Three Local College Professors Receive MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grants

Each recipient gets $625,000 for research purposes.


Photos by the MacArthur Foundation.

A medieval historian from Boston College and two MIT professors were recently recognized for their work, and awarded fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In total, 13 men, and 11 women, were awarded the prestigious grants—often referred to as the “genius” grant— this week, which comes with a hefty $625,000 stipend over a five-year period. Recipients can use the grant anyway they want.

The awards are doled out by the MacArthur Foundation on an annual basis, and handed to innovators and “creative people” at specific institutions that remain committed to building a more “just, verdant, and peaceful world,” according to the foundation’s website. The amount of the grant increased by $125,000 this year, for the first time since 2002.

Robin Fleming, a medieval historian and professor in the Department of History at Boston College was one of more than a dozen recognized by the foundation for her work unearthing the rich history of medieval Britain, after the fall of Rome, and shedding light on the on the how lower-class citizens of that time lived their lives. “With her probing research and her ability to relate her findings with remarkable clarity, Fleming is changing the way historians view early medieval Britain and providing a framework for incorporating material culture into the writing of history,” the foundation said of her work. She uses skeletal remains to “talk about the distant past,” according to a video that features her work.

“Things are often overlooked by historians,” said Fleming. “There’s a huge, gaping hole between the Roman period and the early medieval period. There’s this line between the two periods…I want to move that line.”

Also recognized were Dina Katabi, a computer scientist and professor at MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Sara Seager, an astrophysicist and professor of Planetary Science and Physics. Katabi is working heavily on electrical engineering to improve the speed, reliability, and security of data exchange, according to the foundation’s website. Katabi has enhanced the study of WiFi systems in a digital age, and has worked with students to show that the signals can be used to track the movements of humans, even if they are in a closed room or behind a wall.

Seager’s work in planetary science focuses on exploring the possibility of life throughout the galaxy. Specifically, she has adapted the principles of planetary science to the study of exoplanets — planets outside our own solar system, according to MIT.

The school has a lengthy list of MacArthur Fellowship winners dating back to 2008.