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Meet The 2014 Winners Of The MacArthur 'Genius Grants'

U.S. cartoonist Alison Bechdel works Sept. 2 in her studio at the castle of Civitella Ranieri, central Italy. ( MacArthur Foundation)

One is becoming as well-known for her autobiographical work as she is for her test for what movies meet a gender-balance baseline. Another directed one of the best-reviewed and most surreal documentaries of the past decade and has a follow-up on this year's film-festival circuit. Another has been leading the fight for gay-marriage rights since 2004 in Massachusetts.

Alongside cartoonist Alison Bechdel, "The Act of Killing" director Joshua Oppenheimer and attorney Mary Bonauto are 2014 MacArthur Award winners exploring the subtleties of race via psychology and poetry, using math to model the human brain or define the limits of prime numbers, or providing physical, home and job security to some of the country's most at-risk populations.

Learn more about them below:

Danielle Bassett

Bassett, a 32-year-old University of Pennsylvania assistant professor, has used mathematical theories on how social or computer networks work to analyze how neurons interact and help us in — or prevent us from — learning new tasks.

Alison Bechdel

Harriet Reisen's NPR review for Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic says "The pictures in Fun Home, in black and blue on white, are as matter-of-fact as the evidence the heroine sifts to get to the bottom of the mystery of how she became herself."

Mary L. Bonauto

"I was sitting in the church, and I just didn't realize I was gonna fall apart to see, OK, there are Dave and Rob, and they are finally getting married. I was sitting next to Rob's mother, and she kept handing me tissues. It was her son, and I was the one who was a total mess."

Dave and Rob were Rob Compton and Dave Wilson, one of the first gay couples to be married in the United States, back in 2004. Bonauto was one of the attorneys who made it happen.

Bonauto got married to her partner in 2008, and in 2009 began an ultimately successful effort to get the Defense of Marriage Act repealed.

Tami Bond

The University of Illinois professor did a comprehensive study of how human-produced soot is affecting the atmosphere, proving it's one of the leading contributors to climate change and standardizing how researchers measure and describe it.

Steve Coleman

"Steve Coleman has long been known as an inventor of language — a composer who draws equally from rigorous examination of music theory, esoteric natural science and myth, and Charlie Parker," writes NPR's Patrick Jarenwattana. "But you don't have to speak his language to be entranced by it."

Sarah Deer

"A citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Deer has documented in academic scholarship the historical and ideological underpinnings of the failure to adequately protect victims of physical and sexual abuse in Indian Country, and she has worked with grassroots and national organizations attempting to navigate the complex legal and bureaucratic hurdles facing Native victims of violence," the MacArthur Foundation writes.

Jennifer L. Eberhardt

"Using statistical analysis to analyze how a defendant's skin color and hair texture relate to the sentencing decisions of jurors, Eberhardt has shown that black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty if their facial characteristics are stereotypically black and their victims are white," the MacArthur Foundation writes. "Extending this research to the criminal sentencing of juveniles, she found that simply bringing to mind a black juvenile offender led people to perceive juveniles in general as more similar to adults and therefore more worthy of severe punishment, highlighting the fragility of protection for young defendants when race is a factor. She also has examined implicit bias among law enforcement, showing that, for example, police officers are more likely to mistakenly identify African American faces as criminal than white faces; in addition, officers are more likely to judge faces that are the most stereotypically black as the most likely to be criminal."

Craig Gentry

His work on computer cryptography proved that it's possible for programs to function entirely within encryption, and for data to be manipulated without ever being decrypted, work that could lead to more secure cloud computing.

Terrance Hayes

"What I admire most about this book is the way that Hayes breaks down categories and builds up forms with acrobatic glee," Meghan O'Rourke wrote for NPR in 2010 of Hayes' Lighthead. "What looks playful is often heartbreaking; what is heartbreaking is never allowed to be merely so."

Read Hayes' 'The Blue Terrance'.

John Henneberger

He "created a new paradigm for post-disaster rebuilding" through his efforts in Texas following Hurricane Katrina, the MacArthur foundation writes, which "helped to restore equity in disaster assistance for persons with disabilities and racial and ethnic minorities; expanded low-income residents' involvement in disaster rebuilding; and served as a model for the allocation of disaster rebuilding funds in other states."

Mark Hersam

"Taking an interdisciplinary approach that draws on techniques from materials science, physics, engineering, and chemistry, Hersam has established himself as a leading experimentalist in the area of hybrid organic-inorganic materials," the MacArthur Foundation writes, "with a focus on the study of the electrical and optical properties of carbon and related nanomaterials."

Samuel D. Hunter

"Born and raised in a small Idaho town, he sets much of his work in his native region, within the nondescript confines of staff break rooms, cramped apartments, and retirement homes inhabited by ordinary people in search of more meaningful human connections," the MacArthur Foundation writes. "Despite the stark realism of his settings, Hunter leavens his plays with humor and compassion for the lives he depicts, while juxtaposing the banal circumstances of his characters with literary allusions and larger themes of faith and doubt."

Pamela O. Long

Long's work examines how artisans, scientists and artists and their methods and senses of intellectual property evolved alongside one another, particularly during the Renaissance.

Rick Lowe

"With a group of fellow artists, he organized the purchase and restoration of a block and a half of derelict properties — twenty-two shotgun houses from the 1930s — in Houston's predominantly African American Third Ward and turned them into Project Row Houses, an unusual amalgam of arts venue and community support center," the MacArthur Foundation writes. "Lowe has initiated similarly arts-driven redevelopment projects in other cities, including the Watts House Project in Los Angeles, a post-Katrina rebuilding effort in New Orleans, and, most recently, a vibrant community market in a densely populated, immigrant neighborhood in North Dallas. Lowe's pioneering "social sculptures" have inspired a generation of artists to explore more socially engaged forms of art-making in communities across the country."

To learn more about Lowe's work, listen to this podcast from public radio station KERA.

Jacob Lurie

"Lurie embraces an extraordinary breadth of vision — rewriting large swathes of mathematics from a new point of view — while also working to apply his foundational ideas to prove important new theorems in other areas," the MacArthur Foundation writes. "With an entire generation of young theorists currently being trained on Lurie's new foundations, his greatest impact is yet to come."

Khaled Mattawa

The Arab-American poet's "translations do not replicate the meter or rhyme of the original, nor do they mimic traditional English forms; rather, they are creative reproductions with words translated or replaced, sentences and spaces rearranged, but with fidelity to the author's spirit," the MacArthur Foundation writes. "The translated poems occupy a transitional space between two cultural traditions. Mattawa's own poetry exhibits a similar quality, blurring time and space to impart the complexity of a transnational identity."

Mattawa, a native of Benghazi, Libya, spoke with NPR about his feelings for his hometown during the early months of the Arab Spring, before the city became synonymous with an assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission there.

Joshua Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer's Oscar-nominated "The Act of Killing" and upcoming "The Look of Silence" brought worldwide attention to bloody anti-communist purges in Indonesia during the 1960s and the perpetrators who remain in power today.

Ai-jen Poo

Poo's work to organize domestic and private-household workers in New York led to new laws that have spread to several other states, providing a fragmented, mostly-immigrant workforce with unprecedented protections.

Jonathan Rapping

Rapping established a group, Gideon's Promise that "teaches public defenders to work more effectively within the judicial system by providing coaching, training, and professional development as well as a supportive network of peers and mentors from around the country," the MacArthur Foundation writes, a system that recently was integrated into Maryland's public defender system.

"I did some work in Alabama and Mississippi, and I really started to see that really passionate public defenders were coming into these systems and just having the passion beaten out of them," Rapping told Tell Me More in 2013. "They were given caseloads that no one could manage, they were denied the resources necessary to do the job and it was causing them to burnout — either to quit or to give into a status quo that was unacceptable. And so our organization came about as an organization to build a community of public defenders across the region who would support one another."

Tara Zahra

Zahra's work examined children and family life in Europe before and after World War II, looking at how beliefs on how children should be raised influenced the rise of nationalism, and how efforts to reconstitute families and repatriate orphans were a microcosm of Europe's postwar rebuilding efforts.

Yitang Zhang

"Yitang Zhang is a mathematician who emerged from relative obscurity with a landmark achievement in analytic number theory: the so-called bounded prime gap, which essentially establishes that the difference in spacing between two consecutive prime numbers is, infinitely often, bounded by a fixed number," the MacArthur Foundation writes.

Weekend Edition examined Zhang's breakthrough when it was announced in 2013.

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