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Two UC faculty named winners of MacArthur grants

A UC Riverside emeritus professor of art and a UCLA neuroscientist are among this year’s winners of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grants,” announced last week.

UC Riverside emeritus professor of art Uta Barth (pictured on the right) and UCLA life scientist Elissa Hallem (pictured left) each won $500,000 grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The annual MacArthur Fellowships recognize “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

Among the 23 winners are a pediatric neurosurgeon, a marine ecologist, a journalist, a photographer, an optical physicist and astronomer, and a stringed-instrument bow maker.

Barth was described by the foundation as “an artist whose evocative, abstract photographs explore the nature of vision and the difference between how a human sees reality and how a camera records it.”

The MacArthur Fellowship will allow her to have uninterrupted time in her studio, said Barth, who was an art professor at UC Riverside from 1990 to 2008 and received a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis and a master’s in fine art from UCLA.

“The fellowship will also allow me to digitally archive negatives from all previous work,” she said. “This way I can make stable prints of images originally created when the technology was not available and thereby preserve works that are on the verge of fading.”

Hallem studies the interactions between animal parasites and their hosts, focusing on parasitic nematodes, commonly known as roundworms, and another tiny worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans. Her team studies the neural circuits and signaling pathways that underlie parasitic nematodes’ ability to detect and respond to olfactory cues from a host.

The foundation said that Hallem’s research might eventually help reduce the scourge of parasitic infections in humans.

“I’m incredibly honored to have received a MacArthur Fellowship, and I’m very grateful to the MacArthur Foundation for making this investment in my work,” said Hallem, an assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and a member of UCLA’s Molecular Biology Institute.

The MacArthur Fellowship awards have no strings attached and are paid out over five years. Nominations for the fellowships come from invited nominators who seek out creative people. No applications or unsolicited nominations are accepted by the foundation.

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