CHICAGO -- A Chicago skyscraper architect, a New York City children's choir founder, and a North Carolina scientist who studies how to prevent sports-related concussions are among the latest 22 recipients of the no-strings-attached MacArthur Foundation "genius grants."
The $500,000 fellowships for 2011 were announced yesterday by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Recipients largely don't know they're in contention for the annual awards, and often learn they're winners with an out-of-the-blue phone call informing them they'll receive the money over the next five years.
"I was dumbfounded, I actually cried," said Francisco J. Nunez, 46, founder of the Young People's Chorus of New York City. Recipients can spend the money however they like, but many like Mr. Nunez say the honor of the fellowship makes them focus on what they would accomplish in their fields if only they had the means. And now they do. His group's many choir programs have more than 1,000 young singers.
As in previous years, a wide variety of fields are represented on the list of recipients, including both arts and sciences.
Three of this year's recipients are University of Michigan researchers:
Tiya Miles, director of the Department of Afro-American and African studies, focuses on the history and legacy of slavery in the United States and the relationships between African and Cherokee people in early America. While on sabbatical she founded the ECO Girls project, an environmental mentorship program that connects urban girls in southeastern Michigan with college students.
Melanie Sanford's research includes the use of metal-based agents, primarily palladium, to accelerate chemical reactions.
"This will really allow me to pursue things that are very speculative but also really exciting new areas," Ms. Sanford said.
Yukiko Yamashita studies the division of stem cells and is working to explain the process of stem cell division and its role in age-related decline in organ repair and in the onset of some disorders such as cancer.
"I feel now that I've got some freedom to try some out-of-the-blue-type ideas that probably would not receive funding through conventional research grants," Ms. Yamashita said.
The MacArthur Foundation relies on hundreds of anonymous nominators to offer names to be put in contention for the grants.
Also among the recipients:
Marie-Therese Connolly, 54, Washington lawyer who works to combat physical and psychological elder abuse and mistreatment and financial exploitation.
Jeanne Gang, 47, Chicago, an architect focusing on the geographic, social, and environmental factors of residential, educational, and commercial buildings.
Elodie Ghedin, 44, Pittsburgh, a parasitologist and assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who studies genetic sequencing techniques.
Kevin Guskiewicz, 45, Chapel Hill, N.C., a sports medicine researcher and University of North Carolina professor of exercise and sports science specializing in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sports-related concussions.
Peter Hessler, 42, Ridgway, Colo, a long-form journalist whose work explores life in reform-era China.
Matthew Nock, 38, Cambridge, Mass., a clinical psychologist and Harvard University psychology professor whose work focuses on suicide and self-injury in adolescents and adults.
Kay Ryan, 65, Fairfax, Calif., a former Poet Laureate of the United States.
Alisa Weilerstein, 29, New York, a cellist who performs traditional and contemporary music and was a guest artist with the Toledo Symphony in 2007.