Worm Researcher, Planet Hunter, Geochemist Among ‘Genius Grant’ Winners

BY Jenny Marder  October 2, 2012 at 11:11 AM EST

Olivier Guyon is an Optical Physicist and Astronomer at the University of Arizona. Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Olivier Guyon designs powerful telescopes that hunt for Earthlike planets — exoplanets — outside our solar system. Terry Plank probes the thermal and chemical forces that exist deep below the Earth’s crust, where tectonic plates collide. Nancy Rabalais studies hypoxic, or “dead” zones, regions in the ocean with low dissolved oxygen levels. And Elissa Hallem investigates how parasitic worms use their sense of smell to find hosts.

They are among the scientists awarded MacArthur Foundation Genius awards on Tuesday that comes with a $500,000, no-strings-attached grant to put toward the work of their choice.

Provided by the MacArthur Foundation, here are a few videos of scientists discussing their work. Terry Plank talks here about her work studying “how tectonic processes generate the most destructive natural disasters on our planet.”

And in the video below, Guyon describes a lens he invented that changes how light is distributed in a telescope:

“This new technique allows us to actually use a telescope smaller than we thought we needed to take images of planets around other stars,” he said. “And more importantly, once we have identified such planets, to study them, to look at their colors, do they have oceans, atmosphere, land clouds. So this technique is really a breakthrough.”

For complete bios and videos on all of this year’s fellows, go to the MacArthur Foundation website.