"One day I want to see my basic research fundamentally change the way people live in the future," says Peidong Yang, an inorganic chemist who is creating "synthetic leaves" that could represent a breakthrough for solar energy.
Yang — whose full title is the S. K. and Angela Chan Distinguished Professor of Energy in the Department of Chemistry — was one of the 24 MacArthur fellows selected for 2015, a group that included journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates and painter Nicole Eisenman, as announced this morning.
Each honoree receives a no strings attached $625,000 award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation' — and "We take 'no strings' quite seriously," Cecilia A. Conrad, the foundation’s managing director, told the New York Times. "They don’t have to report to us. They can use the funds in any way they see fit."
But in the groves — or more accurately, the labs — of Bay Area academe, Piedong Yang wasn't the sole MacArthur grant winner. Over in Palo Alto, the coveted accolade was bestowed upon an assistant (but not for long!) professor in the Department of Computer Science: Christopher Ré.
Ré's work is in the red-hot field of "natural language processing," a form of machine learning. He's the force behind DeepDive, a program capable of extracting data from the so-called dark web. It's got lots of applications, but DARPA currently uses DeepDive to uncover human trafficking networks.
Last year, the Bay Area's Jennifer L. Eberhardt received a MacArthur grant. The Stanford Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology studying subtle, often subconscious racial codifications.