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The 2013 MacArthur Fellows

September 27, 2013

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has just announced its 2013 Fellows Class. MacArthur Fellowships have been awarded to twenty-four people this year, of whom twelve work in STEM fields.[1] I wrote about last year's Fellows Class in a previous article (MacArthur 2012 Scientists, October 5, 2012).

Unlike prizes such as the Nobel Prize which are awarded for accomplishment, the MacArthur Fellowships are awarded for potential. The stated purpose of the fellowships is to allow the fellows an opportunity to "exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society."[2] This year's fellows receive a "no strings attached" award of $625,000, which is paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years.[2]

There are some familiar names in science among past years' fellows, and I presented a short list in a previous article (MacArthur Fellows 2010, October 5, 2010). A biographical note for each of this year's STEM-field recipients appears below. Interestingly, there are an equal number of men and women, and there's even one in my profession of materials science. Clicking on a photograph will take you to the thumbnail biography in the text.

Phil Baran C. Kevin Boyce Colin Camerer Angela Duckworth
Craig Fennie Carl Haber Dina Katabi David Lobell
Susan Murphy Sheila Nirenberg Ana Maria Rey Sara Seager
The scientists in the MacArthur 2013 Fellows Program. Left to right by row, top row, Phil Baran, C. Kevin Boyce, Colin Camerer and Angela Duckworth; middle row, Craig Fennie, Carl Haber, Dina Katabi and David Lobell; bottom row, Susan Murphy, Sheila Nirenberg, Ana Maria Rey and Sara Seager. Photos licensed under a Creative Commons license, Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Phil Baran
Organic Chemist, Phil Baran (Age 36; Ph.D., Scripps Research Institute, 2001), is a professor in the Department of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla, CA). Baran was a postdoctoral associate at Harvard University from 2001-2003.

Baran has been developing synthesis techniques for pharmacologically interesting compounds isolated from natural sources and important for their antibacterial, antiviral, and tumor-inhibiting activity. He has synthesized cortistatin A, a steroidal alkaloid with potential for treatment of macular degeneration and cancer; and ouabagenin, a steroid for the treatment of congestive heart failure.

C. Kevin Boyce
Paleobotanist, C. Kevin Boyce (Age 39; Ph.D., Harvard University, 2001), is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University (Stanford, CA). he held a National Research Council Associateship with the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 2001-2003, and he was with the University of Chicago from 2003-2013.

Boyce's studies of leaf vein density in angiosperms demonstrated that their ability to cycle water at much faster rates than other plants was a factor in the formation of modern rainforests.

Colin Camerer
Behavioral Economist, Colin Camerer (Age 53; Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1981), is a Professor of Behavioral Economics at the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences of the California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA). Before joining Caltech in 1994, Camerer was at the University of Chicago (1991-1994), the University of Pennsylvania (1983-1989), and Northwestern University (1981-1983).

Camerer was a pioneer of behavioral game theory, which models such human activities as bargaining, bluffing, and signaling, and its application to the emerging field of neuroeconomics. This work leads to a better understanding of such economic phenomena as savings, consumption, and market bubbles.

Angela Duckworth
Research Psychologist, Angela Duckworth (Age 43; Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2006), is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA). She was a high school math and science teacher before joining the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in 2007.

Duckworth studies traits that predict success in life, two of which are "grit," the tendency to persist in our efforts toward long-term goals; and self-control. Her studies show that self-control predicts report card grades better than measured intelligence.

Craig Fennie
Materials Scientist, Craig Fennie (Age 40; Ph.D., Rutgers University, 2006), is an Assistant Professor at the School of Applied and Engineering Physics of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). Fennie was a postdoctoral fellow at Argonne National Laboratory from 2006-2008 before joining the Cornell faculty.

Fennie is using a first principles approach to the design of new materials, and he works with experimental physicists to test his predictions. One of his predictions was that a stretched europium-titanium oxide would exhibit a strong coupling between its electrical and magnetic properties.

Carl Haber
Audio Preservationist, Carl Haber (Age 54; Ph.D., Columbia University, 1985), is a Senior Scientist in the Physics Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley, CA). Haber has been with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for his entire professional career.

Haber has been developing technologies for the preservation of deteriorating sound recordings on such media as wax cylinders, lacquer discs, and tinfoil. Haber and his colleagues have developed a non-contact optical method for extracting high-quality sound from degraded media. This method was used to extract the only known recording of Alexander Graham Bell's voice.

Dina Katabi
Computer Scientist, Dina Katabi (Age 42; Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003), is a Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA). Katabi has spent her entire professional career at MIT.

Katabi works on methods to enhance the speed, reliability, and security of digital communication, including wireless data transmission. One application is for communication with medical appliances, which need to transmit unencrypted data to allow emergency medical personnel access without security codes.

David Lobell
Agricultural Ecologist, David Lobell (Age 34; Ph.D., Stanford University, 2005), is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science of Stanford University (Stanford, CA). Lobell was a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 2005-2007.

Lobell investigates how climate change will impact worldwide crop production and food security. His multidisciplinary approach uses such disciplines as remote sensing, statistics and agronomy. Lobell's research has found that maize is much more sensitive to heat extremes and drought conditions than previously thought.

Susan Murphy
Statistician, Susan Murphy (Age 55; Ph.D., the University of North Carolina, 1989), is a Professor of Statistics in the Department of Statistics of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI). Before joining the faculty of the University of Michigan, Murphy was at Pennsylvania State University from 1989-1997.

Murphy uses statistics to develop treatment plans for people with chronic or relapsing disorders such as depression or substance abuse. In such cases, the best therapeutic approach is based on the patient's current state, the stage of the disease, and the patient's response to prior treatments.

Sheila Nirenberg
Neuroscientist, Sheila Nirenberg (Age Not Listed; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1993), is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the Weill Cornell Medical College (New York, NY).

Nirenberg's research centers on whether there might be an alternative approach to restoring sight after photoreceptor cell degeneration. Nirenberg invented a computerized eyeglass prosthetic that transmits visual information to ganglion cells, instead.

Ana Maria Rey
Atomic Physicist, Ana Maria Rey (Age 36; Ph.D., the University of Maryland, 2004), is a Fellow of JILA, previously known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, of the University of Colorado (Boulder, CO). Rey was a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology from 2004-2005, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics from 2005-2008 before joining JILA.

Rey works on optical-lattice systems, which have application to quantum simulation and quantum information storage; and she is working on the problem of stabilizing large-scale quantum entanglement between atoms, which would improve quantum computation.

Sara Seager
Astrophysicist, Sara Seager (Age 42; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1999), is a Professor of Planetary Science and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA). Seager was at the Institute for Advanced Study from 1999-2002 and the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 2002-2006 before joining the MIT faculty.

Seager is exploring the possible existence of life on other planets. She's following up on her earlier work that showed that it's possible to observe an extrasolar planet's atmosphere, which leads to the possibility of remotely detecting biosignature gases.


  1. 2013 MacArthur Fellows, MacArthur Foundation Web Site.
  2. The MacArthur Fellows Program, MacArthur Foundation Web Site.

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