Imagine getting a phone call one day, letting you know you had won an award for your contributions to your field and to society. Now imagine it was one of the world's most prestigious awards, one that came with a no-strings grant of $500,000.
That's what happened to 22 people this year as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation called to congratulate this year's new MacArthur Fellows.
Commonly known as the "MacArthur Genius" awards, the fellowships honor the "talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction." Fellows must show exceptional creativity and promise for important future advances that would benefit from the fellowship.
The 2011 class of fellows includes an evolutionary geneticist, a journalist, two musicians, a poet, a biologist, an elder rights lawyer and a European historian.
At age 29, computer scientist and sensor technologist Shwetak Patel of the University of Washington was one of this year's youngest fellows. Patel has invented a series of sensor systems that can monitor home environments, allowing people to save energy and improve security. The technology, which employs low-cost wireless sensors that are easy to deploy, also has great potential for monitoring water consumption and improving elder care.
Architect Jeanne Gang of Chicago, 47, was honored for her work "challenging the aesthetic and technical possibilities" of her art form. Her buildings, which have been described as poetic, are also environmentally sound: they use energy-efficient fixtures, rainwater collection systems and other significant advances in heating and cooling.
Another winner, parasitologist/virologist Elodie Ghedin of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, age 44, has helped to improve human health around the globe by examining pathogens using genomic sequencing, what the foundation calls "a powerful tool" that will help scientists develop treatments for a wide range of diseases and viruses, including HIV.
The MacArthur Foundation has named a total of 850 fellows since the program began in 1981. Below is a complete list of the 2011 winners. More information about each of this year's MacArthur Fellows can be found here.
- Jad Abumrad, 38, New York radio host and producer
- Marie-Therese Connolly, 54, D.C. elder-rights lawyer
- Roland Fryer, 34, Harvard economist
- Jeanne Gang, 47, Chicago architect
- Elodie Ghedin, 44, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine parasitologist
- Markus Greiner, 38, Harvard University condensed-matter physicist
- Kevin Guskiewicz, 45, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sports medicine researcher
- Peter Hessler, 42, Ridgeway, Colo., long-form journalist
- Tiya Miles, 41, University of Michigan public historian
- Matthew Nock, 38, Harvard clinical psychologist
- Francisco Nunez, 46, New York choral conductor and composer
- Sarah Otto, 43, University of British Columbia evolutionary geneticist
- Shwetak Patel, 29, University of Washington at Seattle sensor technologist and computer scientist
- Dafnis Prieto, 37, New York jazz percussionist and composer
- Kay Ryan, 65, Fairfax, Calif., poet
- Melanie Sanford, 36, University of Michigan organometallic chemist
- William Seeley, 39, University of California at San Francisco, neuropathologist
- Jacob Soll, 42, Rutgers University European historian
- A.E. Stallings, 43, Athens poet and translator
- Ubaldo Vitali, 67, Maplewood, N.J., conservator and silversmith
- Alisa Weilerstein, 29, New York cellist
- Yukiko Yamashita, 39, University of Michigan developmental biologist