Bay Area Geniuses Shine in National Awards

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Two UC Berkeley professors, a Stanford geneticist and an Oakland writer are among the winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants."

    It's been said time and again but now we have proof that some of the smartest people live in the Bay Area.

    Two UC Berkeley professors, a Stanford geneticist and an Oakland writer are among the winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation "genius grants."

    Each of the 23 winners will get $500,000 that will be paid quarterly over five years. The money comes with no strings attached and is designated as a way for the winners to pursue their creativity.

    UC economist Emmanuel Saez, 37, UC Berkeley computer security specialist Dawn Song, 35, Stanford population geneticist Carlos Bustamante, 35, and UC Davis English professor Yiyun Li, 37, are among the winners of this year's awards.

    Bustamante said he was "completely dumbfounded and thrilled," when he learned he was one of the winners. His research focuses on the evolution and interactions of humans, dogs, even plants and pathogens, to discover how we all impact one another. The grant will be useful in his work, which involves a lot of DNA collecting and can become quite expensive.

    Saez is specializing in tax policy and the distribution of income and wealth. The fellowship gives him, "great encouragement to devote more time to help explain my work to the broader public, especially when the results can have an impact on current policy debates, such as the taxation of top incomes."

    Li, a fiction writer who now lives in Oakland, moved from China to the United States to pursue her studies. Her writings in English express the influence of her native tongue while "lending vivid and arresting quality to the voices and experiences she presents to English-speaking readers," the foundation explains.

    David Simon, creator of the HBO television series "The Wire," was also awarded one of the grants. He said news that he won left him with what he described as "a vague sense of guilt."

    The MacArthur Foundation works to "defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places and understand how technology is affecting children and society," the group's website states.