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Meet 24 modern-day 'geniuses'

A look at some of the most creative people of the year.

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Topic: Innovation
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1 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

What makes a genius?

In the eyes of the MacArthur Foundation you can be an economist or jazz musician, a computer scientist or choreographer, but you need to have one trait in common: "exceptional creativity."
 
Of course, what makes someone "creative" is just as subjective as what makes someone a "genius." Fortunately, the MacArthur Foundation has helped sort that out for us with their annual group of Macarthur "Genius" Fellows.
 
Since 1981, the foundation has awarded 873 people with the unrestricted grant to pursue their interests. This year’s recipients will receive a $625,000 grant (an increase from $500,000) that is distributed over five years.
 
"This year’s class of MacArthur Fellows is an extraordinary group of individuals who collectively reflect the breadth and depth of American creativity," said Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows Program. "They are artists, social innovators, scientists, and humanists who are working to improve the human condition and to preserve and sustain our natural and cultural heritage. Their stories should inspire each of us to consider our own potential to contribute our talents for the betterment of humankind."
 
Read on to meet some of the most creative people in the United States.
 
Photo: Flickr/Andrew.T@NN
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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2 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Kyle Abraham

Choreographer and Dancer
New York, N.Y.
Age: 36
 
Bio: Founder of the dance company Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion. His works include "The Radio Show" (2010) and "Pavement" (2012) 
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Although early in his career, Abraham is establishing a singular choreographic style and creative vision for exploring important contemporary issues with a clarity and beauty that resonates with a wide range of audiences."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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3 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Donald Antrim

Writer
New York, N.Y.
Age: 55
 
Bio: Named one of the best writers under 40 by The New Yorker in 1999. Author of four books, including "The Hundred Brothers," which was a finalist for the 1998 PEN/Faulkner Award in fiction.
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Antrim creates fictional worlds that are both commonplace and yet surreal, combining close observations of the banality of everyday life with the absurd. ... Antrim continues to compose works of fiction that astonish and captivate."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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4 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Phil Baran

Organic Chemist
La Jolla, Calif.
Age: 36
 
Bio: Professor at Scripps Research Institute. Invented new techniques to synthesize natural products en masse with minimal environmental impact.
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Baran’s research is not only enhancing our ability to make fundamental structures for a broad range of medicines and materials, but is also strengthening the intellectual foundations of organic chemistry."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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5 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

C. Kevin Boyce

Paleobotanist
Stanford, Calif.
Age: 39
 
Bio: Professor at Stanford University. A leader in a subfield of paleontology that links development patterns of living organisms with fossils.
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Boyce is solving mysteries about the morphology of plants that have puzzled scientists for decades and establishing macroecological perspectives of emergent biodiversity, while also challenging evolutionary scientists to embrace new angles of research to advance knowledge and discovery."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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6 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Jeffrey Brenner

Primary Care Physician
Camden, N.J.
Age: 44
 
Bio: Developed a new healthcare model to better address the health and social service needs of people in impoverished communities. Established the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers.
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Brenner has demonstrated that using this model of cooperative care—identifying and visiting high-risk patients, earning their trust, offering access to clinical services, heading off medical complications before they occur, addressing social needs before they become medical problems—can reduce repeated emergency room visits and hospitalizations and lower health care costs."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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7 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Colin Camerer

Behavioral Economist
Pasadena, Calif.
Age: 53
 
Bio: Professor at the California Institute of Technology. His studies have lead to new economic theories. "Early architect of behavioral game theory."
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Camerer’s innovative thinking and modeling acumen are fostering an even more nuanced analysis of individual behavior and the practical policy implications of neuroscientific insights about human decision making."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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8 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Jeremy Denk

Pianist and Writer
New York, N.Y.
Age: 43
 
Bio: Has performed as a soloist for many top orchestras. His writing on music has appeared in publications like The New Yorker and New York Times Book Review. Faculty member at Bard College Conservatory of Music.
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "An extraordinary pianist and essayist of keen musical intellect, Denk is engaging listeners and readers in a deeper appreciation of classical music."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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9 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Angela Duckworth

Research Psychologist
Philadelphia, Pa.
Age: 43
 
Bio: Professor at The University of Pennsylvania. Pioneering research that shows children can learn strategies for internalizing self-control. Research has appeared in numerous psychological journals.
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "Duckworth is providing an alternative to the focus on cognitive skills now dominant in American education practice and contributing significantly to a reevaluation of education policies in the United States."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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10 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Craig Fennie

Materials Scientist
Ithaca, N.Y.
Age: 40
 
Bio: Professor at Cornell University. Has used theoretical physics and solid-state chemistry to discover new materials. 
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Fennie’s theoretical work is not only laying the foundation for the design of materials with the potential to transform electronics and communication technology, but it could also lead to the creation of new structurally and chemically complex materials with capabilities beyond our current understanding and imagination."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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11 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Robin Fleming

Medieval Historian
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Age: 57
 
Bio: Professor at Boston College. Author of "Britain after Rome: The Fall and Rise of the Middle Ages, c. 400–1070."
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "Fleming is changing the way historians view early medieval Britain and providing a framework for incorporating material culture into the writing of history."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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12 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Carl Haber

Audio Preservationist
Berkeley, Calif.
Age: 54
 
Bio: A scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is creating new ways to preserve audio recordings that are deteriorating or otherwise inaccessible. 
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Haber is poised to revolutionize the preservation of rare, damaged, and deteriorating sound recordings of immense value to our cultural heritage."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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13 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Vijay Iyer

Jazz Pianist and Composer
New York, N.Y.
Age: 41
 
Bio: A pianist, composer, bandleader, electronic musician, and writer. His work connects numerous genres and disciplines. He has also completed scholarly research on the act of listening. In 2014, he will join the faculty at the Harvard University Department of Music.
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Iyer is creating a unique voice in diverse musical contexts while reaffirming the place of music not just as entertainment but as an essential part of human society."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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14 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Dina Katabi

Computer Scientist
Cambridge, Mass.
Age: 42
 
Bio: Professor at MIT. She is working to improve speed, reliability, and security of data exchange.
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "Katabi has become a leader in accelerating our capacity to communicate high volumes of information securely without restricting mobility."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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15 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Julie Livingston

Public Health Historian and Anthropologist
New Brunswick, N.J.
Age: 46
 
Bio: Professor at Rutgers University. Her work focuses on illuminating widely ignored health care crises in the developing and developed world.
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "Livingston exposes the limits of biomedicine and the unlikelihood that technology alone will fix health issues in Africa or anywhere else. Such in-depth examination of physical impairment and terminal disability is challenging global health partners to address a very real but largely ignored crisis of care in Africa."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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16 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

David Lobell

Agricultural Ecologist
Stanford, Calif.
Age: 34
 
Bio: Professor at Stanford University. His research is using innovative data sources to better understand climate change.
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "Lobell’s work is addressing critical questions about how to meet a rapidly growing demand for food across a warming, changing planet."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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17 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Tarell McCraney

Playwright
Chicago, Ill.
Age: 32
 
Bio: Ensemble Member at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Plays include: "The Brother/Sister Plays" (2009) and "Head of Passes" (2013).
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "McCraney is demonstrating to new and younger audiences the ability of theatre to evoke a sense of our shared humanity and emerging as an important voice in American theatre."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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18 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Susan Murphy

Statistician
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Age: 55
 
Bio: Professor at the University of Michigan. In her work she uses statistical theories to find the best treatment options for people with chronic or relapsing disorders
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "By translating statistical theory into powerful tools for evaluating and tailoring complex medical therapies, Murphy is poised to have a significant impact on the field of personalized medicine, an area of great activity in biomedical research today."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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19 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Sheila Nirenberg

Neuroscientist
New York, N.Y.
 
Bio: Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is working on an alternative approach to restoring sight after photoreceptor cell degeneration.
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "In addressing fundamental questions about sensory signal processing in both mammals and machines, Nirenberg is poised to catalyze a major leap in the science of visual perception."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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20 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Alexei Ratmansky

Choreographer
New York, N.Y.
Age: 45
 
Bio: Artist in Residence at the American Ballet Theatre. He's working to revitalize classical ballet with a modern twist.
 
Why he's a 'Genius': "As Ratmansky re-envisions the classical repertoire and creates his own striking contemporary works, he is moving the field of ballet in new directions while honoring the accomplishments of the past."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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21 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Ana Maria Rey

Atomic Physicist
Boulder, Colo.
Age: 36
 
Bio: Professor at the University of Colorado. She is currently working on a theoretical framework for an optical-lattice quantum computer based on alkaline earth metals.
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "Rey has started her independent career in research with significant contributions to condensed matter physics that harken a promising trajectory for novel theoretical approaches to quantum phenomena."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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22 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Karen Russell

Fiction Writer
New York, N.Y.
Age: 32
 
Bio: The novelist and short story writer's work includes: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006), "Swamplandia!" (2011), and "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" (2013)
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "Through the wildly inventive premises of these and other stories, Russell is widening the scope of her already far-reaching and distinctive imagination.
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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23 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Sara Seager

Astrophysicist
Cambridge, Mass.
Age: 42
 
Bio: Professor at MIT. Her work explores the possibility of life throughout the galaxy and uses theoretical frameworks for describing characteristics of planets beyond our solar system
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "A visionary scientist contributing importantly in every aspect of her field, Seager is finding new celestial frontiers and fueling curiosity about life in worlds beyond our reach."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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24 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Margaret Stock

Immigration Lawyer
Anchorage, Alaska
Age: 51
 
Bio: Attorney at Cascadia Cross Border Law.
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "Stock is challenging our complex immigration laws in order to provide more humane and rational policies that will also serve American national security interests."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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25 of 25 Tyler Falk/ZDNet

Carrie Mae Weems

Artist
Syracuse, N.Y.
Age: 60
 
Bio: Weems uses photography and video to explore African American identity, class, and culture in the United States.
 
Why she's a 'Genius': "Weems is demonstrating the power of art to directly impact a community broadly, beyond patrons of museums or private exhibitions."
 
 
Photo: MacArthur Foundation
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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