Every year, the "Genius Grant" recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship span the disciplines, including scientists, poets, painters, historians, physicians, mathematicians and activists, among others. Of this year's varied group (the full list can be found here) several of the winners of the 500,000 grant, which honors individuals that have demonstrated exceptional creativity in their work, will be putting that money towards good environmental use. Check out this year's green geniuses:
Peter Huybers, Climate Scientist, Harvard University
Why he's a genius: Huybers has taken on a daunting task—his work attempts to explain global climate change throughout time, beginning with the Pleistocene era. Huybers has studied the cycle of glaciation, including its relationship to volcanic activity. He's also studied the skewing of seasons.
The season skewing means that the hottest and coldest days of the year come about two days sooner than they did 50 years ago, according to a study published in the Jan. 22 edition of the journal Nature. The study also found that the difference between average winter and summer temperatures shrank in the same 50-year span, indicating winters are heating up faster than summers. The change coincides with the rise in global temperatures, which could suggest a link to human-induced global warming.
Daniel Sigman, Biogeochemist, Princeton University
Why he's a genius: Sigman studies ocean fertility, and how it's been affected by climate change. Collecting sediment on the ocean floor allows him to discover "the quantitative net contribution of ocean biology to the carbon cycle over geological time scales," as well as the effect of biomass in carbon cycling today. According to the MacArthur Foundation, "Such advances promise to give us an ever-sharper picture of the physical, chemical, geological, and biological forces that have regulated the oceans’ fertility and the Earth’s climate over the past two million years."
Beth Shapiro, Evolutionary Biologist, Penn State University
Why she's a genius: Through sequencing the DNA of extinct or endangered species, Shapiro can estimate their population. She's found that the decline of the bison population in North America began thousands of years before the animals were hunted by humans. Now, she's turning her attention to the polar bears, in order to study their population and biodiversity in relation to climate change, which will aid future conservation efforts.
Rackstraw Downes, Painter
Why he's a genius: Downes paints the American landscape as it appears, not as it should be. That means that oil rigs, water-flow monitoring stations and electrical transformers cut up the scenery. His work explores the tension between the man-made and the natural world, but in doing so, reveals a beauty explicit in both. See some of his paintings here.