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Kremer wins $250,000 MacArthur grant

Associate Professor of Economics Michael Kremer celebrated his MacArthur Fellowship last month by walking the beach of the National Seashore in Eastham after attending a Harvard Institute for International Development retreat in Plymouth.

"I got a pretty good sunburn," said Professor Kremer, who rides his bike to his office at the Sloan School from his home on Crawford Street in Cambridge. "I guess I ought to plan a real celebration."

As a MacArthur Fellow, Professor Kremer, 32, will receive $215,000 over five years. The first quarterly check for $10,250 was due this month. Recipients may use the awards as they please, with no papers or reports required by the foundation.

Known as "the genius prizes," the fellowships have been awarded since 1981 by the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago to persons and groups that "foster lasting improvement in the human condition."

Professor Kremer, who holds the AB in social studies (1985) and PhD in economics (1992) from Harvard University, creates models that confront basic economic and social questions. His work has focused on topics as diverse as elephant poaching in Africa, the link between behavioral choice and the incidence of AIDS, and a study of population growth and technological change from 1 million BC to 1990. He also has formulated a plan to involve government in the patent-buying process that would place socially important inventions in the public domain immediately, without discouraging future innovation.

Committed to educational improvement in the Third World, Professor Kremer founded WorldTeach, an organization that supplies teachers to developing regions and has offices in 15 countries worldwide.

"I'll probably use part of the award to do research on education in developing countries," said Professor Kremer, who developed an interest in African education when he taught at the Eshisiru Secondary School in Kenya's Kakamega district after graduating magna cum laude from Harvard. He learned that he was one of 23 new MacArthur Fellows when he returned from a one-week visit to Kenya.

"The great thing about the MacArthur Fellowships is the flexibility," said Professor Kremer, who has been on the MIT faculty for four years. "Government grants are great, but they take time. With this, as soon as an opportunity presents itself I can take advantage of it."

He joins an elite group of current MIT faculty who have won MacArthur Fellowships, among them Professor Jed Z. Buchwald of the Program in Science, Technolgoy and Society (STS) and director of the Dibner Institute, Institute Professor Noam Chomsky of linguistics, Institute Professor John H. Harbison of music, Professor Evelyn Fox Keller of STS, Professor Eric S. Lander of biology, Professor Heather N. Lechtman of archaeology, Professor David C. Page of biology, Professor Michael J. Piore of economics, Visiting Professor Charles F. Sabel of political science, Research Affiliate Richard M. Stallman of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Professor Alar Toomre of mathematics and Professor Jack Wisdom of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences.

A native of Manhattan, KS, where both his parents teach at Kansas State University, Professor Kremer does not think the fellowship will affect his life dramatically. He plans to continue teaching at MIT "as long as they'll have me."

The MacArthur Foundation invites up to 125 people to serve anonymously as nominators, or "talent scouts," each year. Individuals cannot apply for MacArthur Fellowships. Their nominations are evaluated by a 12-member selection committee, which also serves anonymously and makes its recommendations to the foundation's board of directors. Typically, 20 to 30 fellows are selected each year.

Including the 1997 recipients, a total of 502 Fellows ranging in age from 18 to 82 have been named since the program began. There are 148 Fellows currently receiving support.

Besides Professor Kremer, the 1997 recipients work in fields as diverse as evolutionary biology, dance and telecommunications policy. All will receive $150,000 to $375,000 over five years, depending upon their ages.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 16, 1997.

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