Maria Chudnovsky *03 (Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Maria Chudnovsky *03 (Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Like many recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, Maria Chudnovsky *03 was surprised by the news that she’d received the five-year, $500,000 no-strings-attached award. That’s by design — winners of the so-called “genius grant” are picked by an anonymous committee in a closely guarded selection process.

“When I got the call from the foundation, I don’t know what we talked about. All I remember is me saying ‘are you sure this is not a prank?’ ” Chudnovsky said in a video interview posted on the MacArthur Foundation website (see below). “I still don’t quite know what I think. Obviously it’s a good thing, but I have not mapped my life from MacArthur on.”

Mapping is familiar territory for Chudnovsky, who received her Ph.D. in mathematics at Princeton, working with adviser and mathematics professor Paul Seymour. She is an expert in graph theory, studying the connections between sets of similar things — the field can encompass anything from road maps to less visible connections, like networks of friendships, according to the MacArthur Foundation’s citation. Although Chudnovsky’s research is “highly abstract,” the citation said, “she is laying the conceptual foundations for deepening the connections between graph theory and other major branches of mathematics, such as linear programming, geometry, and complexity theory.”  

Chudnovsky was named to Popular Science magazine’s Brilliant 10 in 2004, when she was a Veblen Research Instructor in Mathematics at Princeton. She joined the faculty of Columbia University in 2008 and is currently an associate professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research.

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