Latest MacArthur Geniuses Include Sound Savior | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Latest MacArthur Geniuses Include Sound Savior

This year's 24 recipients of MacArthur Foundation "genius grants" include a physicist whose work was inspired in part by an NPR report he heard a decade ago.

As Carl Haber of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory explains in a video posted by the foundation with Wednesday's awards announcements:

"About 10 years ago, I happened to hear a report on NPR about the Library of Congress and their large collections of historic sound recordings, which described them in some cases as being delicate, damaged, deteriorating and so forth."

What he did then was apply some of the same optical equipment his lab uses to obtain images of subatomic particle tracks to extract "high-quality sound from degrading or even broken analog recordings" without actually touching those recordings. That allows the sound to be saved without causing further damage to the original recordings.

The MacArthur Foundation explains the process this way:

"A disc or cylinder is placed in a precision optical metrology system, where a camera following the path of the grooves on the object takes thousands of images that are then cleaned to compensate for physical damage; the resulting data are mathematically interpolated to determine how a stylus would course through the undulations, and the stylus motion is converted into a standard digital sound file."

Among the audio that's been preserved thanks to Haber's technique: a recording of Alexander Graham Bell's voice.

Haber and the others being honored will each receive "no-strings-attached" stipends of $625,000.

All Things Considered is scheduled to air a conversation with Haber later Wednesday.

This year's other MacArthur geniuses, with links to their bios:

-- Kyle Abraham, choreographer and dancer

-- Writer Donald Antrim

-- Organic chemist Phil Baran

-- Paleobotanist C. Kevin Boyce

-- Physician Jeffrey Brenner

-- Behavioral economist Colin Camerer

-- Jeremy Denk, concert pianist and writer

-- Psychologist Angela Duckworth

-- Craig Fennie, materials scientist

-- Historian Robin Fleming

-- Vijay Iyer, jazz pianist and composer

-- Dina Katabi, electrical engineering and computer science professor

-- Medical historian Julie Livingston

-- Agricultural ecologist David Lobell

-- Playwright Tarell McCraney

-- Susan Murphy, statistician

-- Neuroscientist Sheila Nirenberg

-- Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky

-- Ana Maria Rey, theoretical physicist

-- Fiction writer Karen Russell

-- Astrophysicist Sara Seager

-- Immigration lawyer Margaret Stock

-- Carrie Mae Weems, photographer and video artist

Note: As NPR listeners know well, the MacArthur Foundation is one of NPR's financial supporters. Most recently, as the MacArthur website says, it awarded NPR $3 million between 2010 and 2013.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

In Tom Hanks' iPad App, Typewriters Make Triumphant Return (Ding!)

For iPad users who are nostalgic for the clickety-clack of keystrokes and "ding!" of the carriage return, Hanks has created Hanx Writer, an app that simulates using a typewriter.
NPR

New U.S. Rules Protect Giant Bluefin Tuna

To reduce the number of giant bluefin tuna killed by fishing fleets, the U.S. is putting out new rules about commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the western Atlantic.
WAMU 88.5

Jury Deliberating 14 Counts In McDonnell Trial

As of Tuesday afternoon, there is no word yet from the seven men and five women who are deliberating 14 separate counts against the McDonnells.
NPR

The Troubling Implications Of The Celebrity Photo Leak

To learn more about the recent celebrity photo hack, Melissa Block speaks with Matthew Green of Johns Hopkins University. They discuss how the photos might have been obtained.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.