Meet the 24 MacArthur 'geniuses' who were each awarded $625,000 to change the world

Matthew Desmond MacArthur 2015John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationMatthew Desmond examines the financial and sociological impact of eviction on urban renters.

The MacArthur Foundation grant is one of the most prestigious, and most lucrative, awards in the country.

Started in 1981 by philanthropists John and Catherine MacArthur, the Fellows Program awards an unrestricted $US625,000 fellowship to individuals devoted to creative, humanitarian, and intellectual pursuits. These are people researching new treatments to illnesses, exploring controversial issues like racism and climate change, and defending marginalized populations through art, science, and more.

In short, they’re an incredible group of innovators and creatives out to change the world.

Scroll down to meet this year’s 24 MacArthur fellows.

Patrick Awuah is bringing better higher education to Ghana.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Swarthmore College (BS, BA), University of California at Berkeley (MBA)

After experiencing the benefits of a liberal-arts education in the United States, in 2002 Awuah founded Ashesi University, a four-year, private institute dedicated to bringing better higher education to Awuah's native Ghana. In just 13 years, the 50-year-old entrepreneur and educator has made Ashesi University one of Ghana's premier universities.

Read Awuah's full bio here »

Kartik Chandran is turning wastewater into a usable resource.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee (BS), University of Connecticut (PhD)

An environmental engineer, and associate professor in Columbia University's department of earth and environmental engineering, Chandran, 41, conducts research which focuses on applications for transforming wastewater into resources such as fertilisers and energy sources, as well as clean water. His applications have been tested in Ghana and New York City.

Read Chandran's full bio here »

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist challenging America's most controversial issues.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Howard University

The 39-year-old Coates writes for The Atlantic about issues like racial identity, systemic racial bias, and urban policing, bringing a higher level of discussion to some of the most important topics in the country today. His straightforward and compelling arguments are analysed in depth in his memoir 'The Beautiful Struggle' and his historical bio 'Between the World and Me.'

Read Coates' full bio here »

Gary Cohen is making hospitals less detrimental to the environment and communities around them.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Clark University (BA), University of California at Berkeley

Being that American hospitals are one of the foremost causes of environmental pollution, Cohen, 59, is putting the responsibility on heath care providers and facilities to limit the damage they're doing to the communities they support. He cofounded Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) in 1996 to engage health-care professionals in serving their patients while maintaining economically viable facilities.

Read Cohen's full bio here »

Matthew Desmond examines the financial and sociological impact of eviction on urban renters.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Arizona State University (BS), University of Wisconsin at Madison (MS, PhD)

Desmond is an associate professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard, and a social scientist and ethnographer aiming to dissect the impact of eviction on low-income renters in urban areas, especially Milwaukee. The 35-year-old started the Milwaukee Area Renters Study, painting a picture of racial and economic disparity in eviction cases, particularly among African Americans. His book 'Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,' comes out next year and reveals issues of race and socioeconomic hardship in the housing market.

Read Desmond's full bio here »

William Dichtel is putting a new class of materials into daily use for things like storing chemical fuels or purifying water.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (BS), University of California at Berkeley (PhD)

Cornell University associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology William Dichtel, 37, works with covalent organic frameworks (COFs) -- porous polymers formed from molecules with specific shapes that combine to form larger molecules with high surface areas. Dichtel is developing importance of these COFs, which have the potential to store chemical fuels or electric charge, or even purify water, to start.

Read Dichtel's full bio here »

Michelle Dorrance changes the definition of what it means to tap dance.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Gallatin School at New York University (BA)

Tap dancer and choreographer Dorrance, 36, is breathing new life into the traditional structure of tap dance, a normally very aural type of dance, into a form with more all-body movement and dramatic expression. Dorrance's troupe, Dorrance Dance/New York, layers tap dance with a more visual choreography to tell history and stories.

Read Dorrance's full bio here »

Nicole Eisenman addresses political and social issues in her artwork.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Rhode Island School of Design (BFA)

Eisenman incorporates devices like allegory and satire in her artwork to create a narrative around gender, sexuality, family dynamics, and power and inequality. Her representation of the human form is both beautiful and political; the 50-year-old artist works with a variety of forms including painting, printmaking, and sculpture.

Read Eisenman's full bio here »

LaToya Ruby Frazier is garnering recognition for hardworking, marginalized African-American communities in her hometown.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (BFA), Syracuse University (MFA)

Frazier an assistant professor of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, takes photos and videos that document the still industry, environmental pollution, and health-care crisis in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Frazier, 33, is looking to gain more recognition for marginalized African-American families, communities, and laborers in Braddock, who now struggle in what used to be a thriving steel town.

Read Frazier's full bio here »

Ben Lerner examines the need for art and artists in modern society.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Brown University (BA, MFA)

The 36-year-old author has written two novels -- 'Leaving the Atocha Station' and '10:04' -- and three collections of poetry, as well as a number of critical pieces, that examine the modern-day artist's role in today's culture. Recognising the growing neuroses and changing technology, Lerner employs a humorous and critical perspective in his writing to hold a mirror up to himself and his audience.

Read Lerner's full bio here »

Mimi Lien uses set design to manipulate the mood of the audience and characters in a theatrical work.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Yale University (BA), New York University (MFA)

Lien creates a spatial experience for an audience, and between characters, in theatre, opera, and dance. The 39-year-old trained architect works her design to dictate the mood, tone, and physical setting for a dramatic piece. She and her husband cofounded the performance space JACK, which aims to bring cutting-edge performances, featuring Lien's sets, to Brooklyn.

Read Lien's full bio here »

Lin-Manuel Miranda brings pop culture and social commentary into conventional musical theatre.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Wesleyan University (BA)

Composer, playwright, and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda is known for 'In the Heights,' a musical about the gentrification and assimilation of Manhattan's Washington Heights neighbourhood, and 'Hamilton,' which tells the story of America's first treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. His work has been lauded for merging traditional musical theatre with pop culture, social issues, and personal, ethnic, and cultural identity.

Read Miranda's full bio here »

Dimitri Nakassis is transforming our understanding of ancient societies.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: University of Michigan (BA), University of Texas at Austin (MA, PhD)

Dimitri Nakassis is one of the few people in the world who can decipher early Greek script, and what he's uncovering from his translations is redefining the way we understand the politics and societal structure of prehistoric Greek societies. The 40-year-old archaeologist has found evidence to suggest that these once-believed oligarchies were actually more akin to modern Western civilisation.

Read Nakassis's full bio here »

John Novembre's novel approaches are painting a more complete picture of human evolution.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Colorado College (BA), University of California at Berkeley (PhD)

John Novembre is a 37-year-old computational biologist who is applying novel analysis techniques to better understand the genetic patterns within modern day and ancient humans. The new details that Novembre is uncovering can help improve studies on the genetic origin of diseases.

Read Novembre's full bio here »

Christopher RĂ© is breaking down big data.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Cornell University (BS), University of Washington at Seattle (PhD)

Big data is still a big problem because current technology can't parse it. That's where 36-year-old Christopher Ré comes in: He has designed system software he calls DeepDive, which can sift through giant databases and uncover relationships that other systems cannot. DeepDive is currently being used in some scientific laboratories and law enforcement offices.

Read Nakassis's full bio here »

Marina Rustow is diving deeper into ancient Middle Easter history, religion, and politics than anyone before her.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Yale University (BA), Columbia University (M. Phil, PhD)

Marina Rustow has sifted through hundreds of thousands of documents to explore the deep relationships between ancient politics and religion in the Middle East. The 46-year-old author and historian has written one book -- '
Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate' -- and is working on another that will introduce medieval legal and state documents from the Middle East that, until now, were never published or accessible.

Read Rustow's full bio here »

Juan Salgado is changing lives for the better through his creative leadership.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Moraine Valley Community College (AA), Illinois Wesleyan University (BA), and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (MUP)

In 2001, Juan Salgado took leadership of the Instituto del Progreso Latino, which is a Chicago-based institute that helps low-income Latino communities. Salgado, who is 46, has helped the Institute pioneer a new educational program that is giving recent graduates and adults the skills to achieve high-paying employment in sectors like manufacturing and health care.

Read Salgado's's full bio here »

Beth Stevens is shedding new light on the human brain.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Northeastern University (BS), University of Maryland (PhD)

Why neurological diseases like Alzheimer's or Huntington's disease develop in some and not others is still a mystery, but the work of 45-year-old Beth Stevens is helping to find a solution. Stevens is a neuroscientist who has shown that a particular kind of cell called microglial cells, which was once thought to only protect the brain from inflammation and foreign bodies, actually plays a critical role in the brain's wiring and overall health and potential degeneration.

Read Stevens's full bio here »

Lorenz Studer's work could provide treatment for Parkinson's disease.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: University of Fribourg, Switzerland (Candidate Medical degree), University of Bern, Switzerland (MD)

The 49-year-old stem cell biologist, Lorenz Studer, is working on a way to grow large amounts of dopaminergic neurons, which are the main source of dopamine -- the pleasure hormone -- in the brain. When dopamine-generating brain cells die, it causes Parkinson's disease, so if Studer can grow neurons that prevent this cell death, it could help save millions from his neur0-degenerative disease.

Read Studer's full bio here »

Alex Truesdell is transforming the world around disabled children so they don't feel so disabled, after all.

University of Fribourg, Switzerland

Alma mater: Lesley University (BS, MEd), Boston College (MEd)

Alex Truesdell, who is 59, is founder and director of the nonprofit Adaptive Design Association (ADA), which builds tools and furniture to help disabled children be more active in their homes, schools, and communities. The most important feature about ADA is that they work with the parents and children to customise each product and ensure it lasts and is reusable as the child grows and ages. Most other companies mass produce their projects that children quickly outgrow.

Read Truesdell's full bio here »

Basil Twist is a puppeteer and theatre artist who is doing some unexpected things.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette (DMA)

Basil Twist's unique use of materials and puppetry techniques generates performances that are unlike anything audiences have seen before. His work pushes the boundaries between animate and inanimate, and brings to life the many types of puppets he uses to tell classical stories.

Read Twist's full bio here »

Ellen Bryant Voigt is advancing American literary culture.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Converse College (BA), University of Iowa (MFA)

Ellen Bryant Voigt is a poet, author, and teacher who has been publishing her work since the '70s. One of her notable achievements is the way she continues to evolve her style, which is also a reflection of how modern American literature is changing. Voigt, age 72, addresses real-world issues in her writing including the growing movement of customer demand on animal rights.

Read Voigt's full bio here »

Heidi Williams is shedding new light on how certain biases are stifling new drug development.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: Dartmouth College (AB), University of Oxford (MS), Harvard University (PhD)

By looking at how patents and marketing play a role in drug development, 34-year-old economist, Heidi Williams and her colleagues recently provided evidence to suggest that the US patent system is creating a bias against the development and distribution of drugs that could treat early stage cancers. That's just one example of how Williams's work is bringing a new awareness to how innovation in the health care community can be improved.

Read Williams's full bio here »

Peidong Yang is making breakthrough in how we use energy.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Alma mater: University of Science and Technology in China (BA), Harvard University (PhD)

The 44-year-old inorganic chemist, Peidong Yang, is helping transform the way we use energy through his breakthroughs in nanowire technology. He has created what he calls a 'leaf' that combines nanowires -- wires too small to see individually -- and bacteria to produce energy from sunlight in a way that is more efficient than current solar technology.

Read Yang's full bio here »

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