Two U-Md. Grads Among MacArthur 'Genius' Awardees

By Anita Huslin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The calls went out last week, and today the 25 men and women who got them finally will be unburdened of their monumental secret: You have been selected to be one of the 2006 MacArthur Fellows.

Since 1981, 732 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82, have been chosen by the program that bestows hundreds of thousands of dollars and a simple instruction on how to use the money: Go for it.

"It" in the case of this year's crop of fellows, each of whom will receive $500,000, could be anything from writing books or performing music to studying rare genetic diseases and the health issues of African American men.

Among the honorees whom the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is announcing today are scientists and authors who focus on deforestation and deep-sea degradation, a cosmologist who studies the big-bang theory, a technologist who specializes in cryptology and Internet security, a satirist and a playwright. There are also an engineer who studies mathematical theory and aviation safety, a surgeon and an artist who turns mental health institutions into memorials.

Each fellow will receive $25,000 quarterly for the next five years and can use the money -- popularly known as "genius grants" -- however he or she wishes.

Two University of Maryland graduates -- a Nashville-based neurobiologist and a pharmaceutical entrepreneur originally from Baltimore -- are among the awardees.

Snakes and salamanders from the woods around his home in Columbia were the early subjects of Kenneth Catania's curiosity. Since then, his research into the evolution of mammalian brains caught the eye of anonymous MacArthur nominators. Catania, 40, was just finishing up a class at Vanderbilt University last week when he got The Call.

In a world in which finding research funding can be a large part of the work, he hopes to use the grant to find ways of branching out his research.

"It's such a golden opportunity to unify, to really try some things or some studies or ideas that are just so different that they're not necessarily things people would be normally funding," said Catania (U-Md. Class of '91).

For Victoria Hale ('83), it will offer an opportunity to step back and do more networking and strategic planning for her start-up company. That nonprofit works to develop and deliver pharmaceuticals to developing countries and has been funded by the Gates Foundation.

For John Armand Rich, a physician and professor at Drexel University, it could mean more time to work on his book, telling the stories of young black men who are victims of urban violence.

For narrative journalist Adrian LeBlanc, whose work on such topics as urban poverty and violence has been acclaimed for its depth and detail, the grant will enable her to take the time to consider new projects -- and hire a transcriptionist.

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