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First of all you can find here a few links to some people or research groups (with a very brief description of research activities):

Tom Mitchell - Machine Learning, Computer Science, Cognitive Neuroscience
Daphne Koller - Artifical intelligence, probabilistic graphical models
Salvatore J. Stolfo - Data mining, knowlede discovery in databases, e-commerce
Greg Welch and Gary Bishop - Kalman filtering
Rudolph van der Merwe - Bayesian Estimation Techniques, Sigma-Point Kalman Filters
Jeffrey D. Ullman - Database theory, database integration, data mining

From my personal experience I recommend these useful&free scientific and programming tools (I think there is info enough about non-free tools elsewhere):

NetBeans - Java IDE and platform, great tool for all Java developers
Weka - Very flexible and efficient data mining tool
Joone - Neural Network builder together with Java ANN library
RapidMiner - Data mining software (former YALE)
Orange - data mining software (Python based)
Genie - environment for graphical decision-theoretic models
ReBEL - Recursive Bayesian Estimation Library
Sourceforge - Home for many interesting community software projects