Tuesday, September 29, 2015

She's a Genius - The Women of the 2015 MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program

The Class of 2015 MacArthur Fellows has been announced and, again, it's an exclusive club of brilliant minds -- scientists, artists, and thinkers -- who are challenging what we already know and leading us in new directions. This program is nicknamed the "Genius Grant" for good reason: each recipient is being honored for their ability to think in a completely new way, applying their particular brand of "genius" to whatever passion they pursue.
"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer
This year nine remarkable women are being recognized for their efforts to share new discoveries, show us new ways of interacting, and bring us closer to the truth about what it is to be human.

Michelle Dorrance - tap dancer and choreographer
Michelle's genius is her ability to build a whole new level of appreciation for tap dancing as a historically important physical and musical art form. Her choreography takes a dance style that is typically performed solo or in small groups with each individual competing to out-hoof the others, and turns it into a long-form story piece involving an ensemble -- similar to ballet or modern danec performances -- moving through the space. Through this movement she is able to engage the audience in both a visual and aural experience.

Nicole Eisenman - painter and sculptor
Nicole's genius is her ability to use her art to tell the stories of modern living. Through her paintings she is showing us ourselves -- our worries, our desires, our humanity. Her work often focuses on the possession of power, whether in the form of wealth accumulation, or in gender roles and family dynamics. In some pieces, she has created a modern answer to classical paintings, helping to place modern life within the context of human experiences as told through art. She sees us as we are, in all our human beauty and ugliness.

LaToya Ruby Frazier - photographer and video artist
LaToya's genius is her ability to use her camera to capture the lingering impacts of race, gender, and social inequality in a post-industrial landscape. Her setting is her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania -- a once-thriving African American steel working town, now suffering from extreme neglect and all the ills that come with that affliction. Her series include stark black and white photographs intimately documenting the effects of poverty and social injustice on three generations of her family -- herself, her mother, and her grandmother -- as well as full color aerial photographs showing the physical transformations on the larger community.

Mimi Lien - set designer
Mimi's genius is her ability to use her architectural training to create immersive theater sets that do more than simple "set the stage" for a performance -- they are part of the performance, and often force the audience to take part as well. Through her designs, she is able to "dictate human behavior" by creating a space in such a was as to enable the performers to best tell their story and draw the audience more deeply into the performance.

Marina Rustow - historian
Marina's genius is her ability to look in new places for information that might otherwise be lost to history. While some historians only look at prominent historical records, Marina has found that by looking at everyday documents she can tell a much fuller story about the people in the past and how they lived. Her research into the Cairo Geniza texts has helped to give a more accurate accounting of life in medieval Middle East and social and political relations between Muslims, Christians and Jews in the area.

Beth Stevens - neuroscientist
Beth's genius is her ability to transform the way we think about the brain. Her research has uncovered an as-yet unknown role of microglia -- the brain's immune system -- in brain development, showing that it is primarily responsible for the natural synaptic pruning that occurs. Immune proteins tag disused synapses signaling the microglia to eliminate it. In a healthy brain, this happens to the betterment of thought processes, creating a more efficient brain structure. Her future research will look into whether cognitive disorders related to deficient synaptic structures such as schizophrenia or autism, or those related to degenerative cognitive functions such as Alzheimer's or Huntington's, are the result of this same kind of pruning gone haywire.

Alex Truesdell - adaptive designer and fabricator
Alex's genius is her ability to use the concepts of adaptive design to make life better for countless people, opening up new ways to interact with the world around them. What is so remarkable is that by choosing simple materials -- cardboard and white glue -- she has made it easy for her designs to be copied and personalized in nearly any part of the world, bringing the basics of adaptive theory to folks who need it, wherever they are, and for whatever they need.

Ellen Bryant Voigt - poet
Ellen's genius is her ability to use poetry to capture the often complicated and fraught realities of the natural world as experienced in a rural community. As an artist, she uses the lyricism of words to illustrate the mind's workings, adjusting the punctuation and flow to convey emotion, giving each poem a sense of serenity or panic.Through her experimentation with form and technique, she continues to expand the horizons of poetry and its ability to convey its truths.

Heidi Williams - economist
Heidi's genius is her ability to use collections of data and empirical methodologies to analyze that data to show the impact patent policies have on innovation. By studying the data related to the human genome project and the subsequent technologies related to it, she was able to show that there a complex relationship between intellectual property restrictions and future technological innovation. Through her research, she hopes to be able to fine tune the data to give a clearer picture of what improves innovation and what hinders it.

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You may also be interested in:

Movie Night - Advantageous
The decision to live as a single mother in this world was a dangerous one, she knew, but she also hoped it would give her life meaning; make it worthwhile. And, in its own way, her ultimate decision simply confirms that. It is her undying love for her daughter that drives everything she does. She cannot change the very system they are both trapped in. So she works within her constraints to give her daughter the very best chance.

Happy Birthday - Dr. Dorrit Hoffleit
During World War II, she went to work at the Aberdeen Proving Ground ballistics laboratory in Maryland. Not unlike many women working for the war effort, she was forced to take a position below her status while she watched men who had less experience take higher level jobs. Frustrated that women weren't getting the training they needed and the promotions they deserved...

In case you need a reminder... you are amazing!
I just love this poem. I revisit it whenever I'm feeling a down or frustrated or a little powerless. You are amazing. As.you.are. Stronger than you know. More beautiful than you think. Worthier than you believe. More loved that you can ever imagine. Passionate about making a difference. Fiery when protecting those you love. Learning. Growing.


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