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Three from Berkeley Win MacArthur Fellowships

By Janet Gilmore, Public Affairs
Posted July 14, 1999

Two Berkeley professors and a visiting scholar are winners of coveted MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowships: chemist Carolyn Bertozzi, journalist Mark Danner and classicist Leslie Kurke.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced 32 new fellows on June 22. They will receive stipends ranging from $200,000 to $375,000.

Bertozzi, an associate professor of chemistry who joined the faculty in 1996, works at the boundary between biology and chemistry, investigating the role of sugar molecules on the surfaces of cells. Over the past decade, biologists have discovered the important role these complex carbohydrates play in normal biological processes as well as in disease and illness.

Bertozzi, 32, was awarded $255,000. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard and a doctorate in chemistry from Berkeley.

Danner is a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Journalism and a senior research fellow at the campus Human Rights Center known for his probing, insightful foreign affairs reporting. A book author and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, Danner has written on Haiti, El Salvador, Bosnia and NATO. One of his most widely praised works is the 1994 book about El Salvador, "The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War."

Danner, 40, was awarded $295,000. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard.

Kurke, a professor with joint appointments in classics and comparative literature, began teaching at Berkeley in 1990. She brings a fresh, interdisciplinary approach to the study of classic Greek antiquity and archaic Greek poetry. In her first book, "The Traffic in Praise" (1991), she interprets the works of Greek poet Pindar within the socio-economic context of ancient Greece, offering a new perspective on the poet's work.

Kurke, 39, was awarded $290,000. She received her bachelor's degree from Bryn Mawr and a doctorate from Princeton.

As is typical of new winners of the MacArthur awards, the three Berkeley fellows had no idea they were being considered for the prize until they received a congratulatory phone call.

"I'm still in shock; it's unreal," said Bertozzi. "It's incredibly humbling. I am just asking myself, 'What am I doing in this group?'"

"I was just completely amazed," said Kurke. "It was out of the blue. . . . Obviously, it's a great affirmation of the kind of work I'm trying to do, but I also think it's a very important recognition of the value of work in the humanities."

Asked what he would do with the award money, Danner quipped, "Worry less," then continued, "I think the spirit of the award is to let one go on doing, more easily, what one had been doing."

The MacArthur Foundation, with assets of more than $4 billion, is a private grant-making institution that helps groups and individuals foster lasting improvement in the human condition. It imposes no requirements or restrictions on how the fellows use their award money and does not require or expect them to produce specific products or reports.

Individuals cannot apply for MacArthur fellowships. Recipients are chosen by anonymous talent scouts and an anonymous selection committee.

The MacArthur Foundation began distributing these awards in 1981 and has awarded 563 fellowships nationwide, of which 26 have gone to Berkeley faculty.


July 14 - August 17, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 1)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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