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Archive for Wednesday, June 23, 1999

KU GRADUATE HILLIS WINS $295,000 MACARTHUR GENIUS GRANT

June 23, 1999

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A three-time graduate of Kansas University won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.

A Kansas University graduate Tuesday won a MacArthur genius grant providing $295,000 over five years with no strings attached.

David Hillis, professor of zoology at University of Texas, was among 32 people awarded fellowships by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of Chicago.

Hillis, 40, is a molecular biologist who developed new genetic analyses that contribute to understanding of the history of life on earth.

At KU, he earned a master's degree in biology in 1983, a master's degree in public health in 1984 and a doctorate in biology in 1985. His belief molecular biotechnology and computer science innovation would make research into his specialty, phylogenetics, possible was a savvy career gamble.

"I went into the area ... just because I found it intellectually exciting," Hillis said. "At the time, a lot of people told me I was crazy to work on phylogenetic analysis. I made the lucky guess."

In the lab, Hillis has shown relationships among species can be inferred from small differences in DNA sequences, revealing both the order and timing of evolutionary processes. These results provide a foundation for future ecological and environmental policy.

William Duellman, who was Hillis' major adviser at KU, said Hillis discovered while in graduate school at KU that there were many domestic species of leopard frogs. Previously, researchers thought one species existed throughout the United States.

"He came along with some right ideas at the right time," Duellman said. "He's a bright guy, very personable. I at least learned as much from Dave as he did from me."

MacArthur fellows receive stipends ranging from $200,000 to $375,000, depending on the age of the recipient. A total of 563 fellows have been named since the program began in 1981. They have ranged in age from 18 to 82.

"We look everywhere for the most exciting among us and give them a chance to follow their best instincts over an extended period of time," said Daniel Socolow, MacArthur fellows program director.

"There is something magical about it all. No one can apply for a MacArthur fellowship. New fellows get one phone call out of the blue in June, and five years of opportunity."

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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