fb-pixel Skip to main content

Four from Mass. receive ‘genius grants’ from MacArthur Foundation

Clockwise from top left: Ocean Vuong, Danielle Citron, Jerry X. Mitrovica, and Joshua Tenenbaum, all from Massachusetts, were among this year’s class of MacArthur fellows.John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

A legal scholar at Boston University, a cognitive scientist at MIT, a geophysicist at Harvard, and a poet who teaches at UMass Amherst are among a new class of 26 MacArthur Foundation fellows, the Chicago-based nonprofit announced.

Each recipient will receive $625,000 in funding, commonly called “genius grants,” over the next five years to use however they choose.

The grants are given to “ . . . extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential,” according to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“They give us reason for hope, and they inspire us all to follow our own creative instincts,” said John Palfrey, who is president of the foundation, which is one of the nation’s largest philanthropies with assets of about $7 billion.


Palfrey is the former head of school at Phillips Academy in Andover. He led the elite prep school since 2012, before announcing his resignation in March to join the MacArthur Foundation.

The four new MacArthur fellows from Massachusetts are distinguished in a variety of fields.

Danielle Citron, 50, a faculty member at the Boston University School of Law, was selected for “addressing the scourge of cyber harassment by raising awareness of the toll it takes on victims and proposing reforms to combat the most extreme forms of online abuse,” according to the foundation.

Citron documented “the significant harms caused by various types of cyber stalking, cyber mob attacks, and ‘revenge porn’ ” in her 2014 book, “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.”

“More recently, she has expanded the scope of her work to explore the concept of sexual privacy as a distinct privacy interest that warrants recognition and protection and is foundational to human dignity,” according to the foundation. She joined the BU Law faculty this year, having taught at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law for the previous 15 years. She also “is an affiliate scholar at the Stanford Center on Internet and Society, an affiliate fellow at the Yale Information Society Project, a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard Law School, and a senior fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum.”


Jerry X. Mitrovica is a 58-year-old theoretical geophysicist at Harvard University in Cambridge. He was chosen for “revising our understanding of the dynamics and structure of Earth’s interior and developing models to better predict the geometry and sources of sea level change in the modern world and the geological past.”

According to the group, he elucidates “the dynamics of Earth’s crust and mantle in response to glacial melting and the resulting implications for sea level rise.”

Joshua Tenenbaum, a 47-year-old cognitive scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, works at “the intersection of computational cognitive science, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence to investigate how the mind works,” according to the foundation.

He is one of the “first to develop and apply probabilistic and statistical modeling to the studying of human learning, reasoning, and perception, and to show how these models can explain a fundamental challenge of cognition: how our minds understand so much from so little, so quickly.”

Recently, Tenenbaum has broadened his focus “to the implications of his work for artificial intelligence and machine learning.” He serves a professor in MIT’s department of brain and cognitive sciences and as a “principal investigator” in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. That lab says it pioneers research “in computing that improves the way people work, play, and learn.”


Ocean Vuong, a 30-year-old poet and fiction writer, is an assistant professor in the MFA program at UMass Amherst.

His works “explore the ongoing trauma of war and conditions of exile with tragic eloquence and clarity.”

According to the foundation, Vuong is the child of illiterate rice farmers from rural Vietnam, and he came to the US as a refugee at age 2. His poetry is “infused with the rhythm, cadences, and imagery of rural Vietnamese oral storytelling and folkloric traditions married to a restless experimentation with the English language.”

His first full-length collection of poetry was 2016’s “Night Sky with Exit Wounds.” According to the foundation, he continued to explore “related themes of loss, survival, and the bridging of disparate worlds through language” in the 2019 novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.”

Another MacArthur recipient, 43-year-old marine scientist Stacy Jupiter, currently lives in Fiji but grew up in Weston, according to her mother. Jupiter integrates “local cultural practices with field research to develop conservation solutions that protect both the biodiversity of coastal ecosystems and the well-being of communities dependent on them,” the foundation said.

Jupiter graduated from Weston High School in 1993 and from Harvard in 1997, according to her mother, Beryl Jupiter.

Stacy Jupiter currently works “primarily in Melanesia, a Pacific region that includes Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea,” according to the foundation.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.