Grants Honor Cross-Disciplinary “Geniuses”

The MacArthur Foundation names this year’s cohort of creative problem-solvers.

Sep 18, 2014
Molly Sharlach

MacArthur Fellow Pamela Long uses historical documents to study the development of science and engineering.MACARTHUR FOUNDATION

The MacArthur Foundation this week (September 17) announced its 2014 Fellows—a group of 21 innovators who will receive unrestricted $625,000 “genius” grants to pursue their passions over the next five years. Among the recipients are poets, lawyers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. Three of the winners conduct research with applications to human health, while another aims to understand the origins of science itself.

Materials scientist Mark Hersam of Northwestern University studies carbon nanotubes—cylinders of highly conductive graphene that may enable better batteries and beneficial medical technologies. To isolate uniform populations of nanotubes, a major challenge in the field of nanotechnology, Hersam uses density gradient centrifugation, a technique he adapted from biochemistry.

MacArthur Fellow Tami Bond, an environmental engineer at the University of Illinois, tracks emissions of black carbon—the main component of soot that results from burning wood and fossil fuels—which are important for climate change and public health. She strives to apply her research to public policy, including working with organizations to bring cleaner cook stoves to people in developing countries. “To me, research is interesting when it has relevance—when it has implications for what people can do and for the future that we can choose,” Bond said in a MacArthur Foundation video.

University of Pennsylvania bioengineer Danielle Bassett trained as a physicist, but always wanted to study the brain. She now takes advantage of her background to map changes in the brain’s networks as people learn. In reaction to receiving the award, Bassett said in a video, “I think it will give me some quiet time . . . to sit down and be really creative, and think about what I could do that I don’t have to prove will work at the beginning.”

Pamela Long, an independent historian based in Washington, DC, examines the processes that have shaped society’s approach to science, engineering, and intellectual property. Her current work focuses on public works projects in 16th-century Rome. “You have this communication between practitioners and learned people and I argue that that’s important for the development of the new sciences,” Long told Scientific American in a September 17 podcast. “People call it the scientific revolution.”