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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 29, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 5
Two Professors Receive 'Genius Grants'

Astrophysicist Adam Riess, a leader in the discovery of the universe's 'dark energy.'

By Lisa De Nike and Gary Stephenson
Homewood and Johns Hopkins Medicine

Two Johns Hopkins professors — a physician who champions scientifically rigorous, common-sense approaches to improving patient safety and an astrophysicist who was a leader in the discovery of the universe's "dark energy" — were named last week as winners of MacArthur Fellowships, the so-called "genius grants."

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced that it has awarded "no-strings attached" $500,000 grants to Peter J. Pronovost, professor of anesthesiology, surgery and critical care medicine in the School of Medicine, and Adam Riess, professor of physics and astronomy in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Pronovost and Riess, who are among 25 fellows in this year's MacArthur class, are the eighth and ninth persons to win MacArthur Fellowships while on the Johns Hopkins faculty. At least two other winners have joined Johns Hopkins after receiving MacArthur awards.

"At Johns Hopkins, the goal of all of the research we do is to make meaningful and lasting contributions to humanity," said university President William R. Brody. "Adam Riess' startling and bold discovery of the existence of dark energy has transformed the way we view the universe and has radically altered cosmology. Peter Pronovost's design of clinical care practices is saving the lives of countless patients who might otherwise have been lost to human error and infection. We thank the MacArthur Foundation for recognizing these outstanding individuals and their efforts. We are fortunate to have them here at Johns Hopkins."

MacArthur Fellowships provide financial support over five years for the work of individuals selected for their creativity, originality and potential to make important future contributions, the foundation said. A total of 781 MacArthur Fellows have been named since the program began in 1981. Winners do not apply for the grants, and may not even be aware that their names have been suggested by the foundation's cadre of anonymous nominators.

Riess, 38, was recognized for his leadership in discovering that dark energy, a mysterious and still unexplained force, is driving the universe to expand at an ever-faster rate, overcoming the effects of gravity. He was first author on a paper published in 1998 by one of two competing groups of scientists who made the discovery; his innovative approach involved comparisons of the "redshift" of rare Type Ia supernovas spotted at varying distances from Earth in the farthest reaches of space. He has shared two of cosmology's most prestigious prizes — the 2006 Shaw Prize and the Peter Gruber Foundation's 2007 Cosmology Prize — for this discovery.

Adam Falk, the James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School, said, "Adam Riess' work has done nothing less than revolutionize — in ways we would have thought impossible — our entire understanding of the past and future of space and time. His discovery of the acceleration of the expansion of the universe was one of the great discoveries of the 20th century, and has completely reoriented not one but two fields, cosmology and high-energy physics, for the coming 21st. Adam's scientific vision and courage are a source of enormous pride for all of us in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences," he said.

Riess graduated in 1992 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned his doctorate in 1996 from Harvard University. He has been on the Johns Hopkins faculty since 2006 and is also an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, located on the Homewood campus.

From 1996 to 1999, the period during which the dark energy discovery was made, he was a Miller Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. Since then, Riess has led rigorous efforts to use the Hubble Space Telescope at STScI to increase the precision of the dark energy findings, which are important not only for comprehending the makeup of the universe but also for understanding its history and future and in unraveling other important questions in theoretical physics.

"It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by the MacArthur Fellowship," Riess said. "I am very fortunate to work with talented people and with one of the most advanced scientific tools in the Hubble Space Telescope."

Physician Peter Pronovost, champion of patient safety iniatives in hospitals.

Pronovost, 43, is an internationally prominent critical care specialist and patient safety researcher and advocate who was named one of the world's "most influential people of 2008" by Time Magazine for advancing the use of rigorous scientific research to develop simple tools for greatly improving patient safety and care. His simple "safety checklist" has been adopted in Rhode Island, New Jersey and Michigan, where its routine application reduced catheter-related bloodstream infections in patients by up to 66 percent. Pronovost has written more than 200 articles and chapters in the fields of patient safety, ICU care, quality health care, evidence-based medicine and safety efforts.

"While it's rare for research to impact practice, and rarer still for it to impact policy, Peter has a knack for conducting research that does both," said Edward D. Miller, dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "As medical director for Johns Hopkins' Center for Innovation in Quality Patient Care and a member of the hospital's Patient Safety Committee, he has been a tireless advocate for the development of innovative, field-tested and practical patient safety tools, and [he] is a frequent speaker to hospital staff, health care administrators, policy-makers and patient safety groups."

Pronovost also serves as a faculty member in Health Policy and Management at the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he established a World Health Organization-sponsored master's degree program that focuses on improving clinical performance and patient safety.

Pronovost came to Johns Hopkins after graduating from Fairfield University in 1987, earning a medical degree in 1991 from the School of Medicine and a doctorate in 1999 from the Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is director of the Johns Hopkins-affiliated Quality and Safety Research Group.

"I was stunned when I learned I have been given this great honor," Pronovost said. "I knew of the MacArthur as the 'genius' award and did not think I fit that description. We try to prevent needless deaths, suffering and costs of health care by bringing science to the delivery of care. By necessity, the science has to be made practical and easy to implement. Indeed, it only works if we find the right balance between being scientifically sound and simple and then applying these principles to real-world problems. While we are certainly grateful to the MacArthur Foundation for this wonderful honor, our true reward is saving lives and reducing harm."

This is the second time that two Johns Hopkins faculty members have won MacArthur grants in a single year and the third time that Johns Hopkins professors have been honored in consecutive years. Professors Kay Redfield Jamison and Geraldine Seydoux, both of the School of Medicine, were named MacArthur Fellows in 2001. The most recent previous winner was Lisa Cooper, a professor of medicine with joint appointments in Nursing and Public Health, in 2007.

Also named MacArthur fellows while on the Johns Hopkins faculty were Fouad Ajami, professor of Middle Eastern studies at SAIS, 1982; Philip Curtin, professor of history, Krieger School, 1983; Horace Freeland Judson, professor in the Writing Seminars, Krieger School, 1983; and Alan Walker, professor of cell biology and anatomy, School of Medicine, 1988.


Alumna Adichie Also Receives 'Genius Grant'

Acclaimed novelist Chimamanda Adichie, who in 2004 earned a master's degree from the Writing Seminars in the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, is one of the 25 scholars, scientists and artists who this year received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.

Inspired by events in her native Nigeria, Adichie's writing explores the intersection of the personal and the public by placing the intimate details of the lives of her characters within the larger social and political forces in contemporary Nigeria.

Living between the United States and Nigeria for the past decade, Adichie, 31, is widely appreciated for her stark yet balanced depiction of events in the post-colonial era. Her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Her most recent book is Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), a novel that depicts the horror and destruction of the civil war following the establishment of the Republic of Biafra. Her short stories have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Granta and The Virginia Quarterly Review.

"Amid a number of very talented young writers, Chimamanda was remarkable for both the richness of her material and the maturity of her style," said Alice McDermott, the Richard A. Macksey Professor for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities. "In our workshop, she immediately distinguished herself as a natural storyteller, with a fine sense of scene and character, and an instinct for finding the human element in the complex political and cultural history of her country.

"Chimamanda was also remarkable," she continued, "in that she already had a publisher for her first novel when she came to Hopkins — inspiration for all the young and as-yet-unpublished writers in our class."

In addition to her degree from Johns Hopkins, Adichie received a bachelor's degree in 2001 from Eastern Connecticut State University and a master's degree in 2008 from Yale University.

She is one of 11 Johns Hopkins alumni who have been awarded MacArthur Fellowships since the program began in 1981.
— Amy Lunday


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