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Harvard Scholars Win `Genius' Awards

MacArthur Foundation Gives Prestigious Prizes to Astronomer, Mathematician

By Kelly A.E. Mason

Two Harvard scholars--a mathematician who emigrated from the Soviet Union and a scientist credited with discovering the "Great Wall" in space--last weekend nabbed prestigious MacArthur Awards, one of academia's most coveted prizes.

Professor of Mathematics David Kazhdan and Professor of Astronomy Margaret J. Geller won $265,000 and $275,000, respectively, the MacArthur Foundation announced yesterday. Each year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation gives awards--often called the "genius awards"--to scholars and artists who demonstrate talent and creativity in their fields.

The stipends contain no stipulations on spending.

There is no application process for the award and both scholars said they were suprised that they had won it.

"I see this as a present, and I am grateful for the present," said Kazhdan, 44, who said he had heard of the awards only once before being notified of his own.

Kazhdan said the first thing he intends to do with his winnings is give the government its full share of the grant, which is fully taxable. But Kazhdan, who left the Soviet Union 15 years ago, said he plans to use some of the remaining funds to help young scientists, especially those in the Soviet Union.

"Some part I'll use to help the number of good scientists emigrating from Russia to Israel," Kazhdan says. The rest, he said, will go "to put the kids through college."

While Kazhdan said he is appreciative of the grant, he does not see it as necessarily validating the work he does, or especially significant of the creativity the foundation touts.

"Being creative--that's what we are obliged to do since we are scientists," Kazhdan said.

Geller, who could not be reached for comment, has long been praised for her innovations in astronomy. She specializes in mapping the three dimensional distribution of galaxies, and is most famous for her discovery of the "Great Wall," a structure of galaxies a billion trillion miles long.

Geller, who appears frequently on television news and science programs, said in a statement that she plans to use some of the funds to produce a film that illustrates how she did her research, while capturing the beauty of science. Another portion of the funds, she added, she will donate to help build a $12 million telescope in Chile which could help her further research.

"It's an enormous amount of money," Geller said in the statement. "One can do many things with it."

The MacArthur Foundation has named 319 grant recipients since 1981, and has awarded more than $800 million since 1978. Kazhdan is the fifth scholar from Harvard's mathematics department to win a MacArthur grant.

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