Current Issue

Oct. 22, 2008

Vol. 109, No. 3

Notebook

Graduate alumni win MacArthur ‘genius grants’

By W. Raymond Ollwerther '71
Published in the October 22, 2008, issue


MacArthur fellow John A. Ochsendorf *98
Courtesy the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
MacArthur fellow John A. Ochsendorf *98


MacArthur fellow Marin Soljaci´c *00
Courtesy the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
MacArthur fellow Marin Soljaci´c *00


MacArthur fellow Susan E. Mango *90
Courtesy the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
MacArthur fellow Susan E. Mango *90

Three scholars with Princeton graduate degrees are among 25 MacArthur fellows who will receive $500,000 “genius grants” over the next five years.

Two are on the M.I.T. faculty: John A. Ochsendorf *98, a structural engineer and architectural historian, and Marin Soljaci´c *00, a theoretical physicist. Biologist Susan E. Mango *90, a professor in the University of Utah’s department of oncological sciences, will join the Harvard faculty next July.

When he was notified of the award, “My whole body went numb,” Ochsendorf said. “I kept saying, ‘It’s not possible.’” Ochsendorf, who is 34, said he came to Princeton for a master’s degree in civil engineering to work with Professor David Billington ’50. “I can see Professor Billington’s influence in almost everything that I do, from teaching, to research, to the design of new structures,” he said.

Ochsendorf’s research is on the mechanics of traditional masonry structures, such as Gothic cathedrals or Roman vault construction, and in developing tools to analyze the safety of historic masonry buildings. He will describe his research in a lecture at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 5 in Robertson Hall.

Soljaci´c, also 34, has worked on several aspects of electromagnetic waves, including wireless power transfer and a switch in an optical computer. He praised Princeton for giving him freedom during his doctoral work to explore ideas “even when they were quite far from the mainstream.”

Mango, 47, leads a research team that has focused on the nematode worm C. elegans to study genes that govern the formation and physiology of the digestive tract. She said her doctoral work at Princeton “was hard because my lab was in turmoil and the experiments weren’t working so well.” The lesson she learned: If you can’t get clean data from an experiment, “you need to figure out a better approach or move on.”

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CURRENT ISSUE: Oct. 22, 2008