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How the MacArthur 'Genius Grants' Help Us All

The MacArthur Foundation has announced its 2013 MacArthur Fellows. Each year, the foundation provides stipends of $625,000 - popularly known as "genius grants" - to encourage "people of outstanding talent" to pursue their ambitions in the arts, sciences, education, social entrepreneurship and other fields.

One of the great things about the MacArthur grants is that they benefit the rest of us, because recipients often do work that touch our lives in one way or another. Past fellows have included people such as Dr. Eric Coleman, a geriatrician at the University of Colorado, Denver who received a 2012 grant to further his effort to reduce health-care errors, and Marie-Therese Connolly, a 2011 fellow, who has crusaded against neglect and abuse in nursing homes.

Here are a few of this year's recipients who are also doing work that may benefit older Americans:

  • Sheila Nirenberg, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, is exploring how the brain decodes visual information, toward the goal of designing prosthetic eyes that can take the place of eyes damaged by diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. 
  • Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, a primary care physician in Camden, N.J., has founded the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, a support organization designed to assist patients with complex medical problems - such as chronic diseases or conditions requiring multiple medications - who otherwise might make multiple emergency room visits and burden the health-care system with excessive, avoidable costs. CCHP aims to identify patients who come to the hospital frequently and hook them up with a team of nurses, a health coach and a social worker who'll work to address their needs through primary - rather than emergency-room - care.
  • Susan Murphy, a statistics professor at the University of Michigan, has developed the Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial (SMART), a decision-making model for the practice of medicine. SMART helps doctors to evaluate courses of treatment for patients with chronic diseases, as well as relapsing disorders such as depression and substance abuse, and better tailor treatments to them.
  • Carl Haber, an experimental physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is working on ways to preserve sound recordings in long-obsolete formats such as wax cylinders, metal discs and tinfoil. Technology that he helped develop was used to play an 1860 recording of Alexander Graham Bell that is the oldest known replication of the human voice.  


Also of Interest
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