As the school year commences, returning scientists are again applying for grants, awards, and other financial support to pursue their various disciplines. But six academic scientists among the 24 recipients of this year's John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowships--popularly known as the "genius awards"--are in an extremely fortunate position: Their explorations for the next five years will extend as far as their imaginations will take them.

"When the director called me up to congratulate me, she said, `If you want to quit science to write a novel, feel free!'" recalls fellow Michael A. Marletta, 44, a medicinal chemist at the University of Michigan.

Michael Marletta TESTING LIMITS: Medicinal chemist and MacArthur fellow Michael Marletta says the foundation "tends to look at people who are pushing at the very edge of their field."

"There are no strings attached," confirms program director Catharine Stimpson. Recipients are not obliged to report what they...

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