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Widsom Awarded MacArthur Grant

By Sarah Y. Keightley
Editor In Chief

Professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Jack Wisdom was recently named one of this year's 20 MacArthur Prize Fellows.

Through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Wisdom will be awarded a $260,000 grant over the next five years. He was told about the award on June 8.

"My main emotional reaction is [the grant is] quite an honor and an object of great generosity," Wisdom said. "It's good inspiration to do more work and do better science."

Wisdom uses nonlinear dynamics methods, or chaos, to understand the dynamics of the solar system.

According to Director of the Fellows Program Catharine Stimpson, the grants are given to individuals "across the board," in fields ranging from astronomy to zoology, politics to poetry. The recipients are both in and out of academia, she added.

The nominations process makes the grants unique, Stimpson said. Each year the foundation selects 100 anonymous scouts to keep a look out for likely fellows. These people then write a letter of nomination to the foundation.

Wisdom said that because he was nominated anonymously, he "had no real idea it was happening," making the grant a "very nice surprise"

The MacArthur Prize Fellows program started in 1981, Stimpson said. Each year 20 to 40 awards are given out, she said. The fellowships are often called "genius grants." Stimpson said that this term was coined by "the media and by the public at the very beginning of the program."

Using chaos to describe solar system

Wisdom said he is "working on applying methods of nonlinear dynamics to problems in the solar system," such as the orbital and rotational motions of the planets and the motion of their satellites, meteorites, asteroids, and comets.

"Nonlinear dynamics, chaos, has provided important insights," Wisdom said. "For instance, meteorites very likely come to the Earth by way of chaotic trajectories," he explained. Also, there is "evidence the whole solar system is chaotic including the Earth's orbit and Mars," he said. Mars' dramatic climate changes can be explained by its chaotic motion which causes its tilt to vary from zero to 60 degrees, he said.

Wisdom is the tenth person connected with MIT to be named a MacArthur Prize Fellow, according to Tech Talk.

The grants range from $235,000 to $375,000 over a five-year period, depending on the age of the Fellow. Furthermore, the Fellow is offered full health insurance, according to Tech Talk.