12 Academics Are Among 22 Winners of 2011 MacArthur Fellowships

September 20, 2011

Twelve scholars associated with universities are among the 22 winners of MacArthur fellowships, announced this morning by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The winners each receive $500,000 grants that are paid out over five years and come with no strings attached.

According to a news release issued by the foundation, they were chosen for their "creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future." The fellowships are intended to give the recipients "unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore."

Three of the winners are at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and three are at Harvard.

The winners and their achievements, as described by the foundation, are as follows:

Jad Abumrad, 38, a radio host and producer at WNYC, in New York City. He has engaged a new generation of listeners with audio explorations of scientific and philosophical questions that evoke a sense of adventure and recreate the thrill of discovery.

Marie-Therese Connolly, 54, an elder-rights lawyer in Washington, D.C. She has raised awareness and sought solutions to the largely hidden but immense problems of elder abuse and neglect.

Roland G. Fryer Jr., 34, an economist at Harvard University. He has offered new insight into issues rarely examined through the architecture of game theory and quantitative analysis, including racial discrimination, labor-market inequalities, and educational underachievement.

Jeanne Gang, 47, an architect in Chicago. She has integrated conventional materials, striking yet functional designs, and ecologically friendly technology in bold structures that challenge the aesthetic and technical possibilities of the art form.

Elodie Ghedin, 44, a parasitologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She has decoded the genomes of virulent human pathogens that cause such diseases as leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, and river blindness, and threaten the lives of millions in the developing world.

Markus Greiner, 38, a condensed-matter physicist at Harvard University. He has improved our capacity to control the spatial organization of ultracold atoms and applied those advances to both fundamental inquiry and technology.

Kevin Guskiewicz, 45, a sports-medicine researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has combined laboratory and on-the-field investigations to advance the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sports-related brain injuries, and to improve the safety of athletes of all ages. (Mr. Guskiewicz has been featured in several Chronicle articles in the last year about how colleges are struggling to protect athletes from concussions. He was also interviewed in a Chronicle podcast last October.)

Peter Hessler, 42, a long-form journalist in Ridgway, Colo. He has crafted richly illuminating and keenly observed accounts of ordinary people responding to the complexities of life in such rapidly changing societies as China.

Tiya Miles, 41, a public historian at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She has reframed and reinterpreted the history of our diverse nation in works that illuminate the complex interrelationships between African and Cherokee peoples in colonial America.

Matthew K. Nock, 38, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University. He has deepened understanding of self-injury and suicide among adolescents and adults by combining epidemiology, laboratory experiments, and real-time psychological assessments in the interest of saving lives and influencing mental-health care in our society. (Mr. Nock was featured in a Chronicle article last year about a change in tenure policy at Harvard.)

Francisco Núñez, 46, a conductor and composer with the Young People's Chorus of New York City. He has shaped the future of choral singing for children by expanding access from inner-city to elite schools, redefining the artistic and expressive boundaries of the youth choir.

Sarah Otto, 43, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of British Columbia. She has resolved such longstanding, fundamental questions of population genetics and ecology as the evolutionary benefits of carrying two copies of each gene and of sexual over asexual reproduction.

Shwetak Patel, 29, a sensor technologist, computer scientist, and electrical engineer at the University of Washington. He has invented low-cost, easy-to-deploy sensor systems that take advantage of existing infrastructures to enable users to track household energy consumption and to make the buildings we live in more responsive to our needs.

Dafnis Prieto, 37, a jazz percussionist and composer in New York City. He has electrified audiences with dazzling technical abilities and rhythmically adventurous compositions while infusing Latin jazz with a bold new energy and sound.

Kay Ryan, 65, a poet in Fairfax, Calif. She has composed deceptively simple verse of wisdom and elegance, grounded in explorations of familiar ideas and experiences, and surprised us with the possibilities of the medium.

Melanie Sanford, 36, an organometallic chemist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She has reignited research on an important chemical pathway and developed a method to enable modification of complex molecules with important implications for pharmaceuticals and other products we use every day.

William Seeley, 39, a neuropathologist at the University of California at San Francisco. He has integrated microscopy, magnetic resonance imaging, and clinical examination to identify the mechanisms underlying frontotemporal dementia, track disease progression, and create effective therapeutic interventions.

Jacob Soll, 42, a historian of Europe at Rutgers University at Camden. He has explored the development of political thought and criticism in early modern Europe and shed new light on the origins of the modern state.

A.E. Stallings, 43, a poet and translator in Athens, Greece. She has mined the classical world and traditional poetic techniques to craft imaginative explorations of contemporary life that evoke startling insights about antiquity's relevance for today.

Ubaldo Vitali, 67, a conservator and silversmith in Maplewood, N.J. He has drawn on deep knowledge of past and modern metalworking techniques and rigorous scholarship to restore historical masterworks and to create original works of art.

Alisa Weilerstein, 29, a cellist in New York City. She has combined technical precision with impassioned musicianship in performances of both traditional and contemporary music, and expanded the cello repertoire through collaborations with leading composers.

Yukiko Yamashita, 39, a developmental biologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She has elucidated the process of stem-cell division and its role in age-related decline in organ repair and in the onset of some cancers and other proliferative disorders.