MacArthur named 25 new MacArthur Fellows for 2008. This past week, the recipients learned in a single phone call from the Foundation that they will each receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” support over the next five years. The new Fellows work across a broad spectrum of endeavors and include a neurobiologist, a saxophonist, a critical care physician, an urban farmer, an optical physicist, a sculptor, a geriatrician, a historian of medicine, and an inventor of musical instruments. All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.
“The MacArthur Fellows Program celebrates extraordinarily creative individuals who inspire new heights in human achievement,” said MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton. “With their boldness, courage, and uncommon energy, this new group of Fellows, men and women of all ages in diverse fields, exemplifies the boundless nature of the human mind and spirit.”
MacArthur Fellowships offer the opportunity for Fellows to accelerate their current activities or take their work in new directions. The unusual level of independence afforded to Fellows underscores the spirit of freedom intrinsic to creative endeavors. The extraordinary creativity of MacArthur Fellows knows neither boundaries nor the constraints of age, place, and endeavor.
Recipients this year include:
- an astronomer designing experiments and devices to advance understanding of the geometry of the universe and the story of both its beginning and its end (Adam Reiss);
- a neuroscientist tracing the natural interactions of differentiating neurons, bringing us closer to developing effective methods for treating central nervous system damage (Sally Temple);
- a novelist exploring the circumstances that lead to ethnic conflict in works inspired by events in her native Nigeria (Chimamanda Adichie);
- an inventor of musical instruments that transform and transcend the musical experience and navigate the boundaries between live and recorded sound (Walter Kitundu);
- an urban farmer applying low-cost technologies to the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved urban populations here and abroad (Will Allen);
- a geriatrician transforming treatment for the seriously ill into more humane and effective care (Diane Meier);
- an optical physicist demonstrating that power can be transmitted wirelessly, opening the door to the possibility of a range of devices operating free of traditional power sources (Marin Soljačić);
- a saxophonist drawing from a variety of jazz idioms and the music of his native Puerto Rico to create complex, accessible sounds that overflow with emotion (Miguel Zenón);
- a critical care physician devising life-saving, clinical practices to improve patient safety in hospitals and spare countless lives from the deadly consequences of human error (Peter Pronovost);
- a structural engineer restoring cathedrals and other structures of the distant past and identifying ancient technologies for use in contemporary constructions (John Ochsendorf);
- a stage lighting designer pushing the visible boundaries of her art form with painterly lighting that evokes mood and sculpts movement in dance, drama, and opera (Jennifer Tipton);
- an anthropologist illuminating the intellectual and emotional life of ancient Mesoamerican peoples through insightful interpretations of hieroglyphic inscriptions and figural art (Stephen Houston).
“Our goal, each year, is to surprise ourselves and others by the creativity, distinctiveness, and reach of those we identify and support. We have surprised ourselves again this year. As a group, this new class of Fellows takes one’s breath away. Each is an original, and each confirms that the creative individual is alive and well, at the cutting edge, and at work to make our world a better place,” said Daniel J. Socolow, Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program.
The MacArthur Fellows Program was the first major grantmaking initiative of the Foundation. The inaugural class of MacArthur Fellows was named in 1981. Including this year’s Fellows, 781 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82 at the time of their selection, have been named MacArthur Fellows since the program began.
The selection process begins with formal nominations. Hundreds of anonymous nominators assist the Foundation in identifying people to be considered for a MacArthur Fellowship. Nominations are accepted only from invited nominators, a list that is constantly renewed throughout the year. They are chosen from many areas and challenged to identify people who demonstrate exceptional creativity and promise. A 12‑member Selection Committee, whose members also serve anonymously, meets regularly to review files, narrow the list, and make final recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Directors. The number of Fellows selected each year is not fixed; typically, it varies between 20 and 25.