It is called the ‘Genius Grant’ and each award comes with US$ 625,000, with no strings attached. But no, you can’t apply for it – or have a well-connected uncle enter you for it.  Those being considered have no inkling of when the call comes, and when it does, they are always surprised.  Manu Prakash, who was among the 23 winners announced on 22 September, almost didn’t answer the phone. The Indian-born Stanford biologist was handling his four-month old twins then. “I was very sleep-deprived when the phone rang,” he told Stanford, the university’s in-house magazine. But he did, eventually. He was one of two Indian born men among the 23 McArthur Fellowship awardees for 2016. Subhash Khot, a computer scientist from New York University was the second. They are both from IITs – Prakash from Kanpur and Khot from Mumbai.  There is a third India-linked winner this year as well – Bill Thies, an American working at a Microsoft Labs in Bengaluru.  The John D and Katherine T McArthur Foundation, which has offices in India as well, awards an unrestricted number of fellowships every year to people who have shown ‘exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances’.  Past winners with an India connection include writers Ved Mehta and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, poet and scholar A K Ramanujam, classical musician Ali Akbar Khan and jazz pianist Vijay Iyer.  Nominees, drawn from a variety of fields, are brought to the foundation’s notice by a changing pool of nominators who remain anonymous. Applications and ‘unsolicited’ nominations are ignored.

 

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