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(Left to Right) Elon Musk, Dr. Katalin Karikó, and Dr. Drew Weissman (Left photo by Steven Jurvetson | CC BY 2.0).

TIME Magazine named Penn graduate and entrepreneur Elon Musk as 2021 Person of the Year and Penn Medicine vaccine researchers Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman as Heroes of the Year.

According to TIME, Person of the Year is a person or group who has shaped the world the most within the last 12 months, for "better or for worse." SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who graduated from the College and Wharton in 1997, is someone who TIME described as an “example of a massive shift in our society.”

Musk founded SpaceX, which made history in 2020 as the first private company to launch astronauts into orbit. SpaceX also won an exclusive $2.9 million contract with NASA in April 2021 to put astronauts on the moon, The New York Times reported. He also plans to send an unmanned shuttle to Mars in 2022 and a manned shuttle to Mars by 2024.

“The goal overall has been to make life multi-planetary and enable humanity to become a spacefaring civilization,” Musk told TIME.

In addition to his work in space travel, Musk, who has a net worth of close to $300 billion, controlled 66.3% of the electric vehicle market through Tesla in the second quarter of 2021.

In December, 1996 Wharton graduate Brian Thomas auctioned papers that Musk had graded as a teaching assistant for a Wharton class in 1995 and sold them for over $7,700, according to Business Insider. 

Perelman School of Medicine faculty members Karikó, an adjunct professor of neurosurgery, and Weissman, a Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, were among four named Heroes of the Year for their work in developing the mRNA vaccine technology used in the COVID-19 vaccines.

The other vaccine researchers named Heroes of the Year were Kizzmekia Corbett, a Harvard University assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, and Barney Graham, the former director of the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center.

Karikó and Weissman first met in 1997 while photocopying articles and began working on mRNA together soon after, TIME reported. Throughout their partnership, they pioneered the mRNA technology that has allowed Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to develop COVID-19 vaccines. In 2005, they published research finding that it was possible to make changes to mRNA in a laboratory and use it for therapeutic purposes. 

mRNA vaccines are different from other vaccines that use a weakened version of a virus to immunize. They instead instruct the body on how to create a “harmless piece” of spike protein, according to the CDC. This process results in antibodies and ensures that the body is equipped to protect itself against the virus that causes COVID-19.

TIME wrote that the flexibility of the mRNA technology allowed for the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccines and allows vaccines to be updated quickly in order to counter new variants.

Clinical trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which both use mRNA technology, demonstrated over 90% efficacy in preventing infections. While PBS reported that early studies indicate the Omicron variant reduces the effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 infection, a study showed that the Pfizer vaccine is still 70% effective at preventing severe illness. 

Weissman and Kariko have also been awarded with the 2021 Albany Prize and 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for their research into mRNA technology.