11:48 PM EDT, September 24, 2013
A physician who has created a new model for providing health care to those who can least afford it.
A novelist who takes readers into the swampy backwaters of the Everglades.
An astrophysicist who searches for other planets — and finds them.
These are among the 24 winners of MacArthur Fellowships, or “genius grants,” each of whom will receive $625,000 over a five-year period, with no strings attached (that's an increase from the $500,000 amount of previous years).
The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has been presenting the fellowships since 1981, the winners nominated and selected in a secret process for which no one may apply.
This year's class features 13 men and 11 women, the winners ranging in age from 32 to 60.
Following is an annotated guide to the recipients. For more information, go to macfound.org.
Kyle Abraham, 36, New York. As founder and artistic director of Kyle Abraham/Abram.in.Motion, choreographer-dancer Abraham creates works that explore social issues, expressing them via hip-hop, contemporary and modern dance vocabularies. Abraham's “Pavement” (2012), explores the implications of urban violence; “The Radio Show” (2010) reflects on the demise of a Pittsburgh radio station and its impact on its listeners.
Donald Antrim, 55, New York. An associate professor in the Writing Program at Columbia University, Antrim writes in the realms of fiction and nonfiction. “The Verificationist” (2000) imagines a gathering of psychoanalysts, as perceived by a protagonist losing his hold on reality. “The Hundred Brothers” (1998) contemplates a deteriorating family drama. And “The Afterlife: A Memoir” (2007), Antrim's first nonfiction work, gathers essays on the toll of his mother's alcoholism.
Phil Baran, 36, La Jolla, Calif. An organic chemist and professor at the Scripps Research Institute, Baran has created new methods for “synthesizing natural products en masse, offering solutions for the cost and supply problems in drug development,” according to the MacArthur Foundation. For instance, he has developed a technique for synthesizing cortistatin A, which potentially could improve treatments for macular degeneration and cancer.
C. Kevin Boyce, 39, Stanford, Calif. Paleobotanist Boyce uses cutting-edge technology to interpret how plants have evolved at the cellular level. These studies have illuminated scientific understanding of how ecology changes as the planet heats up. Newly appointed to the faculty of Stanford University, Boyce previously taught at the University of Chicago.
Jeffrey Brenner, 44, Camden, N.J. As founder and executive director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, Brenner — a primary care physician — has created innovative ways to provide health care for the sick and the poor. Brenner's techniques include creating Care Management Teams that work with patients in diminishing the need for emergency room visits and, therefore, reduce health care costs.
Colin Camerer, 53, Pasadena, Calif. How and why do people behave the way they do when it comes to making economic decisions? Camerer, a professor of behavioral economics at the California Institute of Technology, uses advanced technology, such as fMRI, to study brain activity of individuals interacting over economic issues. His studies have generated new, unconventional theories in the growing area of neuroeconomics.
Jeremy Denk, 43, New York. The rare concert pianist who's as eloquent with words as he is with tones, Denk has won critical accolades for his interpretations of the standard repertory and 20th-century works, and admiration for his writings in the New Yorker, the New Republic and elsewhere.
Angela Duckworth, 43, Philadelphia. An associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth studies predictors of success in education. Specifically, she has identified two factors: grit and self-control, as important determining characteristics of academic achievement. Her research offers potentially new ways of shaping education policy.
Craig Fennie, 40, Ithaca, New York. Fennie applies the techniques of theoretical physics and solid-state chemistry to identify new materials. Some of his studies, for instance, could lead to the creation of devices with vast memory storage and instruments that could alter the nature of electronics and communication technology.
Robin Fleming, 57, Chestnut Hill, Mass. A history professor at Boston College, Fleming has shed new light on British life during the fall of the Roman Empire and after. By studying surviving objects and physical remains, she has provided deeper understanding of the way the masses lived during medieval times. Her published work shows how people worked, prayed, fought and conducted commerce.
Carl Haber, 54, Berkeley, Calif. The earliest known sound recordings are decaying over time, but experimental physicist Haber has invented new means for recapturing precious aural documents. Recordings made on wax cylinders, lacquer discs and other historic technologies have been retrieved by Haber and colleagues; they use a noncontact technique that transforms visual data into a digital sound file. This method has retrieved the oldest known recording of a human voice, from 1860, and the sound of Alexander Graham Bell's voice.
Vijay Iyer, 41, New York. An innovative jazz soloist and thinker, Iyer has forged a singular style on the piano that is often colossal in scope and high in rhythmic tension. He also was one of the first major musicians to bring the sounds of his Indian heritage to bear on jazz improvisation and composition. And his work with veterans in a series of music/spoken-word recordings has broadened the scope and political impact of his work.
Dina Katabi, 42, Cambridge, Mass. Katabi, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her collaborators have devised ways of wirelessly transmitting data faster, more safely and more securely. By working in the fields of computer science and electrical engineering, she has shown that Wi-Fi signals can be used to read the movement of a person's body, enabling a computer to receive instructions delivered by gesture rather than by keystroke.
Julie Livingston, 46, New Brunswick, N.J. A medical historian, Livingston documents and explains the way patients endure chronic illnesses in Botswana. She traces the suffering of cancer patients there and the methods that doctors and nurses invent on the spot to help them. Through these observations, Livingston, a professor at Rutgers University, shows the challenges of improving health and quality of life in Africa and elsewhere.
David Lobell, 34, Stanford, Calif. As an agricultural ecologist of diverse training, Lobell studies how climate change can affect the world's crops and food security. By applying knowledge of statistics, ecosystem modeling and land use, Lobell reveals how temperature and moisture affect crop yields and how climate change might affect the production of food. He also grapples with how to reduce dangers to the food supply posed by changes in the world's climate.
Tarell McCraney, 32, Chicago. The playwright, an ensemble member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, brings African-American storytelling techniques to contemporary drama. His triptych “The Brother/Sister Plays” (2009), applies West African Yoruban sensibilities to family narratives. McCraney also works to bring dramatic productions to disadvantaged audiences in Miami, his hometown.
Susan Murphy, 55, Ann Arbor, Mich. A professor of statistics at the University of Michigan, Murphy is creating new ways of evaluating the effectiveness of treatments for people with chronic disorders, such as depression and substance abuse. Murphy's methods enable researchers to determine which treatments are most effective over time for patients suffering from ADHD, alcoholism, HIV/AIDS and drug addiction, among others.
Sheila Nirenberg, age not provided, New York. By studying how the brain encodes and interprets visual information, Nirenberg — a neuroscientist — has been developing unusual, noninvasive ways to help repair damaged vision. For instance, she created a computerized eyeglass prosthetic that transmits visual data to the brain and has shown potential in experiments with mice. Diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, which affect millions around the world, stand to be addressed by Nirenberg's insights.
Alexei Ratmansky, 45, New York. As artist in residence at American Ballet Theatre, choreographer Ratmansky has re-imagined classical ballet with modern perspectives, as in works such as “The Nutcracker” and “The Firebird.” His original pieces contemplate life in Stalin's Russia through music of Shostakovich and distinctive movement.
Ana Maria Rey, 36, Boulder, Colo. A theoretical physicist, Rey uses mathematical models to decode the way nature behaves. She does so by working in atomic, molecular, optical and condensed matter physics, in order to “facilitate progress in areas such as quantum simulation and quantum information and enable the preparation of large-scale entanglement between atoms,” according to the MacArthur Foundation.
Karen Russell, 32, New York. Russell's fiction merges elements of fantasy with reality, much of her work set in the steamy Everglades of Florida, where she grew up. Her collection “St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” (2006) explores the murky world of troubled adolescence; her novel “Swamplandia” (2011) develops that theme.
Sara Seager, 42, Cambridge, Mass. Is there life beyond Earth? Seager, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist, studies the possibilities and has made several breakthroughs. She deduced that an exoplanet — a planet that orbits outside the solar system — could be identified and studied by measuring its atmosphere during an eclipse. This led to the first notice of an exoplanet atmosphere by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Margaret Stock, 51, Anchorage, Alaska. An expert on laws regarding immigration and national security, Stock has developed programs that help the United States armed forces attract foreigners with valued skills, connect military families with volunteer attorneys and encourage naturalization ceremonies at basic training locations.
Carrie Mae Weems, 60, Syracuse, New York. Weems' photography and video installations address African-American life, partly through the prism of civil rights and racial justice. Works such as “Ain't Joking,” (1987), “The Louisiana Project” (2004) and “Roaming” (2006) show the toll of various forms of discrimination, as well as human capacity to face them.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC