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Andrea Dutton: Westport’s Newest Genius

Andrea Dutton is a genius.

That’s not just hyperbole. The 1991 Staples High School graduate — visiting associate professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin, who investigates changes in sea levels and ice sheet mass — is one of 26 people chosen as 2019 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

That’s the official wording. The world calls them “genius grants.”

MacArthur fellowships honor “extraordinary originality.” The award is pure genius: a no-strings grant of $625,000, distributed over 5 years.

The fellowships — announced yesterday — went to men and women whose work “pushes the boundaries of disciplines and genres,” says the New York Times.

They include a theater artist who incorporates artificial intelligence into performances; novelists, musicians, scientists, historians, legal advocates, community activists and others. All were chosen “at a moment in their careers when the award might make a difference,” and range in age from 30 to 67.

Andrea Dutton with a fossilized coral reef in the Florida Keys. (Photo/Joshua Bright for Redux)

Potential geniuses are suggested by hundreds of anonymous nominators, in many fields. The final selection is made by a committee — also anonymous.

Dutton calls herself a “detective collecting clues to solve the puzzle of earth’s climate history.

The paleoclimatologist’s work has immense real-life implications. Her reconstruction of sea levels over thousands of years can help predict future rises. In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine listed her among “25 People Shaping the Future in Tech, Science, Medicine, Activism and More.”

Dutton is not Westport’s first MacArthur genius. Photojournalist Lynsey Addario — a fellow 1991 Staples grad — received a fellowship in 2009.

(Click here for the stories of all 26 new MacArthur fellowship awardees. Hat tips: Sandee and Chuck Cole.)

 

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