Skip to main content

AAAS Elected Fellows Receive ‘Genius Grants’

2016 MacArthur Fellows


Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Jin-Quan Yu are both AAAS elected fellows and recipients of the 2016 MacArthur "genius grant." | John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation CC BY 4.0

Two AAAS elected fellows are among the 23 artists, scientists, historians, and other creative individuals named 22 September to the 2016 class of MacArthur Fellows.

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a bioengineer at Rice University in Houston, and Jin-Quan Yu, a synthetic chemist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., have received the MacArthur Foundation’s fellowship, popularly known as the “genius grant.” The grants are awarded to individuals who have demonstrated “exceptional creativity” in any field and are intended to fund further creative work.

Richards-Kortum’s work brings together nanotechnology, molecular imaging, and microfabrication to address global health challenges by developing low-cost medical technologies – such as a portable microendoscope to diagnose and treat cervical cancer – for use on the ground in low-resource settings around the world.

Richards-Kortum is also the founder and director of the Rice 360º Institute of Global Health, which offers interdisciplinary undergraduate coursework that culminates with students developing affordable health care technologies. Many of the tools created through this program are widely used throughout Malawi, where Richards-Kortum and Rice 360º co-founder Maria Oden were instrumental in establishing a neonatal ward at the country’s largest hospital. One tool, a continuous positive airway pressure machine that helps premature babies breathe, was developed by Rice students and constructed with aquarium pumps. The device for premature infants decreased mortality rates at the neonatal ward by 46 percent, according to the foundation.

“The turning point for me was visiting Malawi and, instead of reading about the challenges in global health, actually seeing the challenges in global health and understanding how very closely they are related to the core discipline of bioengineering,” Richards-Kortum said in a MacArthur Foundation video.

Rice President David Leebron said in a statement, “She combines the teaching, research and service missions of a university to accomplish dramatic improvement in the lives of the poorest people and truly inspires her students to make a difference in the world. She is simply one of the most inspiring people I know, and this extraordinary recognition is well-deserved.”

Richards-Kortum was named a AAAS elected fellow in 2008, and she currently serves as an Electorate Nominating Committee member for AAAS’ engineering section. Richards-Kortum was also named a AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador in 2015.

Jin-Quan Yu, who was named a AAAS elected fellow in 2012, is known for his work in the field of organic synthesis.  He studies how to break the strong bonds between carbon and hydrogen atoms and replace them with other molecules, a process called C-H functionalization.

“These processes lead to invention of new reactions that are not yet in the textbook,” Yu said. “These reactions will transform the way we make molecules for medicine, agrochemicals, or perfume.”

Peter Schultz, chief executive officer of The Scripps Research Institute, said in a statement, “Jin is an extraordinarily creative chemist.” Schultz added, “I always knew he was a genius, but this confirms it!”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation names up to 30 fellows each year. Each fellow receives a stipend of $625,000 over the course of five years. The “no-strings-attached” funding has no reporting requirements and may be used in any way.

The 2016 MacArthur Fellows “are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch in a statement.

AAAS elected fellows are members of AAAS who have been recognized by their peers for their efforts to advance science or its applications – a tradition that dates back to 1874.