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10 Scientists among 2011 MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" Winners

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Twenty-two individuals will soon each be a half-million dollars richer, having won this year's so-called genius grants. The MacArthur Foundation announced its 2011 fellows September 20, a mix of scientists, artists, musicians and others selected "for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future," according to a prepared statement from the foundation. The five-year grant is open to any citizen or resident of the U.S. and comes with no strings attached.

Ten of the 22 recipients work in the sciences. Among the winners are sports medicine researcher Kevin Guskiewicz [left], 45, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who spoke with Scientific American in 2008 about his research on the long-term effects of football concussions, and physicist Markus Greiner [right], 38, of Harvard University, who drew our attention in 2002 when he and his colleagues coaxed a collection of ultracold atoms known as a Bose–Einstein condensate into a new type of matter.

And a 2006 article on the development of expertise made mention of research on underperforming schools by new MacArthur fellow Roland Fryer [left], 34, a Harvard economist.

Also honored were Harvard clinical psychologist Matthew Nock [right], 38, whose studies of suicide and other kinds of self-harm were part of our 2010 feature on the psychology of suicide, and neurologist William Seeley [left], 39, of the University of California, San Francisco, whose work has been featured in two Scientific American articles on the neurobiology of self and on the interplay of dementia and personality.

Other 2011 genius grantees in the sciences include:

  • Parasitologist and virologist Elodie Ghedin, 44, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who uses "genomic sequencing techniques to generate critical insights about human pathogens," according to the MacArthur Foundation;

  • Evolutionary geneticist Sarah Otto, 43, of the University of British Columbia, who explores "fundamental questions of population genetics and evolution, such as why some species reproduce sexually and why some species carry more than one copy of each gene";

  • Sensor technologist and computer scientist Shwetak Patel, 29, of the University of Washington, who "invented a series of sensor technology systems for home environments with the goal of saving energy and improving daily life through a broad range of applications";

  • Organometallic chemist Melanie Sanford, 36, of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, who is "reviving and enhancing approaches to organic synthesis previously set aside because of their technical difficulty"; and

  • Developmental Biologist Yukiko Yamashita, 39, of the University of Michigan Medical School, who works to uncover "the biochemical, structural, and molecular genetic mechanisms that regulate stem cell division."

All photos courtesy the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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