Daniel Wins MacArthur "Genius" Award

UW Zoology Professor Thomas Daniel was one of 21 people named June 18 as 1996 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Daniel will receive a five-year, unrestricted $260,000 grant--often called "genius awards" by the media. MacArthur Fellowships are unrestricted, "no strings attached" awards. Recipients are free to use the money as they please.

These awards are unique because individuals cannot apply for MacArthur Fellowships. Instead, each year, the foundation invites up to 125 persons to serve as anonymous "talent scouts." Their nominations are evaluated by a separate 12-member selection committee, which also serves anonymously. No fellow is aware of the process until he or she gets a surprise phone call from the foundation with the good news.

"The award isn't for me; it's for me and my students," Daniel says. A winner of the 1989 UW Distinguish Teaching Award, he credits the work of graduate students Elizabeth Stockwell, Alan Trimble, Mark Frye and Brian Helmuth for his MacArthur honor. "I'm a real fan of my entire set of colleagues. I could think of 100 other people who are more deserving of this award than me."

Since coming to the University in 1984, Daniel has become a leading force in the study of animal locomotion. His research focuses on the physics and engineering of movement in biology. Understanding animal locomotion may have significant implications for the design of robotic systems.

Daniel's research rarely fits neatly within a single academic discipline. For example, he is working with UW Geologist Peter Ward on a study of fossils of pre-historic squids to determine whether their complex anatomical structures is evidence of evolutionary adaptation.

"If there is a common theme to my efforts, it is to blur the boundaries between traditionally separate disciplines like math, engineering, biology and computer science. The more blurring we do, the more exciting science gets," he says.

After a share is set aside for charity and his children's education fund, Daniel plans to use some of the grant money to fund studies that other granting agencies may consider "risky" or "chancy."

Daniel is the eighth UW faculty member to win a fellowship since the program started in 1981. Current or former faculty MacArthur Fellows include: John Toews, history, 1984; Caroline Bynum, history, 1986; Richard Kenney, poetry, 1987; Suzanne Lebsock, history, 1992; Leonard van der Kuijp, Asian languages and literature, 1993; Victoria Foe, zoology, 1993; and Richard White, history, 1995.Send a letter to the editor at columns@u.washington.edu.

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