$12.5 million in US 'genius' grants for lucky 25

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CHICAGO, Sep 19 (Reuters) Twenty-five people who turned their outside-the-box intellects loose on subjects as disparate as the jazz violin and stem cell research were named as winners of 500,000 dollars unrestricted ''genius grants.'' The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which has handed out similar grants since 1981, said the new group brings to 732 the number of people whose achievements earned them the no-strings-attached awards.

Among the winners was Kevin Eggan of Harvard University, a top stem cell researcher. In a statement released by the school, Eggan called his award a ''main stream message of support for embryonic stem cell research.'' ''The fact that the MacArthur Foundation, an organization whose name you hear every day on National Public Radio, is willing to support and stand behind this research -- that for me is the most wonderful, amazing thing. This is one more reason to believe that the tide is turning in support of this important research,'' he said.

The foundation said Eggan is ''at the forefront of addressing fundamental questions'' the field is trying to answer but made no mention of the controversy surrounding the topic.

Some researchers want to work with human embryonic stem cells to learn the secrets of development, disease and perhaps to transform medical treatments. Opponents believe it is wrong to experiment on or destroy human embryos.

The federal government severely limits funding for such research, although it is legal. President George W Bush earlier this year vetoed a bill to widen funding.

Another winner was Regina Carter, 40, of New York, ''a master of the improvisational jazz violin,'' the foundation said, with influences ranging from Motown, Afro-Cuban and swing to bebop, folk and world music.

''On recordings such as Motor City Moments (2000), where she overlays swing with a soulful sound, and Freefall (2001), a collaboration with jazz legend Kenny Barron, Carter taps into a broad musical vocabulary to weave new sound tapestries,'' it added.

A complete list of this year's winners can be found at http://www.macfound.org.

There is no application process for the awards. The winners are chosen by a secret committee based on their ''creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.'' Each gets 500,000 dollars over the next five years.

Reuters LL DB0907

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