Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Women Scientist win MacArthur "Genius" Fellowships

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation just named the recipients of the 2008 MacArthur Fellows. Twenty-five winners of the so-called "genius" fellowship will receive $500,000 with no strings attached over the next five years. Among this year's winners are several women scientists:

Andrea Ghez is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at UCLA who helped provide evidence for the first time that the center of our Milky Way galaxy is an enormous black whole. Since that discovery in 1998, she has continued to study the stars to help understand the evolution of galaxies. She commented on what the award means to her and her research:

"I am really thrilled," Ghez said. "I will be able to take more risks with my research than I could before. The current shortage of federal funding for science can lead scientists to take fewer risks, but my selection as a MacArthur Fellow will allow me to pursue new ideas and take risks."

The mother of two sons -- Evan, 7, and Miles, who will turn 3 in October -- says the MacArthur funding is "particularly exciting" for women in science.

"The MacArthur Foundation funding will allow me to be much more effective and flexible and will definitely help with the balancing act," she said.

Read Ghez's MacArthur Fellow profile.

Plant molecular biologist Kirsten Bomblies is a senior postdoctoral research associate in the laboratory of Detlef Weigel at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. Her research has focused on how new plant species originate. From her MacArthur Fellow profile:
Her findings provide a surprising molecular genetic mechanism linking developmental and evolutionary biology, and thus may represent a key advance in both disciplines.

Rachel Wilson is a an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, who studies how sensory stimuli such as the sense of smell are encoded in the fruit fly brain. She told the Boston Globe:
"We study fruit flies partly because when you sit back and think about it, a little fruit fly is an amazing little creature," she said. "Nobody in the world can build a robot that does everything a fruit fly does."
According to Wilson's MacArthur Fellow profile her research is groundbreaking:
By developing experimental models that integrate electrophysiology, neuropharmacology, molecular genetics, functional anatomy, and behavior, Wilson opens new avenues for exploring a central issue in neurobiology – how neural circuits are organized to sense and react to a complex environment.
Developmental biologist Susan Mango is a Professor in the department of Oncological Sciences at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Her lab studies the development of the pharynx (or foregut) in the nematode C. elegans in order to better understand the formation and physiology of organs. Her research has also uncovered a relationship between calorie restriction and the regulation of genes that may effect lifespan. According to her Fellow profile her research combines approaches from genetics, genomics, ecology and embryology:
Through her multifaceted exploration of the integrative biology of nematode development, Mango provides critical insights into the complex process of organogenesis.
Finally, Sally Temple is the Scientific Director of the New York Neural Stem Cell Institute in Albany, New York. She studies how embryonic neural progenitor cells develop into the diverse types of neurons that form the adult central nervous system. She told the Albany Times Union that being a mother fit well with her scientific career:
Temple said her best creative ideas come to her unexpectedly, when she's relaxed and immersed in her quotidian routine: watching her kids' sporting events, scrambling to put dinner on the table, walking through her neighborhood.

"Being a scientist is a good career for mothers, because you can work at midnight while feeding babies," she said.

Watch her video interview:

Read Temple's official MacArthur Fellow profile.

Two women physicians also were named fellows:
  • Diane Meier is "a geriatrician who is shaping the field of palliative care and making its benefits available to millions of Americans suffering from serious illness.": profile, video
  • Regina Benjamin is the founder of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic. "With a deep, firsthand knowledge of the pressing needs and health disparities afflicting rural, high-poverty communities, Benjamin is ensuring that the most vulnerable among us have access to high-quality care.": profile
(hat tip to Steinn Sigurðsson at Dynamics of Cats for noting the awards had been announced)
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Anonymous said...

woo hoo! maybe those who claim women's brains are inferior will be a little quieter in future?

Peggy K said...

Nah, they would probably claim this was "affirmative action"