13 Academics Are Among 23 Winners of 2012 MacArthur Fellowships

Thirteen scholars associated with universities and academic institutions are among the 23 recipients of MacArthur Fellowships for 2012, announced by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Each winner receives a $500,000 grant, paid out over five years, that is awarded with no strings attached. In a news release, the foundation said the winners had been selected for their “creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.”

Among this year’s winners are scholars working in economics, medicine, computer science, and astronomy, among other fields. Two winners are at Columbia University. The 23 fellows for 2012 bring the total number of people honored since 1981, the award’s first year, to 873.

This year’s winners and their achievements, as summarized by the foundation, are as follows:

Natalia Almada, 37, a documentary filmmaker in Mexico City. She is capturing complex and nuanced views of Mexican history, politics, and culture in insightful and poetic works that affirm the potency of documentary film as both an art form and a tool for social change.

Uta Barth, 54, a conceptual photographer in Los Angeles. She is exploring the nature of vision and the difference between how we see reality and how a camera records it in evocative, abstract compositions that focus attention on the act of looking and the process of perception.

Claire Chase, 34, an arts entrepreneur in Brooklyn, N.Y. She is forging a new model for the commissioning, recording, and live performance of classical music and opening new avenues of artistic expression for the 21st-century musician.

Raj Chetty, 33, an economist at Harvard University. He is elucidating key policy issues of our time in theoretical and empirical studies that refine our understanding of the impact of public finance on economic activity.

Maria Chudnovsky, 35, a mathematician at Columbia University. She is investigating the fundamental principles of graph theory and laying the conceptual foundations for deepening connections between graph theory and other major branches of mathematics, such as linear programming and geometry.

Eric Coleman, 47, a geriatrician at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He is working on systemwide deficiencies in patient transitions from hospitals to homes and other sites of care and improving the health outcomes of millions of older adults suffering from chronic illness.

Junot Díaz, 43, a professor of writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is using raw, vernacular dialogue and spare, unsentimental prose to draw readers into the various and distinct worlds that immigrants must straddle.

David Finkel, 56, a journalist in Washington, D.C. He is pushing beyond the constraints and conventions of traditional news writing to craft sustained narratives that heighten the reality of military service and sacrifice in the public consciousness.

Olivier Guyon, 36, an optical physicist and astronomer at the University of Arizona. He is designing telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation that play a critical role in the search for Earth-like planets outside our solar system.

Elissa Hallem, 34, a neurobiologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. She is exploring the physiology and behavioral consequences of odor detection and chemoreception in invertebrates and identifying interventions that may eventually reduce the scourge of parasitic infections in human beings.

An-My Lê, 52, a professor of photography at Bard College. She is approaching the subjects of war and landscape from new perspectives to create images that blur the boundaries between fact and fiction and are rich with layers of meaning.

Sarkis Mazmanian, 39, a medical microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology. He is illuminating the complex interplay between microbes and the host immune system, and the role certain bacteria may play in the development, or mitigation, of a broad range of human diseases.

Dinaw Mengestu, 34, a writer in Washington, D.C. He is enriching understanding of the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America in tales distilled from the experience of immigrants whose memories are seared by escape from violence in their homelands.

Maurice Lim Miller, 66, founder of the Family Independence Initiative, in Oakland, Calif. He is designing programs of mutual support and self-sufficiency that break the cycle of economic dependency for low-income families and build more-resilient communities from the ground up.

Dylan C. Penningroth, 41, a historian at Northwestern University. He is unearthing evidence from widely scattered archives to shed light on shifting concepts of property ownership and kinship among African-American slaves and their descendents following emancipation.

Laura Poitras, 48, a documentary filmmaker in New York City. She is revealing the consequences of military conflict abroad in illuminating documentaries that portray the lives and intimate experiences of families and communities largely inaccessible to the American media.

Terry Plank, 48, a geochemist at Columbia University. She is probing the usually invisible but remarkably powerful thermal and chemical forces deep below the Earth’s crust that drive the motion of tectonic-plate collisions.

Nancy Rabalais, 62, a marine ecologist at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. She is documenting the environmental and economic consequences of hypoxic zones in the Gulf of Mexico and informing strategies for restoring the degraded waters of the Gulf and the Mississippi River basin.

Benoît Rolland, 58, a bowmaker for stringed instruments in Boston. He is experimenting with new designs and materials to create violin, viola, and cello bows that rival the quality of prized 19th-century bows and meet the artistic demands of today’s musicians.

Daniel Spielman, 42, a computer scientist at Yale University. He is connecting theoretical and applied computing to resolve issues in code-optimization theory with implications for how we measure, predict, and regulate our environment and behavior.

Melody Swartz, 43, a bioengineer at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, in Switzerland. She is enhancing understanding of the dynamic processes of tissue vascularization and immune responses to tumor invasion using a large toolbox of concepts and methods from biophysics, cell culture, molecular genetics, engineering, and immunology.

Chris Thile, 31, a mandolinist and composer in New York City. He is creating a new musical aesthetic and a distinctly American canon for the mandolin through a lyrical fusion of traditional bluegrass orchestrations with a range of styles and genres.

Benjamin Warf, 54, a pediatric neurosurgeon in Boston. He is revolutionizing treatment of hydrocephalus and other intracranial diseases in very young children and advancing standards of and access to health care in both the developed and poorest regions of the world.

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