WHY SHE’S TOP 40: From neurosurgery to aerospace research to co-creating crisis management technology— she’s serious about making the future friendly.

KEY TO SUCCESS: “One of my greatest strengths-slash-flaws is seeing the potential in everything.”

Shawna Pandya is in a race to the future, and on this long-distance track there is no single lane. “Every time you want to achieve something, come to new ideas,” says Pandya. “The best mix of that comes from having a plethora of disciplines and different heads thinking on something.”

And so the neurosurgical resident has packed her brain accordingly. Some days she’s slipping into a white coat at 4 a.m. and driving from the Sherwood Park home in which she grew up to the University of Alberta Hospital, where she’ll do 30 straight hours. Other days, she’s guest lecturing on the future of medicine and technology or filling public speaking duties, including a keynote speech at a science conference in Singapore last year, where she spoke alongside Nobel Laureates and Harvard professors.

Some evenings she’s an online mentor to young girls with an interest in science like hers as a reclusive junior high student, spending recesses with books. Pandya didn’t break that quiet spell until her early 20s, when she went to the NASA-backed Singularity University in Silicon Valley. While learning from the brightest minds in technological fields, she realized she needed to socialize to be an effective entrepreneur.

Her hard work, and new-found ability to network paid off. While at the university, she co-created an emergency response software, CiviGuard, which was presented to the White House for support and named on Entrepreneur magazine’s list of 100 Brilliant Companies. It has the potential to make mass evacuations much more efficient, especially once every second human has a smart phone, a reality that could be achieved by 2015, says Pandya. “We are constantly outpacing our own predictions.”

Pandya, who has assisted in NASA research, isn’t just optimistic about the ambitions of the human race but her own. “I want to be a game changer. I want to be someone responsible for bringing about a major technological innovation that impacts a lot of people someday, be it through medicine or social enterprise,” she says. “The future is yet to be written.”

You could say the same about her.