Awards, People

Two Berkeley alums win MacArthur ‘genius’ awards

Computer scientist Deborah Estrin and mathematician Allan Sly won the coveted grants

Deborah Estrin, Allan Sly

The MacArthur Foundation yesterday unveiled the 25 newest stars in its constellation of “genius” award winners, and two — computer scientist Deborah Estrin and mathematician Allan Sly — have roots at UC Berkeley.

According to the foundation, grant winners are chosen because their work shows exceptional creativity and significant accomplishment, holds the promise of important future advances and where the fellowship has the potential to facilitate subsequent creative work. Each fellowship comes with a $625,000 no-strings-attached stipend paid out over five years.

Estrin is a computer scientist creating open-source applications and platforms that leverage mobile computing devices and network services to address socio-technological challenges, according to her MacArthur citation.

She earned her B.S. from UC Berkeley in 1980 before going on to MIT for her M.S. and Ph.D. She spent 26 years in Southern California, at the University of Southern California and then UCLA, before moving to Cornell Tech in New York City, where she is a professor of computer science and associate dean.


Sly is a mathematician and probability theorist whose work focuses on resolving long-standing open problems in statistical physics and theoretical computer science, according to his MacArthur citation. Now a  mathematics professor at Princeton, Sly earned his Ph.D. in statistics at Berkeley in 2009 and served on the statistics faculty at Berkeley from 2011-2016.

Read about past MacArthur winners with Berkeley ties:

Three alums win MacArthur genius awards 

Two Berkeley alums win MacArthur genius grants