kids, more would want to be LeBron James than Mark Zuckerberg, even though statistically, that kid is more likely to get struck by lightning than to become a rich sports superstar.

A lot of companies and organizations like FIRST are trying to change that, investing in programs that encourage innovation — and teaching kids that innovation is cool. In order to help connect the dots between what those kids are tinkering with now and what they might become, here are more than a dozen of the most influential innovators of the last century, names you probably haven't heard of, even though their innovations changed our lives. They are the rock stars of tech.

By Cindy Perman
23 April 2011

Photo: Jay Blackesberg | UpperCut Images | Getty Images