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Four Mass. residents awarded MacArthur ‘genius’ grants

The 2023 MacArthur fellows include Massachusetts residents (clockwise from top left): Imani Perry, Lester Mackey, Jason D. Buenrostro, and Lucy Hutyra.John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Four people from Massachusetts — a cellular and molecular biologist, an environmental ecologist, a computer scientist, and an interdisciplinary scholar — on Wednesday received “genius” grants from the MacArthur Foundation, which awards fellowships to individuals pursuing a range of intellectual and creative interests.

Two other fellows have ties to Massachusetts through their educational backgrounds.

“They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers,” the Chicago-based foundation said.

Each fellow receives $800,000 in “no strings attached” funding over five years for their intellectual pursuits.


Here are the fellows with local ties:

Jason D. Buenrostro, 35, Cambridge

Buenrostro is an associate professor in Harvard University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and has been an institute member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard since 2018. He was also a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.

As a cellular and molecular biologist, Buenrostro investigates the mechanisms that regulate gene expression, according to his MacArthur Foundation biography. He has developed several new “technologies that provide deeper and more detailed views into how and when genes are expressed.”

“This is something incredibly special and unique that I’m incredibly grateful to receive,” Buenrostro, the son of Mexican American immigrants and the first in his family to attend college, told the Harvard Gazette. He said he was “absolutely floored” when he learned he had been awarded the MacArthur grant.

Buenrostro said the genome is “incredibly complex” and that “we desperately needed tools to unravel the function of our genomes and how they regulate expression from genes,” in a video uploaded by the MacArthur Foundation.

”With that understanding, we can really transform how diagnostics are made in the clinic but also how therapies are nominated and proposed for various diseases,” he continued. “The ultimate goal of our research is to understand how the changes in genome structure and current accessibility leads to changes in the expression of genes.”


María Magdalena Campos-Pons, 64, Nashville

Campos-Pons is a multidisciplinary artist who attended the MFA program at the Massachusetts College of Art in 1988. She also had a Bunting Fellowship in visual arts at Harvard from 1993 to 1994, and her work has been presented at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and the List Visual Arts Center at MIT.

Lucy Hutyra, 47, Boston

Hutyra is a professor in Boston University’s Department of Earth and Environment and has been a member of BU’s faculty since 2009. She received a PhD from Harvard University in 2007 and has been an associate of the Arnold Arboretum since 2015 and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard since 2016. She is investigating impacts of urbanization on environmental carbon cycle dynamics.

“I’m blown away, honestly,” Hutyra said in an interview. “The kind of science I do, it’s very applied work in trying to work towards climate solutions and mitigating the impacts of climate change, and to get an honor like this, which is literally about the highest honor that a scientist, next to the Nobel, can get. This is mind-blowing and humbling.”

At this point, she said she isn’t sure how she might spend the MacArthur funds.

“But it frees up my mind,” said Hutyra, who grew up in Los Angeles and Seattle. “This is a no-strings-attached fellowship. Funds can be spent on anything, and I don’t know yet what I’m going to spend them on. But that next crazy idea that’s too risky for the National Science Foundation? I can do it now!”


Lester Mackey, 38, Cambridge

Mackey is a computer scientist and statistician, a statistical machine learning researcher at Microsoft Research New England, and an adjunct professor at Stanford University whose research aims to advance “solutions to data science problems with practical applications,” according to his biography.

Linsey Marr, 48, Blacksburg, Va.

Marr is an environmental engineer and professor at Virginia Tech examining “indoor and outdoor air quality and airborne pathogens that affect human health,” according to her biography. She graduated from Harvard in 1996 before moving to the University of California, Berkeley for her graduate studies. Marr worked as a postdoctoral researcher at MIT in 2002 and 2003.

Imani Perry, 51, Cambridge

Perry is an interdisciplinary scholar and writer and a professor in studies of women, gender, and sexuality and in African and African American Studies at Harvard. Perry has written eight books, according to her university biography, including the award-winning “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry,” published in 2018. Her work seeks to give “fresh context to African American social conditions and experiences along dimensions of race, gender, and politics,” according to the MacArthur announcement.

Shannon Larson and Shanna Kelly of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her @amandakauf1. Bailey Allen can be reached at bailey.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @baileyaallen.