Skip to Content
MIT News magazine

Four Geniuses and a Laureate

Alumni honored with MacArthur, Nobel awards
December 21, 2009

Sometimes unexpected phone calls actually bear good news rather than dubious offers of free credit reports. Consider five MIT alumni who received such calls this fall: one learned he’d won a Nobel Prize, and four others found out they were among the 24 new MacArthur Fellows announced in September 2009.

The MacArthur honor, awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. ­MacArthur Foundation and popularly known as a “genius” grant, is worth $500,000 with no strings attached. The awardees were all cited for their “exceptional originality in and dedication to their creative pursuits.”

Esther Duflo, PhD ‘99, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT, was chosen for her studies exploring new ways of reducing global poverty. Duflo has been a leader in developing randomized field experiments to assess what types of foreign aid and investment can produce sustainable long-term benefits. (For more details, see “Poverty’s Researcher,” p. M22.)

The foundation cited Peter Huybers, SM ‘02, PhD ‘04, an assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard, for his climate studies. Huybers conducts research that helps explain changes in the size of the earth’s ice sheets over the last three million years, as well as fluctuations in temperature over the same period.

John A. Rogers, SM ‘92, PhD ‘95, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois, was named a fellow for his work in materials science. Rogers is developing flexible semiconductors, based either on silicon or on carbon nanotubes, that could lead to new devices with signal-processing capabilities. Applications could range from medicine to clean energy to consumer goods.

Daniel Sigman, PhD ‘97, a biogeochemist at Princeton University, was given the award for research reconstructing the chemical history of the earth’s oceans. Sigman’s analysis of sedimentary deposits has helped illuminate the ways oceanic biomass has affected the climate over the past two million years.

In October, Oliver ­Williamson ‘55 won the Nobel Prize in economic sciences (sharing the honor with Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University). ­Williamson, a professor emeritus of business, economics, and law at the University of California, Berkeley, was cited for the work he has done to explain the role of corporations within free markets. He published influential papers outlining how corporations help the marketplace function by allowing complicated transactions to take place more efficiently.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.