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Explorations in Science and Technology

Geniuses Fight Pathogens, Tackle Concussions


A Pitt professor and an alumnus were two of only 22 MacArthur Fellows selected nationwide in 2011. Better known as the “genius” award, the honor includes $500,000 in unrestricted support for each recipient.

Pitt professor Elodie Ghedin mistook the e-mail informing her of the prize as spam until she Googled the name of its sender: Robert Galluci, the MacArthur Foundation’s president. Ghedin was honored for her research on genetic sequencing techniques, which includes mapping the genome of the influenza virus and Brugia malayi, a parasitic worm that causes elephantiasis.

“With this award, I will expand on my parasitology work, specifically the organism that causes elephantiasis,” announced Ghedin, who said she was “stunned and excited” by her MacArthur Fellowship. “I also hope to explore new avenues in the evolution of RNA viruses other than influenza.” Read more about Ghedin’s research in PittMed magazine (click on the article “Genius!”).

Kevin Guskiewicz (EDUC ’92) worked as a graduate student athletic trainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers while earning his master’s degree at Pitt. He was among the first to identify the long-term threats of multiple concussions, including memory loss and depression in later life, through large-scale epidemiological studies of retired pro football players.

In addition to developing a portable, affordable tool that tests balance and orientation to diagnose sports-related brain injuries, Guskiewicz has contributed to tightening return-to-play guidelines and improving athletic headgear. He is Kenan Distinguished Professor and chair of the University of North Carolina’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science.

Awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, MacArthur Fellowships support “creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world,” according to the foundation.