A mathematician wins a MacArthur Genius Award

So you’ve already won a Fields Medal and you’re waiting for that Abel Prize to come through.  What should you do in the meanwhile?  How about win a MacArthur Fellowship (aka a MacArthur Genius Award)?  To inspire you, let us point out that the 2009 Fellows were just announced and one of them is Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, an applied mathematician.

First, why should you want a MacArthur Fellowship?  It comes with a $500,000, absolutely no-strings attached award that you can use on anything you like (including this, this, this, or this).  And, of course, since it’s the Genius Award, you are now a certified Genius (presumably there is a certificate you can frame for your wall).  And don’t forget all the fame!

By the way, don’t bother putting in an application.  The nomination and selection process is completely secret.  You don’t even know you are under consideration until you get a phone call letting you know you won!  Maybe we should check the OU Math Blog HQ voicemail….

What does Dr. Mahadevan do?  He studies the mathematics of surprisingly ordinary things (how cloth folds when draped, how skin wrinkles, how flags flutter, how Venus flytraps snap closed, etc.).  As he himself said:

Just because something is familiar doesn’t mean you understand it. That is the common fallacy that all adults make—and no child ever does.

–L. Mahadevan

An article in Harvard magazine describes his research quite nicely.  And here is a video where Dr. Mahadevan discusses some problems he works on (with props!):

Finding Physics in Everyday Objects from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

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2 thoughts on “A mathematician wins a MacArthur Genius Award

  1. I never would have thought about studying the wrinkles in an elephants trunk or the foldings in a leaf. At first glance the problems do not seem difficult, but at as I think a bit more, I realize they can get very difficult very quick. I guess that is why he won the award, and not me.

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