MIT Alumni awarded 2020 “Genius Grants”

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Three MIT alumni have won a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship, a prestigious honor unofficially known as the “Genius Grant.”

“In the midst of civil unrest, a global pandemic, natural disasters, and conflagrations, this group of 21 exceptionally creative individuals offers a moment for celebration,” says Cecilia Conrad, managing director of the 40-year-old fellowship program. Each recipient will receive a $625,000, no-strings-attached award.

Learn about the MIT-affiliated recipients:

Isaiah Andrews PhD ’14, professor of economics at Harvard University

As an econometrician, working in the subfield of economics that develops new statistical tools, Andrews is developing robust methods of statistical inference to address key challenges in economics, social science, and medicine.

From the MacArthur Foundation website:

“Much of Andrews’s work has focused on problems of weak identification, where information is limited and the validity of many standard inference procedures is thus called into question. The causal effect of one variable on another is said to be identified if it could be learned from a sufficiently large dataset. Weak identification arises when a small change in the distribution of the data would eliminate our ability to determine the causal effect. In an examination of nonlinear models, Andrews and a collaborator produced a pathbreaking analysis of the geometric structure of weak identification with applications in macroeconomic models.…” Read more.

Monika H. Schleier-Smith PhD ’11, associate professor of physics at Stanford University

As an experimental physicist in the field of quantum information science, Schleier-Smith focuses on the idea that information does not need to be encoded locally in individual particles but rather can be stored in correlations between different particles.

From the MacArthur Foundation website:

“Schleier-Smith devises and implements experimental set-ups and techniques involving laser-cooled atoms that allow her to isolate and manipulate physical phenomena that were not previously accessible in experiments. In collaboration with colleagues, she used light-mediated interactions between atoms trapped in an optical cavity to generate, detect, and measure quantum entanglement, a fragile and difficult-to-study phenomenon that occurs when a pair or group of particles interact in such a way that their behavior becomes correlated.…” Read more.

Mohammad R. Seyedsayamdost PhD ’08, associate professor of chemistry at Princeton University

A biological chemist, Seyedsayamdost seeks new therapeutic agents to combat infections.

From the MacArthur Foundation website:

“Seyedsayamdost is investigating the synthesis of new small molecules with bioactive or therapeutic properties. Leveraging commercially available libraries of small molecules (oftentimes known antibiotics), Seyedsayamdost developed a method called HiTES (High-Throughput Elicitor Screening) that can rapidly activate otherwise silent (or cryptic) secondary metabolic pathways and, therefore, production of the corresponding natural products. He then uses a range of methods, including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, computational and analytical chemistry, and imaging mass spectrometry to analyze and characterize the structure (and potential uses) of these complex natural products.…” Read more.

Learn about all of the 2020 MacArthur fellows, and read about the MIT alumni and faculty who were honored with a fellowship in 201820162012, and 2010

This article originally appeared on the MIT Alumni Association’s Slice of MIT blog.