Photo: The MacArthur Foundation
The 23 winners of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations fellowships were called out of the blue and told they were given $500,000 with no strings attached.The recipients include a geochemist, a pediatric neurosurgeon, and an astronomer — even a mandolinist — who were anonymously nominated for the award by a secret list of individuals that is renewed each year.
The generous fellowship intends to provide these creative geniuses with the unfettered freedom need to explore and pursue new creations, the foundation said.
MacArthur President Robert Gallucci said:
“These extraordinary individuals demonstrate the power of creativity. The MacArthur Fellowship is not only a recognition of their impressive past accomplishments but also, more importantly, an investment in their potential for the future. We believe in their creative instincts and hope the freedom the Fellowship provides will enable them to pursue unfettered their insights and ideas for the benefit of the world.”
Natalia Almada is a 37-year-old documentary filmmaker who uses unorthodox approaches to explore the history of Mexico.
A dual citizen of Mexico and the United States who has lived in both countries since childhood, Almada produces documentaries that explore Mexican history, politics and culture.
In her films, Almada spurns techniques such as interviews with experts or a linear narrative. Instead, she's relied heavily on archival material, including audio tapes of her grandmother's recollections of her great-grandfather, Mexico's president in the 1920s.
Her latest film, El Velador (2011) examines the graveyard of choice for Mexico's slain drug lords that has become a sort of boomtown as workers can hardly keep up with the stream of bodies arriving in fancy cars and hearses.
Uta Barth is a 54-year-old conceptual photographer whose work explores the differences between the human eye and a camera lens.
Barth, who works in Los Angeles, 'intentionally depicts mundane or incidental objects in nondescript surroundings in order to focus attention on the fundamental act of looking and the process of perception,' writes the MacArthur Foundation in her bio.
For example, she bounces light off the curtains in her home across a sequence of images in order to demonstrate the passage of time and highlight the pleasures of seeing.
Her photographs have been exhibited in museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A.
Claire Chase is the 34-year-old CEO and Artistic Director of the International Contemporary Ensemble in Brooklyn.
A young arts entrepreneur and a flutist, Chase has assembled an orchestra of about 30 conservatory-trained musicians. ICE combines well-known works in addition to contemporary compositions which the group performs in orchestra venues, art galleries, warehouses and even nightclubs.
'From its scrappy, grass-roots beginning, the group has become an invaluable gem within the local new-music ecosphere while achieving national and global renown.'
Chetty's empirical studies address the intersection of economic and government policy. His initial work focused on specific questions of public finance, such as how dividend tax cuts affected corporate behaviour and how unemployment insurance affects job-seeking behaviour.
More recently, his research has focused on the impact of sales taxes on demand. By studying consumer behaviour in supermarkets, he discovered that buyers purchased less of a product when posted prices in the aisles included sales tax compared to when the tax was added at checkout.
He's also argued that a good kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year, claiming that's the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers.
Source: The MacArthur Foundation
Maria Chudnovsky is a 35-year-old mathematician in Columbia's Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research.
Chudnovsky investigates the fundamental principles of graph theory, defined in her bio by the MacArthur Foundation as 'an abstraction that represents the connections between a similar set of things; for example, cities and the roads connecting them, networks of friendship among people, and websites and their links to other sites.'
Graphs serve as shortcuts to using brute-force measuring methods when addressing impossibly complex real-world problems such as efficient scheduling for an airline or package delivery service.
Coleman's research focuses on the miscommunications and errors that occur as patients leave hospitals and arrive at post-discharge homes or other care clinics.
'Elderly patients are particularly vulnerable to these transitions, as an estimated 20 per cent of Medicare patients are discharged from hospitals are readmitted within 30 days and a majority of these readmissions are preventable.'
Coleman developed a model called the Care Transitions Program to equip caregivers with the knowledge and skills to enable self-care including health records, physician information, a timeline for follow-up appointments, a list of red flags, and a list of signs that the patient's condition is deteriorating.
Source: The MacArthur Foundation
Junot Díaz is a 43-year-old fiction writer and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at MIT.
Born in the Dominican Republic and living in the U.S. since his youth, Díaz writes about the Caribbean diaspora and American assimilation.
His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), won the Pulitzer prize for fiction and follows three generations of a family living in the Dominican Republic and the U.S. The novel's narrator employs English, Spanish and street slang to describe the complicated and troubled history of his home country and his coming-of-age in his new one.
His latest novel, This is How You Lose Her, was released last month. Leah Hager Cohen of the New York Times writes:
'Junot Díaz writes in an idiom so electrifying and distinct it's practically an act of aggression, at once alarming and enthralling, even erotic in its assertion of sudden intimacy.'
Finkel has reported from the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and Europe. He's covered the plight of refugees during the conflicts in Kosovo, worldwide patterns of illegal migration, a failed experiment in democracy building in Yemen, and the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq.
In his book The Good Soldiers (2009), Finkel chronicled eight months he spent embedded with a U.S. Army infantry battalion in one of the most dangerous areas of Baghdad in 2007, attempting to capture the character transformations of the young soldier as they experience the horrors of combat.
Guyon designs telescopes that search for Earth-like planets outside the solar system. These planets are harder to see because they orbit extremely close to their home stars and are 10 orders of magnitude less bright from our perspective.
Guyon invented a telescope design that 'reduces the engineering and cost obstacles of deploying a planet-locating telescope in low-Earth orbit,' according to his MacArthur Foundation bio.
Hallem studies the physiology and behavioural consequences of odor detection. As a graduate student, she used a mutant fly strain that lacks any odorant receptor and produced more than 20 different strains each with a single known odor receptor.
She then measured each fly's response to more than 100 different odours and found that 'some odorant receptor types are highly selective and others are more broadly tuned, with an unexpectedly high fraction of odorant/receptor combinations inhibiting (rather than increasing) neuron firing rates,' according to her MacArthur Foundation bio.
An-My Lê is a 52-year-old photographer and professor at Bard College who specialises in war landscapes.
A refugee from Vietnam and U.S. resident since 1975, Lê's work is inspired by her own experience of war and dislocation. She's photographed landscapes transformed by war as well as other types of military activity.
Currently, she is documenting the U.S. military's presence at sites around the world where personnel are undertaking training missions, patrolling international waterways, and offering humanitarian aid.
Sarkis Mazmanian is a 39-year-old Medical Microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology who studies stomach bacteria.
Mazmanian studies the interaction between stomach bacterial species and the host immune system.
'His work could lead to new drugs inspired by beneficial bacteria in the human body, and it has implications for the way in which we see the causes of autism, multiple sclerosis and a host of other conditions and diseases.'
Mazmanian told the LA Times:
'We're interested in how gut bacteria shape the immune system in a beneficial way. This is a growing field, but clearly a departure from mainstream microbiology.'
Dinaw Mengestu is a 34-year-old writer from Washington D.C. whose nonfiction pieces explore the African diaspora in America.
Mengestu is a native of Ethiopia who came to the U.S. when he was two. His debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2008), follows a struggling Ethiopian refugee in a gentrifying neighbourhood of Washington D.C. In addition to describing the challenges of lives uprooted and remade in the wake of political violence, he explores the fractures and tensions that characterise rapidly changing areas of urban America.
Mengestu is also a freelance journalist who has covered life in Darfur, northern Uganda, and eastern Congo.
Maurice Lim Miller is the 66-year-old founder and CEO of the Family Independence Initiative (FII) in Oakland, CA.
Miller's work focuses on the development of services designed to break the cycle of economic dependency for low-income families across the United States.
FII has evolved into a national model that taps into the initiative and capability of low-income households to maximise their own networks and resources and guide themselves out of property. Families receive small cash stipends for achieving self-initiated goals such as finding employment, reducing debt, or saving toward buying a home.
In his book The Claims of Kinfolk (2003), Penningroth describes the informal customs that slaves in the pre-Civil War South used to recognise ownership of property, challenging conventional wisdom that they couldn't posses anything as they themselves were deemed property.
'Penningroth has altered that notion with research showing that slaves established property ownership through extra-legal customs. Moreover, after the Civil War, the children and grandchildren of freed slaves managed to gain legal recognition in a system rigged against them.'
His current projects explore the lineage and issues of inheritance for slave-descended people in early 20th Century Ghana and the experiences of African Americans who made use of local courts during the decades that followed emancipation.
Source: The MacArthur Foundation
Plank's research focuses on what happens when tectonic plates collide. She uses volcanoes as a window to the chemical and physical forces sparked by these collisions occuring deep below the surface of the Earth.
In Plank's bio, the MacArthur Foundation noted:
'With painstaking fieldwork, careful analysis, and profound insight, Plank is uncovering details about the complex interplay of thermal and chemical forces that drives this usually imperceptible but remarkably powerful natural force.'
Laura Poitras is the 48-year-old founder of Praxis Films and works on documentaries that explore social issues in the Middle East.
Poitras' trilogy of feature-length documentaries about the war on terror that explores the conflict from the vantage point of a Sunni physician in Iraq, a former jihadist and bodyguard to Osama Bin Ladin, and those in the U.S. affected by the prolonged international conflict.
Poitras' films have been nominated for Emmys and Oscars, and Salon's Glenn Greenwald writes the documentaries and her work have caused Poitras undue harassment whenever she returns to the U.S.:
'Virtually every time during that six-year-period that she has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by DHS agents who stand at the aeroplane door or tarmac and inspect the passports of every de-planing passenger until they find her (on the handful of occasions where they did not meet her at the plane, agents were called when she arrived at immigration). Each time, they detain her, and then interrogate her at length about where she went and with whom she met or spoke. They have exhibited a particular interest in finding out for whom she works.'
Nancy Rabalais is a 62-year-old marine ecologist dedicated to documenting the expanding oxygen dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.
Since the mid-1980s, Rabalais has led a long-term program to study the size, intensity, and seasonal occurrence of dead zones in the waters off the Louisiana continental shelf. When concentrated in coastal waters, the nutrients from farmland fertiliser spawn the growth of excessive algae, which decomposes by consuming oxygen vital to sustaining many aquatic species.
Rabalais has also played a prominent role in informing strategies for reducing urban and agricultural runoff flowing into the Gulf.
Source: The MacArthur Foundation
Benoît Rolland is a 58-year-old stringed-instrument bow maker and the founder of Benoît Rolland Studio.
Rolland is a master bow maker experimenting with new designs and materials for violin, viola, and cello bows steeped in the the tradition of 19th-century bow design. Before making a bow for a particular musician, he listens to recordings or live performances in order to create a finished product that matches the individual player's personal playing style.
When the Pernambuco tree--from which bows have been made for centuries--was on the verge of extinction, Rolland was the first to experience with carbon fibre, reinventing the craft for the first time in generations.
Daniel Spielman is a 42-year-old computer scientist at Yale studying ways to optimise code for speed and reliability.
In his work, Spielman proved that small amounted of random code can convert worst-case conditions into problems that can be solved much faster. This is why an algorithm for optimization (e.g., to compute the fastest route to the airport, picking up three friends along the way) usually works better in practice than theory would predict.
The MacArthur Foundation noted:
'Spielman is connecting theoretical and applied computer science in both intellectually and socially profound ways.'
Swartz's body of research has had important implications for normal tissue development and maintenance as well as for cancer biology.
Her MacArthur Foundation bio notes:
'Swartz recently demonstrated that some solid tumors can secrete chemical signals that mimic the mechanisms used by lymphatic tissue (such as nodes of the spleen) to differentiate infected or invasive cells from normal ones. This observation suggests a possible mechanism that tumors use to protect against immune response.'
Christ Thile is a 31-year-old mandolinist and composer in New York City and a member of the ensemble Punch Brothers.
Benjamin Warf is a 54-year-old pediatric neurosurgeon and the director of the Neonatal and Congenital Anomaly Neurosurgery Program at Boston Children's Hospital.
Warf revolutionised the treatment of intra-cranial diseases in very young children, with a particular focus on 'water on the brain' syndrome which, left untreated, causes significant cognitive disabilities. He pioneered a low-cost treatment for the syndrome as chief of surgery at a new children's hospital in a remote eastern Ugandan town and has designed a training program for neurosurgeons throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Source: The MacArthur Foundation
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