Fellows ‘transcend boundaries’|
By Elizabeth Kiem
Pate works in one of the most fundamental areas of chemistry.
He characterizes it as studying the “arrangement
of atoms in space.” But when he was able to demonstrate
a set of molecular spectra with a dramatically
different energy level, people took note.
would you do if you were given $500,000, no strings attached,
to pursue your own “creative, intellectual and professional
Some might buy a Tuscan villa, in which to sit and contemplate. Others might
buy a yacht, to sail around the world.
But that’s not how two U.Va. professors, whose research has netted them
each half-a-million-dollar awards from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Foundation, have spent their money.
Brooks Pate works in one of the most fundamental areas
of chemistry. He studies spectroscopy and isomerization
reactions, which he explains as “really
just the arrangement of atoms in space.” The field, Pate said, “has
been around for so long, it’s sort of lost its glamour.” But when
he was able to demonstrate a set of molecular spectra with a dramatically different
energy level, people took note.
60 years of work in that field, they had missed a whole
big area where you could get to learn about how long it
takes molecules to change their shape,” said
Pate, a 1987 U.Va. graduate who has served on the chemistry faculty since 1999.
Janine Jagger’s endeavors are equally pioneering, but grounded as much
in innovation as in basic research.
are bringing together injury control and infection control
and marrying them in a unique way,” said the director of the International Health Care Worker
Safety Center. Jagger has spent most of her career studying the prevention of
blood-borne pathogen transmission in health care settings. Her most visible contribution
to medical safety is one of the first needle-stick protective devices patented
by her and her colleagues.
|Janine Jagger has spent most of her career studying the
prevention of blood-borne pathogen transmission in health
care settings. Her most visible contribution to medical safety
is one of the first needle-stick protective devices patented
by her and her colleagues.
the two scholars have in common, beyond dedication to
their fields of study, is the prestige of
having received a MacArthur Fellowship.
after a highly secret review of the nominees’ accomplishments,
the award is intended as an investment in the recipient’s
future potential. As the foundation’s Web site attests,
it is an award “in support
of people, not projects.”
“It’s something you don’t ask for or even dare to hope for,” said
Jagger of the no-strings-attached $500,000 gift. She said
the program director who called her in September 2002 promised
money and get out of your life.”
Pate said that promise was fulfilled. Since being named
a fellow in 2001, he has had no contact with
the foundation and little
Instead, the validation of his research conferred by the award
has stepped up the attention from his colleagues in his field
of expertise. “You can argue
with a MacArthur fellow,” he laughed, waving to the piles of peer reviews
on his work following his award.
recently attended a gathering of fellows and was impressed
by the range of disciplines they represented.
She noted a preponderance
people in the humanities, and found professional synergies
with an environmental conservationist who monitors the U.S./Mexico
Because Jagger is involved in a project in that area promoting
use of brick kilns
for clean incineration of medical waste, she hopes their
meeting will lead to collaboration.
While most people describe MacArthur Fellows like Janine Jagger and Brooks
Pate as geniuses, the MacArthur Foundation shies away from the description.
avoid using the term ‘genius’ to describe
MacArthur Fellows because it connotes a singular characteristic
of intellectual prowess,” the foundation’s
Web site states.
people we seek to support express many other important
qualities: ability to transcend
traditional boundaries, willingness to take risks, persistence in the
face of personal and conceptual obstacles, capacity to synthesize disparate
ideas and approaches.”
learn more about the MacArthur Fellows Program, visit
Jagger and Pate, both academics in scientific fields,
represent a small slice of the 659 recipients
awarded between June
1981 and October
is one of a dozen fellows in public health; only nine chemists
join Pate in the
of recipients. In comparison, there are more than 30 fellows
in each of the fiction, history and visual arts categories.
Pate said the disparity is reasonable.
some levels the scientists need it least. [The financial
award] is on a much smaller order than a federal grant,” he said.
Jagger agreed that the monetary prize, which as a personal
gift is taxable, is more like seed money for a medical
researcher but may
be crucial to
of a struggling artist. But she said the unconditional
nature of the funding is invaluable.
way we work is generally novel and not guided by the programs
that provide funding,” she said. “We don’t operate by following the money
trail. [The MacArthur Fellowship] helped us continue choosing our path in a less
particular, Jagger spoke of a new program to bring medical
safety devices to Africa, where
blood-borne disease transmission
health care setting
could be reduced by introducing devices like
blunt-tip suture needles in surgery and increasing
She said these
protective strategies have not been included
that have poured “billions
of dollars into Africa for the prevention and
treatment” of HIV/AIDS.
Over in his lab across from Scott Stadium, Pate
can put his hands on the tool his MacArthur
needed to build a new spectrometer and didn’t come up with the money
we really needed to do it,” he said of the $500,000 custom-built machine
he designed over three years. “So the MacArthur money came in at a time
that just pushed us over the top.”
But perhaps most valuable, agreed both fellows,
was the sense that their life’s
work was being recognized as legitimate and important.
academic existence has been somewhat on the fringe,” said
has given me external validation that
what I have done has value.”