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2018 class of MacArthur Fellows includes chemist, life scientists

Analytical chemist Livia S. Eberlin, biophysical engineer Clifford Brangwynne, and neuroscientist Doris Tsao are among the genius grant recipients this year

by Megha Satyanarayana
October 5, 2018


An analytical chemist who developed a cancer imaging tool, a biophysical engineer who studies how organelles without membranes work, and a neuroscientist who has determined which neurons are responsible for face recognition are among the 25 recipients of 2018 MacArthur Fellowships.

The awards, commonly called “genius grants,” are “intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations,” according to the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Each fellow receives $625,000, paid over five years.

Photo of Livia S. Eberlin.
Credit: MacArthur Foundation

The analytical chemist, Livia S. Eberlin of the University of Texas, Austin, uses mass spectrometry to help oncologists distinguish between cancer cells and the normal tissue that often surrounds it. Her work has led to the MassSpec Pen, which surgeons can use when cutting out tumors. Because tumor cells have different molecular activity than non-cancerous cells, the mass spec signature of a tissue sample removed during surgery can tell surgeons when to stop cutting.

In a statement from the University of Texas, Eberlin says, “I feel extremely honored and humbled because this is a very special fellowship that recognizes people for their talent and creativity, not for a specific project or their past work. They trust your work has and will continue to impact society and I am so thankful for that.”

Photo of Clifford Brangwynne.
Credit: MacArthur Foundation

The biophysicist, Clifford Brangwynne of Princeton University, has determined that dynamic assemblies of proteins and nucleic acids work outside typical membranes in the cell through phase transitions that allow liquids, even at a microscopic level, to exist next to each other without mixing.

Photo of Doris Tsao.
Credit: MacArthur Foundation

Doris Tsao of California Institute of Technology studies visual processing—how our brains process what we see. Using electrical probes and mathematical modeling, her team has learned how to predict how neurons will respond to variable facial features, and then, using only the neural signaling patterns triggered when a monkey sees a face, they can reconstruct the image of the face.

This year’s class of 25 fellows, which also includes a planetary scientist, a health economist, a pastor, and a poet, was announced Thursday.


 This story was updated on Oct. 12, 2018, to correct the spelling of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


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