• February 1, 2015

MacArthur Foundation Announces Winners of 'Genius' Prizes

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has named the 24 recipients of its 2007 MacArthur Fellowships.

The fellowships, commonly referred to as the ‘‘genius awards,” recognize individuals from wide-ranging disciplines who show creativity, originality, and a commitment to continued innovative work.

Thirteen men and 11 women won this year’s awards; they range in age from 33 to 67. Each fellow receives $500,000 over five years, with no strings attached, so that they can continue their work unfettered by progress reports, timetables, or other commitments.

Sixteen of the new fellows work at academic institutions or other nonprofit organizations.

In an interview, Jonathan Fanton, the foundation’s president, said that many of this year’s recipients are working to harness science and technology to aid others or working on the ‘‘frontiers of medicine.”

What’s more, he noted, five were born outside the United States, including Shen Wei, a choreographer who grew up in China and Mercedes Doretti, a forensic anthropologist born and raised in Buenos Aires. Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, the nonprofit group Ms. Doretti helped to found, investigates and sheds light on human-rights violations around the world.

“As the program has gone along, it’s finding creativity in some interesting places,” said Mr. Fanton.

And while the fellows are distinguished in their fields of expertise, they are not household names. Said Mr. Fanton: ‘‘In the early days, before the program had the credibility it does today, you would recognize the names of most of those chosen. But this year a knowledgeable, longtime observer of the program commented, ‘Gee, this is best class ever, but I don’t know any of them.’”

Following are the 2007 fellows, along with their institutional affiliations and a summary of how the foundation describes their accomplishments:

Deborah Bial, 42, founder and president, Posse Foundation, New York. Her organization helps minority students gain entrance to selective colleges and universities by assessing their academic potential based on skills such as leadership and motivation, rather than relying on grade-point averages, exam scores, and other traditional methods.

Peter Cole, 50, co-founder and co-editor, Ibis Editions, Jerusalem. He is a translator, publisher, and poet who focuses on bringing the works of medieval Spain and the modern Middle East to English-speaking audiences.

Lisa Cooper, 44, professor, division of general internal medicine and department of epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore. A public-health researcher who was born and raised in Liberia, she documents the role that race, ethnicity, and gender play in physician-patient relationships, as well as the ways in which medical services for minorities can be helped or hindered by how physicians interact with patients.

Ruth DeFries, 50, professor, department of geography, University of Maryland at College Park. An environmental geographer, she uses remotely sensed satellite imagery in ways that have improved researchers’ ability to make plausible projections of future climate change and assess how human activities are affecting biologically diverse habitats.

Mercedes Doretti, 48, co-founder, Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, Buenos Aires and New York. Her organization works in more than 30 conflict-torn countries worldwide to investigate evidence of crimes against humanity by locating clandestine graves, excavating and documenting the remains, working with the families of identified victims, and presenting findings to human-rights groups and special tribunals and commissions.

Stuart Dybek, 65, distinguished writer in residence, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. His short stories, which describe life in Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods, are written in a parable-like manner that borrow techniques used by writers such as Kafka and that incorporate religious and folkloric traditions preserved by the community elders who appear in his works.

Marc Edwards, 43, professor, department of civil and environmental engineering, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. A civil engineer, he uses his expertise in the chemistry and toxicity of urban water supplies to help ensure safer drinking water in America’s largest cities.

Michael Elowitz, 37, assistant professor of biology and applied physics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. He is a molecular biologist whose work focuses on how genes interact and how cells can maintain a well-regulated state despite the complex factors that affect them.

Saul Griffith, 33, cofounding partner, Squid Labs, Emeryville, Calif. He is an inventor who focuses on ways to improve society through industrial design, science education, and technology, including an effort to design a hand-held, human-powered generator that could increase access in remote locations to water purifiers, cell phones, radios, and other electronic devices.

Sven Haakanson, 40, executive director, Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak, Alaska. An anthropologist, he works to preserve and give contemporary meaning to Native Alaskan history and local legends, rituals, and customs prevalent among the Alutiiq people of the Kodiak archipelago.

Corey Harris, 38, blues musician, Charlottesville, Va. He blends the Mississippi Delta blues tradition with reinterpretations of blues music that weave in elements from jazz, reggae, gospel, and African and Caribbean folk music.

Cheryl Hayashi, 40, associate professor, department of biology, University of California at Riverside. She studies the evolution and structural properties of silks produced by spiders, and her research may help lead to the development of synthetic materials that could be used for new types of medical sutures and biodegradable fishing lines, as well as other purposes.

My Hang Huynh, 45, chemist, Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M. She works to create new techniques for synthesizing highly energetic compounds, such as explosives, that are widely used but pose environmental and safety hazards for miners, military personnel, and others.

Claire Kremen, 46, assistant professor, department of environmental science, policy, and management, University of California at Berkeley. A conservation biologist, she works in Madagascar and elsewhere to demonstrate the dependence of sustainable agriculture and ecology on effective environmental-preservation projects.

Whitfield Lovell, 47, painter and installation artist, New York. His installation pieces depict the daily lives of anonymous black Americans from 1865 to 1965 by incorporating portraits from photographs, tintypes, and old postcards along with everyday objects such as frying pans and musical instruments.

Yoky Matsuoka, 36, associate professor, department of computer science and engineering, University of Washington at Seattle. She studies how the central nervous system coordinates musculoskeletal action and how robotic technology can help increase the mobility of stroke victims, people with serious brain injuries, and others who have difficulty manipulating objects.

Lynn Nottage, 42, playwright, New York. Her plays depict periods of American history from unexpected vantage points and include Intimate Apparel, the story of a young black seamstress in early 20th-century New York.

Mark Roth, 49, scientist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle. A biomedical scientist, his research could lead to new clinical approaches for treating trauma, stroke, cancer, and other conditions in which temporarily reducing the metabolic rate of patients could provide doctors with the critical time needed to solve underlying problems.

Paul Rothemund, 35, senior research fellow, departments of computer science and computation and neural systems, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. His research focuses on fabricating large molecules that consistently self-assemble into complex, programmable shapes, and he has developed a method of creating nanoscale shapes and patterns using DNA.

Jay Rubenstein, 40, associate professor, department of history, University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His work examines 12th-century texts that deal with the First Crusade (1095-1099) and the effects of that violent conflict on Europe’s subsequent literary, political, and religious culture.

Jonathan Shay, 65, staff psychiatrist, Department of Veteran Affairs’ Outpatient Clinic, Boston. A clinical psychiatrist, he has written two books that interpret the accounts of battle described in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in an attempt to deepen contemporary understanding of the effects of warfare on soldiers.

Joan Snyder, 67, painter, New York. Her abstract paintings show experimentation with new techniques and materials, including broad brush strokes over pencil-drawn grids and canvases that incorporate text and found objects.

Dawn Upshaw, 47, master vocalist, Bronxville, N.Y. A soprano, she is noted for her mastery of vocal technique and numerous languages and singing styles, as well as for her concert programs that integrate contemporary and often avant-garde pieces with more-familiar songs.

Shen Wei, 39, founder and artistic director, Shen Wei Dance Arts, New York. A choreographer, he and his dance troupe perform highly stylized movements and gestures inspired by Western dance traditions as well as Chinese opera, acrobatics, and the martial arts.

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