$500,000 Out of the Blue for 23 Geniuses – No Strings Attached

$500,000 Out of the Blue for 23 Geniuses – No Strings Attached

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Bee researcher Marla Spivak, courtesy of MacArthur FoundationThe 2010 MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Award’ recipients were announced yesterday and include a stone carver, a quantum astrophysicist, a jazz pianist, a high school physics teacher, a theater director, a marble sculptor, and a scientist working to save the world’s honey bees. All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.

The recipients learned through a surprise phone call from the Foundation, that they would each receive a $500,000 “no strings attached” grant for their work over the next five years. MacArthur Fellowships come without stipulations and reporting requirements and offer Fellows unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore.

“This group of Fellows, along with the more than 800 who have come before, reflects the tremendous breadth of creativity among us,” said Robert Gallucci, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “They are explorers and risk takers, contributing to their fields and to society in innovative, impactful ways. They provide us all with inspiration and hope for the future.”

According to the Foundation’s website, “the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.”

Among the 2010 recipients are:

* a type designer crafting letterforms of unequaled elegance and precision that span the migration of text from the printed page to computer screens (Matthew Carter);
* a biomedical animator illuminating cellular and molecular processes for a wide range of audiences through scientifically accurate and aesthetically rich animations (Drew Berry);
* a sign language linguist focusing on the unique structure and evolution of sign languages and how they differ from spoken languages and each other (Carol Padden);
* a population geneticist mining DNA sequence data for insights into the mechanisms of evolution, origins of genetic diversity, and population migration (Carlos D. Bustamante);
* a sculptor transforming her signature medium of marble into intricate, seemingly weightless works of art (Elizabeth Turk);
* a public high school physics teacher instilling passion for the physical sciences in young students through an innovative curriculum that integrates robotics (Amir Abo-Shaeer);
* an American historian disentangling the interracial bloodlines of Thomas Jefferson to shed fresh light on our colonial past (Annette Gordon-Reed);
* a fiction writer drawing readers, through spare and understated storytelling, into compelling explorations of her characters’ struggles in both China and the United States (Yiyun Li);
* a computer security scientist peeling back the interactions among software, hardware, and networks to decrease the vulnerability of computer systems to remote attack (Dawn Song); and
* an entomologist protecting one of the world’s most important pollinators — honey bees — from decimation by disease (Marla Spivak).

Including this year’s crop, 828 people have been named MacArthur Fellows, ranging in age from 18 to 82 at the time of their selection, since the program began thirty years ago in 1981.

Some of the most famous ‘Genius Award’ winners include poet-writer Robert Penn Warren, filmmaker John Sayles, choreographers Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp, novelist Thomas Pynchon, jazz musicians Max Roach and Ornette Coleman, writer and cultural critic Susan Sontag, and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

The selection process begins with formal nominations. Hundreds of anonymous nominators assist the Foundation in identifying people to be considered for a MacArthur Fellowship. Nominations are accepted only from invited nominators, a list that is constantly renewed throughout the year. They are chosen from many fields and challenged to identify people who demonstrate exceptional creativity and promise. A Selection Committee of roughly a dozen members, who also serve anonymously, meets regularly to review files, narrow the list, and make final recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Directors. The number of Fellows selected each year is not fixed; typically, it varies between 20 and 25. (More about program at MacFound.org)