Life Scientists Receive “Genius” Grants

Among this year’s 23 MacArthur Foundation Fellows are pioneering biologists.

By Ben Andrew Henry | September 22, 2016


The MacArthur Foundation announced Thursday (September 22) the recipients of its prestigious “Genius” fellowships, each awarded with a $625,000 grant. The foundation named 23 fellows drawn from disparate fields, whose pursuits are “breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways,” explained MacArthur President Julia Stasch in the announcement.

Among the activists, thinkers, and educators receiving these grants are a number of life scientists. Dianne Newman is a Caltech microbiologist whose research on bacterial metabolism spans disciplines. One vein of her work characterizes the arsenic- and iron-dependent metabolic pathways performed by the ancient bacteria that shaped early Earth. Another investigates the anaerobic metabolism of a pathogen that forms biofilms in the lungs, which restrict oxygen flow and can cause disease.

Victoria Orphan, also of Caltech, was awarded a “Genius” grant for her research on the microbial communities that live in deep ocean sediments, a poorly understood environment that plays important roles in methane gas sequestration.

Another grant recipient, Manu Prakash, is a physical biologist at Stanford University whose inventive research has ranged in topic from shore bird behavior to fluid physics. Prakash is a leader in the “frugal science” movement, having developed several tools for scientists in resource-poor settings, including a microscope that costs less than a dollar to produce.

Rounding out the cohort of biologist among this year’s MacArthus awardeees is Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a bioengineer who aims to tackle growing disparities in global health care access by developing low-cost medical technologies. She has invented noninvasive diagnostic methods for certain cancers and co-founded a program intended to steer undergraduate education toward developing global health solutions. 

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