13 Academics Are Among 24 Winners of 2009 MacArthur Fellowships

September 22, 2009

People with ties to higher education once again dominated the list of winners of MacArthur fellowships, announced Tuesday morning by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Thirteen out of the 24 winners of the no-strings-attached $500,000 prizes are members of university faculties.

They and other recipients of the honors, often called "genius awards," were picked for their "creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future," according to a news release issued by the foundation. The awards come with no requirements and offer what the foundation called "unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore."

Among the 2009 fellows are faculty members working in a range of fields, including aging, avian evolution, climate change in the distant past and the present, complex systems, extinction, mental illness, papermaking, poverty, and poetry. The new group of fellows brings the total honored since 1981, the award's first year, to 805.

The winners are chosen in a process that starts with anonymous nominators and proceeds through an anonymous committee that makes recommendations to the foundation's Board of Directors.

Following are the 2009 fellows and their achievements, as summarized by the foundation:

Lynsey Addario, 35, photojournalist, in Istanbul. She is creating a powerful visual record of the most pressing conflicts and humanitarian crises of the 21st century.

Maneesh Agrawala, 37, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, University of California at Berkeley. He designs visual interfaces that enhance users' ability to synthesize and comprehend large quantities of complex digital information.

Timothy Barrett, 59, research scientist and adjunct professor, University of Iowa. He is reinvigorating the art of hand-papermaking and leading the preservation of traditional Western and Japanese techniques and practices.

Mark Bradford, 47, mixed-media artist, in Los Angeles. He incorporates ephemera from urban environments into richly textured abstract compositions that evoke a multitude of metaphors.

Edwidge Danticat, 40, novelist, in Miami. She chronicles the power of human resistance and endurance through moving and insightful depictions of Haitian immigrants' experience.

Rackstraw Downes, 69, painter, in New York. He renders minutely detailed landscapes of unexpected vistas that reconsider the interaction between the built and natural world.

Esther Duflo, 36, professor of poverty alleviation and development economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She analyzes the forces perpetuating cycles of poverty in South Asia and Africa.

Deborah Eisenberg, 63, short-story writer, in New York. She crafts distinctive portraits of contemporary American life in tales of precision, fluency, and moral depth.

Lin He, 35, assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, University of California at Berkeley. She advances understanding of the role of microRNA in the development of cancer and is laying the groundwork for future cancer treatments.

Peter Huybers, 35, assistant professor of climate, Harvard University. He mines a wealth of often conflicting experimental observations to develop compelling theories that explain global climate change over time.

James Longley, 37, filmmaker, Daylight Factory, in Seattle. He deepens understanding of conflicts in the Middle East through intimate portraits of communities living under extremely challenging conditions.

L. Mahadevan, 44, professor of applied mathematics, Harvard University. He investigates principles underlying the behavior of complex systems to address such questions as how flags flutter, how skin wrinkles, and how Venus flytraps snap closed.

Heather McHugh, 61, professor of English, University of Washington. She is a poet who composes richly layered verse that unabashedly embraces such wordplay as puns, rhymes, and syntactical twists to explore the human condition.

Jerry Mitchell, 50, investigative reporter, The Clarion-Ledger, in Jackson, Miss. He ensures that unsolved murders from the civil-rights era are finally prosecuted by uncovering largely unknown details of decades-old stories of thwarted justice.

Rebecca Onie, 32, founder and executive director of Project Health, in Boston. She is building a low-cost, replicable program that joins the aspirations of college students to the needs of health-care institutions to address the link between poverty and poor health.

Richard O. Prum, 48, professor of ornithology, ecology, and evolutionary biology, Yale University. He draws from developmental biology, optical physics, and paleontology to address central questions about avian development, evolution, and behavior.

John A. Rogers, 42, professor of materials science and engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He invents flexible electronic devices that lay the foundation for a revolution in manufacture of industrial, consumer, and biocompatible technologies.

Elyn Saks, 53, professor of law, psychology, and psychiatry and the behavioral sciences, University of Southern California. She expands the options for those suffering from severe mental illness, by working through scholarship, practice, and policy informed by a life story that offers uncommon depth and insight.

Jill Seaman, 57, infectious-disease physician, in Old Fangak, Sudan. She adapts the tools of 21st-century medicine to treat infectious diseases endemic to southern Sudan and other remote, war-torn regions of the world.

Beth Shapiro, 33, assistant professor of biology, Pennsylvania State University. She uses molecular phylogenetics and biostatistics to reconstruct the influences on population dynamics of extinct or severely challenged species.

Daniel Sigman, 40, professor of geological and geophysical sciences, Princeton University. He examines the interrelated physical, chemical, geological, and biological forces that have shaped the oceans' fertility and the earth's climate over the past two million years.

Mary E. Tinetti, 58, professor of medicine and epidemiology and public health, and geriatric physician, Yale School of Medicine. She challenges prevailing notions of falls as unavoidable accidents associated with advanced age and identifies risk factors that contribute to morbidity as a result of falls.

Camille Utterback, 39, digital artist, in San Francisco. She redefines how viewers experience and interact with art, through vibrant, pictorial compositions that are activated by human presence and movement.

Theodore P. Zoli, 43, bridge engineer, HNTB Corporation, in New York. He makes major technological advances to protect transportation infrastructure in the event of natural and man-made disasters.