Innovation Wednesday: Meet the 2007 MacArthur Fellows

Over the years we’ve featured our share of MacArthur Fellows in Fast Company. Choreographer Twyla Tharp. Jim Fruchterman, the founder of Benetech, which creates technology for the disadvantaged. The late Samuel Mockbee, an architecture professor at Auburn whose Rural Studio designed and built housing for the needy.

This year’s winners, which the MacArthur Foundation announced yesterday, is no less impressive. Go ahead and envy them the $500,000 no-strings-attached grant and the genius label. And once you’ve gotten that out of your system, read about them, and play a round of “Which MacArthur genius I’d most like to meet.”

Here’s my short list:

Saul Griffith, prolific inventor — As a grad student at MIT, he created a way to produce low-cost corrective lens in underserved communities. Later he helped develop a hand-held human-powered generator, which could prove invaluable for impoverished communities. On a lighter note, an online engineering community he started evolved into Instructables, a ridiculously diverse collection of user-generated do-it-yourself projects (from bike chaps to infrarad goggles).

Mark Roth, biomedical scientist – One of the techniques he’s researching puts mice in a state of suspended animation that’s reversible. What does that mean for humans? The equivalent of a pause button that would buy surgeons more time.

Yoky Matsuoka, neurorobotics researcher – She’s at the forefront of engineering mobility for the disabled that has long been considered unfathomable. Her high-tech prosthetic devices, including a robotic hand complete with tendons, might one day be controlled by the brain’s neural signals.