"Genius Awards" recognize individuals who show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.

Theodore Zoli, vice president and technical director for bridges at architectural firm HNTB Corp. in New York City, was one of several winners of this year’s “Genius Awards” from the MacArthur Foundation.

The phone calls came literally out of the blue recently, informing 24 extremely talented individuals that they are the recipients of the “Genius Awards” for 2009. Formally the MacArthur Fellowships, these awards are given by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to U.S. citizens or residents of any age, and working in any field, who show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.

The fellowship has no application. People are nominated anonymously to a selection committee, also anonymous, that recommends prospective MacArthur fellows to the foundations’s president and board of directors. Most new MacArthur Fellows first learn that they have even been considered when they receive the congratulatory phone call.

The amount of the award is $500,000, paid as quarterly installments over five years. The fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight and potential. They are “no strings attached” awards in support of people, not projects, and the foundation does not require or expect that specific products will result from the work.

“For nearly three decades, the MacArthur fellows program has highlighted the importance of creativity and risk-taking in addressing pressing needs and challenges around the globe,” said MacArthur President Robert Gallucci. “Through these fellowships, we celebrate and support exceptional men and women of all ages and in all fields who dream, explore, take risks, invent and build in new and unexpected ways in the interest of shaping a better future for us all.”

The fellows for 2009 include: