The 9 Amazing Women Behind the 2014 MacArthur “Genius Grants”

Yesterday, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded 21 individuals with an induction into the MacArthur Fellows program. The award, which is commonly referred to as a “Genius Grant,” is typically awarded to between 20 and 40 individuals each year. The Foundation insists that the “fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.”

In past years, they’ve awarded the fellowship to a diverse range of individuals, including scientists, musicians, journalists, inventors, doctors, artists, and mathematicians. This year’s class was no exception, featuring a lawyer, two poets, a historian, several activists, a filmmaker, and a cartoonist, among other professions represented.

Of the 21 honorees, nine are women. Here’s a quick background on these wonderful women and the amazing work they do.

Danielle Bassett 32-year-old Danielle Basset is a physicist making waves in the world of mathematics and neuroscience. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University in 2004, Bassett went on to earn a Ph.D. from the prestigious University of Cambridge. She is currently a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, and she regularly contributes to scientific journals.

Alison Bechdel Cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel is best known for the creation of what has come to be known as the “Bechdel Test.” The test, which Bechdel has credited to her friend Liz Wallace, examines gender representation in pop culture by asking one simple question: Does a work of fiction feature at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man? It’s absolutely stunning how often books and major studio films fail the test. The 54-year-old resident of Vermont is the author of the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, along with Fun Home: A Tragicomic and Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama.

Mary L. Bonauto Since 1990, Mary L. Bonauto has been the Civil Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. During her time there, Bonauto has devoted a great deal of work fighting for the rights of same-sex couples to adopt children, for the passage of hate crime legislation, and against discrimination in employment and public accomodations. Bonauto has been instrumental in granting same-sex couples the right to marry in an ever-growing number of states. The 53-year-old Boston resident is the Shikes Fellow in Civil Liberties and Civil Rights and a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School.

Tami Bond Environmental engineer Tami Bond is a force to be reckoned with in the world of carbon emmissions-based climate change. For years, Bond has worked to develop more intricate global climate models and work to discover new and effective methods of reducing the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere. Bond is currently a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and an affiliate profesor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Sarah Deer A legal scholar, 41-year-old Sarah Deer is one of the country’s most knowledgeable individuals when it comes to understanding the intersection between native American tribal laws and federal laws. Deer, herself a member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma, has devoted large swaths of her life to ensuring that Native American women are legally protected against the epidemic-like rates of sexual and domestic violence many face. Her work and understanding has played a key role in mediating an often tense disagreement between Native tribes and the federal government, helping them find a way forward. Deer is currently a faculty member at William Mitchell College of Law, and serves as the co-director of the Indian Law Clinic.

Jennifer L. Eberhardt Social psychologist Jennifer L. Eberhardt has spent years studying racial bias in policing and criminal sentencing. Finding that African American individuals have been profiled, disproportionately imprisonned, and received harsher sentences than their white counterparts, Eberhardt has begun working with law enforcement agencies to help break down systemic racism and bias. Eberhardt is currently an associate professor at Stanford University’s Department of Psychology.

Pamela O. Long With a lifetime of study, Pamela O. Long is one of the world’s most prominent working historians. In 2001, Long released Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance. The book explores the current state of intellectual property law and the question of who really “owns” information. She followed that up with Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Sciences, 1400-1600, a 2011 text focused on the history of science itself. Long, 71, currently resides in Washington, D.C.

Ai-jen Poo Ai-Jen Poo is the executive director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Since 2000, she has worked as a labor organizer focused on improving working conditions for domestic workers –housekeepers, caregivers, nannies, and other home-based careers — many of whom are left unprotected by a number of federal and state labor laws. She was a strong advocate for New York’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, and worked wih a coalition of other labor organizers to raise awareness to her own cause.

Tara Zahra
Historian Tara Zahra is a 38-year-old hsitory professor at the University of Chicago. Her work has focused largely on the concepts of what it means to be a nation, as well as study on race and family issues. In 2008, Zahra released her first book, Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900­–1948, which focused on the 20th century politics of German and Czech nationalism, and how their child-centric focus shaped national identity.