People to Watch: MacArthur's Newest Geniuses

Early this morning, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation released its latest list of fellowship recipients. The 23 newest geniuses, as they've been called since the project started thirty years ago, will each receive $500,000 over the next five years to do with as they please.

A lot of the media chatter has focused on David Simon's inclusion on the list. As the creator of The Wire and Treme, he's probably the most high-profile outside of his chosen field. But take a deeper look. If the success of previous winners over time is any indication, these are some of the people to watch in 2010 and beyond -- and many of them are making big advancements in science and technology.

Some of the prize's earliest recipients, after all, include Stephen Wolfram, a computer scientist who won in 1981 and went on to found the journal Complex Systems, develop the computer algebra system Mathematica and start Wolfram|Alpha, heralded as the future of search; and Edward Witten, a theoretical physicist who was awarded the MacArthur fellowship years before becoming the first -- and only -- physicist to take home the Fields Medal, considered the Nobel Prize equivalent for mathematics.

It's expected that this year's winners will go on to do similarly important and groundbreaking work.

Where To Start: For a basic introduction to Kelly Benoit-Bird's work as a marine biologist, read Mother Jones' "The BP Cover-Up," part of the magazine's special report after the oil spill in the Gulf. Dawn Song, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, studies applied cryptography, privacy and computer security. You can see some of her current projects at BitBlaze and Seaglass. Carlos D. Bustamante, a professor of genetics at Stanford University, is a member of the school's Bio-X program, which focuses on interdisciplinary research. He is currently working on analyzing genome patterns between species to answer questions in anthropology and biology. Visit his Stanford profile for a list of recent publications. As she has been working to reduce the use of pesticides in threatened honey bee colonies, Marla Spivak has received a lot of coverage both within and outside of the science community over the past few years. To get a quick look at the work she does -- and for a primer on beekeeping -- skim through her interaction with readers from ScienceBuzz back in 2005.

A complete list of this year's recipients can be found here.

Kelly Benoit-Bird

Marine Biologist using sophisticated acoustic engineering technology to explore the previously invisible behavior of ocean creatures and address   long-unanswered questions about the structure and behavior of food chains.


Dawn Song

Computer Security Specialist exploring the deep interactions among software, hardware, and networks to increase the stability of computer systems vulnerable to remote attack or interference.

Carlos D. Bustamante

Population Geneticist mining DNA sequence data to address fundamental questions about the mechanisms of evolution, the complex origins of human genetic diversity, and patterns of population migration.                  


Marla Spivak

Entomologist protecting one of the world's most important pollinators--the honey bee--from decimation by disease while making important contributions to our understanding of bee biology.