Virginia Tech’s Linsey Marr named 2023 MacArthur Fellow
Linsey Marr, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor and a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, has been named a 2023 MacArthur Fellow, a highly prestigious award commonly called a “genius grant.”
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced Wednesday that Marr is one of 20 fellows who will receive an $800,000 award. The “no-strings-attached” fellowship is awarded to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction, according to the foundation.
There are three criteria for selection: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.
Nominated anonymously by leaders in their respective fields and considered by an anonymous selection committee, recipients learn of their selection only when they receive a call from the foundation.
Marr was in her Durham Hall office at Virginia Tech when she got the news.
“My cellphone rang. I didn't recognize the number, so I immediately declined the call,” she recalled. “A few seconds later, my office phone rang with the same number. I thought that was odd because telemarketers wouldn't have both numbers and the only people who usually try me at both numbers are family members. I picked up my office phone and answered with a very suspicious, 'Hello?'"
The foundation representative on the line asked Marr if she was somewhere private.
“After I closed my office door, they informed me that I had been selected for a MacArthur Fellowship,” said Marr. She exclaimed in surprise – but kept her guard up, still worried it could be a scam.
“They started asking personal questions, like my birthdate and place of birth. I hesitated because I thought they might be phishing me. They read my bio that they had prepared, to prove that they were legitimate. I was in shock through the rest of the call.”
Marr hopes to use the money to support research and projects that would be hard to fund through traditional channels. “I'm also looking for an experience that will rock my world, get me out of my comfort zone, and jolt my creativity,” she said.
But the first thing she wants to do: Thank her research group and family for their support during the heart of the pandemic – a crazy, nonstop work schedule that often took her attention from them.
“There are a lot of brilliant people out there doing brilliant work, so I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been selected for this recognition,” Marr said. “I know it’s an individual award, but it reflects a massive collaborative effort with my students and postdocs and many colleagues from around the world.”
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands lauded Marr’s selection.
“We celebrate this prestigious recognition of Dr. Marr’s innovation, creativity, and continuing contributions to science and society,” said Sands. “We are especially proud of her global leadership and outreach, which exemplifies Virginia Tech’s spirit of exploration and discovery in service to humanity.”
Wednesday’s announcement comes in the middle of a whirlwind week for Marr, just three days after she was in Washington, D.C., for induction to the National Academy of Engineering as one of 106 new members for 2023.
Marr's research on the transport, removal, and mitigation of airborne pathogenic viruses gained widespread recognition during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the global health crisis, her research helped answer two critical questions: “How is the coronavirus transmitted?” and “What can we do to protect ourselves?”
She became a regular expert source for The New York Times and has been interviewed over 500 times by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Scientific American, NPR, CNN, and other media outlets.
An article in Wired described how she and her colleagues persuaded the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recognize airborne transmission of COVID-19.
Marr has published more than 150 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals that have been cited more than 16,000 times, according to Google Scholar. She has co-authored papers in high-impact journals, such as Science, The BMJ, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and she has given dozens of seminars and keynote lectures. As a professor, she has mentored 10 Ph.D. students and 19 master's students through graduation and has advised 13 postdoctoral researchers.
“Linsey’s critical thinking, innovation and leadership within her field exemplify our college’s mission and the qualities we seek to instill in our students,” said Julie Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “It’s exciting to think about how this fellowship will allow her to expand her impact and influence as a researcher, teacher, and mentor.”
Marr is a fellow of the American Association for Aerosol Research, the American Geophysical Union, and the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate. In 2021, she was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Alumni for University of California, Berkeley’s civil and environmental engineering department. Virginia Tech has recognized her accomplishments with multiple honors, including the Ut Prosim Scholar Award, the Fralin-ICTAS Innovator Award, and the College of Engineering Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research. In 2022, the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia awarded Marr with an Outstanding Faculty Award, the commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty at Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities.
Marr joined Virginia Tech as an assistant professor in 2003. Prior to Virginia Tech, she was a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Marr received her bachelor’s degree in engineering science from Harvard University in 1996 and a doctoral degree in environmental engineering from University of California, Berkeley, in 2002.
Marr is the second Virginia Tech professor to be named a MacArthur Fellow, an award deemed “highly prestigious” by the National Research Council.
University Distinguished Professor Marc Edwards, also a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, earned the award in 2007 for his work analyzing the chemistry and toxicity of drinking water in large cities.