MacArthur Genius Award Fellows Announced

Ken AshfordPopular Culture, Science & Technology, TheatreLeave a Comment

Once again, I was overlooked.

The famed MacArthur Fellows Program, which awards "Genius" grants to exceptional inventors, innovators and other creative types, has announced 23 new fellows for 2010.

This year's honorees were contacted out of the blue by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and offered $500,000 with no strings attached over the next five years to pursue work in their field of interest.

Here they are, and what they do:

Amir Abo Shaeer: Physics Teacher — Abo-Shaeer prepares public high school students for careers in science and mathematics, combing applied physics, engineering and robotics.

Jessie Little Doe Baird: Indigenous Language Preservationist — Little Doe Baird revives the Native American Wopanaak language to provide her community with a new sense of cultural heritage.

Kelly Benoit-Bird: Marine Biologist – Benoit-Bird uses acoustic engineering technology to answer questions about the structure and behavior of ocean creatures and food chains.

Nicholas Benson: Stone Carver – Benson preserves a centuries-old tradition and expands on the art through his knowledge of the craft and his personal designs.

Drew Berry: Biomedical Animator – Berry creates scientifically accurate visualizations through data from a variety of fields to improve our understanding of a range of biological processes and systems.

Carlos D. Bustamante: Population Geneticist – Bustamante uses DNA sequence data to answer basic questions about evolution, the origins of human genetic diversity and patterns of population migration.

Matthew Carter: Type Designer – Carter crafts letters for a range of applications and media to recreate written-letter elegance to text on a computer screen.

David Cromer: Theater Director – Cromer brings to life and reinvents classic American plays. (Credits include the recent Off-Broadway re-working of Our Town, where he directed and played the Stage Manager, as well as the new musical The Adding Machine).

John Dabiri: Biophysicist – Dabiri enhances our understanding of evolutionary adaptation and issues of fluid dynamics, such as blood flow to the heart, by studying the hydrodynamics of jellyfish propulsion.

Shannon Lee Dawdy: Anthropologist – Dawdy uses anthropology and archaeology to explore the history of the Atlantic World since 1450.

Annette Gordon-Reed: American Historian – Gordon-Reed's research into the life of Thomas Jefferson changed the course of Jeffersonian scholarship.

Yiyun Li: Fiction Writer – Li's fiction tells sparse and emotional stories of struggles in China and the United States.

Michal Lipson: Optical Physicist – Lipson develops devices that use the information-processing capabilities of light that could one day be used for optical computing.

Nergis Mavalvala: Quantum Astrophysicist – Mavalvala's research uses quantum mechanics to understand gravitational radiation, which could shape a unified theory of the basic forces in the universe.

Jason Moran: Jazz Pianist and Composer – Moran's jazz performances combine an adventurous array of musical styles and genres.

Carol Padden: Sign Language Linguist – Padden researches how sign languages differ from each other and from spoken languages.

Jorge Pardo: Installation Artist – Pardo creates murals, home furnishings and huge fabrications that carry multiple meanings and purposes.

Sebastian Ruth: Violist, Violinist and Music Educator – Ruth enriches the lives of urban families in Providence, R.I. with a string quartet and a storefront space.

Emmanuel Saez: Economist – Saez is working to reinvigorate the field of public economics by studying how taxation affects income and savings.

David Simon: Author, Screenwriter and Producer – Simon uses his background as a crime beat reporter to craft complex narratives about urban America.

Dawn Song: Computer Security Specialist – Song works to understand how and why software, hardware and networks are vulnerable to viruses.

Marla Spivak: Entomologist – Spivak works to protect honey bee populations from disease and helps us better understand bee biology.

Elizabeth Turk: Sculptor – Turk uses marble to create intricate, seemingly weightless objects.

Congrats to the winners (you can see their submission videos here)… although I'm not sure I agree with the selection of the guy who has a string quartet in Providence, Rhode Island.  I mean, come on.  That's nice and all, but does that make you a genius?  That must have been an amusing phone call though when he was notified that he won.

Also, not sure a guy who makes computer fonts is worthy.  Oh, well.

I'm sure the $500,000 no-strings-attached award will go a long way if you are a stonecutter, a high school physics teacher, or a bee studier.  On the other hand, David Simon, creator of The Wire, is probably fine without it.

More here.