Building on the city’s reputation as being one of the homes of the best and the brightest, two Berkeley-based winners were among the 23 recipients of this year’s MacArthur Fellowship awards.
David Green, executive director of technology transfer compan y Project Impact, and UC Berkeley assistant history professor Maria Mavroudi each received five-year, half-a-million-dollar grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Fellowship awards from the Chicago-based foundation come with the po pularly-accepted title of “MacArthur genius.” There are no restrictions on how the monetary awards can be used.
MacArthur Fellowships cannot be applied for. Rather recipients are nominated by an anonymous committee, and the recipients are not supposed to know that they are under consideration until they receive notice of their awards from the foundation.
Green, who holds a Master of Public Health Degree from the University of Michigan, founded the nonprofit Project Impact four years ago for the purpose of developing, manufacturing, and distributing affordable medical technologies to Third World countries. His company describes itself as a “compassionate capitalist company.” Green has also received social entrepreneur fellowships from both the Ashoka glo bal organizations and the Schwab Foundation.
Through its Affordable Hearing Aid Project, Project Impact sells high-end hearing aids in undeveloped areas of the world for less than $200 apiece, more than one-tenth the price that such hearing aids sell for commercially.
In 1992, Green helped establish Aurolab, an India-based company which manufactures plastic implants used to restore sight to patients suffering from cataracts and other eye diseases. The now independent company produces hundreds of thousan ds of such lenses a year, distributed in more than 85 countries at a substantially lower price ($4 per lens) than such lenses available in developed countries ($100 in the United States).
Project Impact spokesperson Ramona Lugo Pedersen said that Green was presently traveling on the east coast and “pretty overwhelmed” by the award. She said the MacArthur money “ensures that David will be able to continue his outreach indefinitely, which is fantastic. This really lights a fire under him so that he can go forward with the research and exploration.”
Pedersen said that Green “now wants to turn inward to apply the affordable hearing aid project to the United States,” a project which she said is being considered in coordination with the Lions organization. Pr oject Impact is also currently working on a program to distribute AIDS medicines at low prices.
Green says that there is no mystery to his price structure: he simply practices high-volume, low-profit-margin sales as opposed to the low-volume, high-profit-margin practices used by most medical technology companies. Last year, he told Business Week magazine that “demystifying the cost structure” was “the key to making any technology affordable.”
UC assistant professor Mavroudi has been using her skills as a “language detective” to explore links between the Greek medieval empire of Byzantium and its Islamic neighbors. It is a field of study that once might have been thought of as obscure, but has taken on increasing importance with the need to understand the roots of the current rise of conflict between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
The 37-year-old Mavroudi said in a statement that when she answered the phone she had no idea of why a MacArthur Foundation might be calling her, and “thought that maybe he wanted my opinion on someone else. I just couldn’t believe he would be calling to announce I was a winner.”
She said she has not yet decided how she will use the grant money, except that it will almost certainly be an aid in her research.
Martin Jay, chair of UC Berkeley’s History Department, had high praise for Mavroudi. “In a very short time,” he said, “[she] has established herself as a path-breaking, internationally acclaimed scholar in the history of Byzantine-Arabic cultural relations in the 10th century, as well as a brilliant philologist and translator of earlier texts from the ancient world. The implications of her work for the more general issue of cultural contacts between the great civilizations of the world are profound.”
A philologist is someone who studies the relationships between literature and language.
Mavroudi, who grew up in Greece, holds a B.A. from the University of Thessaloniki, Greece and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. She is the author of “A Byzantine Book on Dream Interpretation: The Oneiroticon of Achmet and its Arabic Sources.”