Three Massachusetts professors received coveted “genius” grants this year from the MacArthur Foundation, which each year awards stipends to luminaries in the arts, academia, and other fields to support their work, the foundation said Wednesday.
All told, 25 people were awarded $800,000 grants, which are paid out over five years. Among them were Danna Freedman, an MIT inorganic chemist, Melanie Matchett Wood, a Harvard University mathematician, and Loretta J. Ross, a prominent reproductive and human rights activist who teaches at Smith College, the foundation posted on its website.
“Using the tools of synthetic chemistry, Freedman is designing molecules that can act as qubits — the building blocks of quantum systems — in conditions that are more readily achievable than those previously required,” the foundation said.
Freedman, 41, said in a statement that her field can unlock mysteries beyond chemistry.
“The unmatched control inherent in synthetic chemistry opens doors to other fields and discoveries beyond chemistry,” Freedman said. “We can think about areas where this precision and tunability can transform other fields and harness the attributes of synthetic chemistry in new directions. By designing and creating chemical systems, we can uncover new science in areas ranging from quantum information science to magnetism.”
Ross, 69, is an associate professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College, the foundation said, and for decades has been “a reproductive justice and human rights activist reframing reproductive rights within a broader context of human rights.”
Ross coauthored the 2017 textbook “Reproductive Justice: An Introduction,” the foundation said, and in 1997 cofounded the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective to unite reproductive justice groups around the mission of educating policymakers about the issue.
“Not letting success go to my head or failure go to my heart is one of the timeless lessons I hope my life’s journey offers others,” Ross said in a statement. “What I’ve gone through has been the crucible to prepare me for future challenges. It’s not that I’m never scared; I’ve just learned never to let my fears stop me from becoming more than what’s happened to me. Activism has been the art of making my life matter.”
Wood, 41, investigates foundational questions in what’s known as pure mathematics, the foundation said.
“She develops probabilistic models for number theoretic objects (such as prime numbers) to reveal how they will behave on average,” the foundation said. “Wood and collaborators developed such a model for the distribution of ranks of elliptic curves. ... Wood is revealing new properties of natural numbers that are relevant to other mathematical conjectures and theorems, thereby setting the stage for new discoveries in number theory in the future.”
In a statement, Wood said numbers and their properties are among humanity’s most ancient and universal interests.
“Yet numbers hold more secrets that we are still working to reveal,” Wood said. “Unlocking these mysteries requires new perspectives and often happens when we discover surprising connections between different parts of mathematics.”
Material from the Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.