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Three Professors Awarded MacArthur "Genius Grants"

By Samuel Y. Weinstock, Contributing Writer

Three Harvard professors are among the 22 scholars selected to received a MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant,” the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced Tuesday.

The foundation awarded the five-year grants worth half a million dollars to Harvard Professors Markus Greiner, associate professor of physics, Roland G. Fryer Jr., professor of economics, and Matthew K. Nock, professor of psychology, as well as 19 other scholars, writers, musicians, and thinkers.

Greiner’s work on the spatial organization of ultra-cold atoms and its applications, Fryer’s investigation of the causes and consequences of racial disparities in the United States, and Nock’s study of self-injury and suicidal behavior all caught the attention of the committee.

Greiner recalled his excitement upon receiving the call that he won the award, but added that he was sworn to secrecy until the Foundation made an official announcement.

“It was a great surprise,” Greiner said. “It’s a great honor.”

Fryer described his reaction to receiving the news as “shocked” and “grateful.”

“You get a call out of the blue and someone says, ‘Are you alone?’” Fryer said. “I’m still in a little bit of shock.”

The Foundation’s selection committee, whose members’ identities are entirely confidential, chooses “individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future,” according to the group’s website.

The MacArthur Fellowship is “designed to provide seed money for intellectual, social, and artistic endeavors.” In the spirit of intellectual and artistic freedom, the grant, which is distributed in quarterly installments over five years, carries a “no strings attached policy.” That means recipients are not asked to report how they spend the money and are free to spend the money how they choose.

Although he is still deciding exactly how he will put the grant to use, Greiner is thinking about installing an exploration lab that would give physics students the chance to try out new things and retain what he described as their “play spirit.”

“That’s how innovation in the long run comes along,” Greiner said.

Fryer said he hasn’t had time to give spending the money much consideration, but says he’ll likely use it to better understand the racial achievement gap in American schools.

Harvard-affiliated names appear frequently among the 850 Fellows that the MacArthur Foundation has named since it began giving out the grant in 1981. Most recently, one year ago, Annette Gordon-Reed, professor of law and history, received the Fellowship.

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