UC Berkeley expert on insect flight receives prestigious MacArthur 'genius' award

Berkeley - A University of California, Berkeley, professor whose e-mail moniker is "flyman" and who has become one of the world's experts on the aerodynamics of flying insects was named a MacArthur "genius" Fellow today (Oct. 24).

Michael H. Dickinson, 38, professor of integrative biology in UC Berkeley's College of Letters & Science, was among 23 new fellows announced today by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Each will receive $500,000 over five years, to spend as they wish.

The MacArthur Fellowships, often called "genius" awards, are awarded each year to creative individuals "who provide the imagination and fresh ideas that can improve people's lives and bring about movement on important issues," according to Jonathan Fanton, president of the foundation.

Dickinson was the last of the new MacArthur Fellows to be notified of the award. He was reached over the weekend by a cell phone voice mail while backpacking along the remote Na Pali coast of Hawaii. He had to scratch the foundation's phone number in the sand, but the cellphone shorted out in the dampness before he could call back.

He finally contacted the foundation yesterday from a pay phone at Kokee State Forest, where he had gone to see "wild Drosophila (fruit flies) swarming through guava forests. It's a total blast. Everybody comes up here for the birds, but all I want to see are the flies."

Thrilled by the award, he said, "It's all kind of surreal. I figure that for the rest of my career everyone in the lab is going to start each sentence, if you're such a genius, why can't you ...."

Dickinson refers to himself as a neuroethologist. He studies the nerve and muscle connections that allow flying insects to maneuver so expertly that they are among the most versatile and sophisticated of all flying animals.

The principles he uncovers are even now being applied to the development of tiny flying robots that have potential use in search and

Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley

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