This year's 'genius' winners: A university president, a Harvard sociologist, and more

Prestigious awards recognize creativity, originality

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation on Tuesday named its latest 24-person class of "genius award" winners, and 13 honorees this year are affiliated with colleges and universities.

Each year, a selection committee reviews hundreds of anonymous nominations and recommends award winners to the foundation's board of directors. The MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program—which is colloquially known as the "genius awards"—recognizes creativity, originality, and the potential to make an important contribution to the world.

Since the program was created in 1981, more than 900 people have received genius awards. Each 2015 award recipient will receive $625,000 across five years.

This year's winners include:

Patrick Awuah, the founder and president of Ashesi University College in Ghana, which is pioneering a new model of higher education in that nation;

Kartik Chandran, an environmental engineer at Columbia University who is designing ways to use wastewater to produce valuable resources like fertilizers and energy;

Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Harvard University who has studied how evictions harm America's urban poor—sometimes by moving into low-income housing for months at a time himself;

William Dichtel, a chemist at Cornell University who has developed porous polymers known as covalent organic frameworks;

LaToya Ruby Frazier, a photographer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who creates "visual autobiographies" that depict social inequality;

Ben Lerner, a writer and English professor at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College who writes poetry, novels, and essays;

Dimitri Nakassis, a classicist at the University of Toronto researching prehistoric Greek societies;

John Novembre, a computational biologist at the University of Chicago exploring how genetic sequencing can help pinpoint ancestry—often within several hundred miles;

Christopher Ré, a Stanford University computer scientist who is investigating the "dark data" buried in text, illustrations, and other unprocessable work;

Mariana Rustow, a historian at Princeton University using the Cairo Geniza texts to study Jewish life in medieval Middle East;

Beth Stevens, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School who has conducted groundbreaking work that suggests certain brain cells may be linked with autism, Huntington's Disease, and other neurological conditions;

Heidi Williams, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has researched cancer drug development; and

Peidong Yang, an inorganic chemist at the University of California, Berkeley who is transforming the field of nanowires, which could potentially be used to help with clean energy (MacArthur release, accessed 9/28).

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