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10 Scientists among 2011 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” Winners

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


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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

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

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





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  1. 1. kclancy 9:37 pm 09/20/2011

    Wow, so that means SciAm covered all but one of the male scientists who became MacArthur fellows, and none of the women. Sounds like SciAm should have some features in its future of some kickass female scientists…

    Link to this
  2. 2. smiler03 5:23 pm 09/21/2011

    I don’t know if you can read or not or are able to guess the gender by looking at photographs, but I observed this:

    Of the 22 recipients 9 of them are women.

    Of the 10 recipients shown above there are 4 women.

    I think you’re maybe perceiving something that isn’t there or I’ve completely misunderstood you.

    Link to this
  3. 3. kclancy 2:04 am 09/22/2011

    Smiler, how delightful! You’ve suggested I can’t read!

    Let’s see, the article says that 10 of the 22 MacArthur winners are scientists, then profiles them in this blog post. I happen to notice that SciAm has covered the work of five of the six men among that ten, and zero of the four women among that ten. I then suggest it might be a good idea for SciAm to, I don’t know, cover the research of some of those cool women since somehow they were overlooked in the past, despite the fact, as we have now learned, that they are geniuses.

    I am perceiving that adequate coverage of female scientists may be lacking, given this particular dataset that suggests that SciAm is very good at identifying future male genius grant winners, and not so good at identifying female genius grant winners.

    Link to this

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