Every year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation provides “genius grants” to 20-40 recipients whose work is changing the world.
This year’s class is 24 people, including Stanford University computer scientist Christopher Re, who builds data-processing systems that can be used for anything from finding human traffickers to analysing genes, and neuroscientist Beth Stevens, PhD, who studies how miscommunication between brain cells can lead to disease.
Each of the 24 will receive $US625,000 over the course of five years to spend as they see fit.
In The New York Times, Wealth Matters columnist Paul Sullivan looked into how grant recipients from previous years treat that check for over half a million dollars.
They don’t all spend it on their research.
For instance, here’s what the geniuses from previous years profiled in Sullivan’s article did with their money:
• Evolutionary biologist Sally Otto (class of 2011) donated $US500,000 of her money to three causes: the Nature Trust of British Columbia, an environmental conservation program in Indonesia, and a fund at the University of British Columbia. She told Sullivan that extra time was more valuable to her research than extra money.
• Dancer Kyle Abraham (class of 2013) paid off $US180,000 in student loans.
• Astrophysicist Andrea Ghez (class of 2008) spent three-quarters of the money on her children, telling Sullivan she used it to “hire more help with the logistics of life.”
• Saxophonist Steve Coleman (class of 2014) put the money toward a program he’d been working on that helps musicians come together to live in a city for three to four weeks and perform in the community. Years of diligent budgeting and keeping his costs low meant he didn’t need it to pay personal expenses.
• Marine biologist Edith Widder (class of 2006) put “every penny” of the money into ORCA, (the Ocean Research & Conservation Association) her research and advocacy group.
• Neuroscientist Sheila Nirenberg (class of 2013), who has created a way to restore people’s eyesight, uses some of the money that’s come her way to order “Chinese food or pizza for everyone when we’re working late at the lab,” she told Sullivan. “That sounds ludicrous, but it helps. I can also give bonuses to the team to keep everyone happy and incentivized.”
Not a Lamborghini or beach house among them.