Participating in a research project, Bjoern Stenger, a doctoral candidate at Cambridge University, downed a green gelatin cap containing a drug called modafinil. Within an hour, his attention sharpened. So did his memory.

He aced a series of mental-agility tests. If his brainpower would normally rate a 10, the drug raised it to 15, he said.

“I was quite focused,” said Stenger. “It was also kind of fun.”

The age of smart drugs is dawning. Modafinil is just one in an array of brain-boosting medications — some already on pharmacy shelves and others in development — that promise an era of sharper thinking through chemistry.

These drugs may change the way we think. And by doing so, they may change who we are.

Long-haul truckers and Air Force pilots have long popped amphetamines to ward off drowsiness. Generations of college students have swallowed over-the-counter caffeine tablets to get through all-nighters. But such stimulants provide only a temporary edge, and their effect is broad and blunt — they boost the brain by juicing the entire nervous system.

The new mind-enhancing drugs, in contrast, hold the potential for more powerful, more targeted and more lasting improvements in mental acuity. Some of the most promising have reached the stage of testing in human subjects and could become available in the next decade, brain scientists say.

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