Troupsburg native wins $500,000 MacArthur Foundation ‘genius' grant
What all started out with a look at high lead levels in Washington, D.C., homeowners' water by Troupsburg native Marc Edwards led to congressional testimony and several Environmental Protection Agency law and rule changes.
Edwards - born in Hornell - spent thousands of dollars of his own money on the investigation, but now has some major backing to continue his work.
Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who researches corrosion in home and municipal water supplies, is one of 24 innovators to receive a fellowship from the selective MacArthur Foundation, along with a $500,000 grant to use as he wishes.
Edwards was given the award after his research into the use of ammonia and chlorine in the Washington municipal water system. The byproducts of a chemical reaction between ammonia and chlorine corrodes brass pipes and releases huge quantities of lead, which wound up in the drinking water of many Washington homes.
After testifying six times in front of Congress, several laws were changed to reduce the amounts of lead in the systems.
Edwards is the son of Carroll and Margery Edwards of Bath. Carroll Edwards was formerly a science teacher and superintendent at Troupsburg Central School District. Edwards himself did not attend Troupsburg schools, as the family moved to Arcade where he eventually graduated from Pioneer Central School.
Marc Edwards first became interested in civil engineering while going for a medical degree at the SUNY Buffalo.
“I saw a presentation on Love Canal and the cleanup and saw it as a chance to help society more than if I got my M.D.,” Edwards said Wednesday from his office in Blacksburg, Va. “After that, I went to the University of Washington for civil engineering.”
“It's amazing how someone from a place like this, who attended all state schools, could go on and do something like this,” said Carroll Edwards. “It shows you what determination can do.”
Edwards graduated with his doctorate in 1991, and has taught at Virginia Tech since 1997. He currently holds the Charles Lunsford chair as a professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Most MacArthur fellowships, known as “genius grants,” often go to artists or doctors, but Edwards is the first civil engineer to receive the award.
“They direct this to people who are creative, and by nature engineers feel left out,” Edwards said, adding while engineers must be creative, there is little opportunity to display creativity in their work.
“It's pretty rare an engineer gets this award.”
His parents say the career path was not unexpected.
“As a child, he was always doing something.” Margery Edwards said. “He would grow fish and mosquito larva to feed his fish... he would build reflector ovens in the backyard, too.”
As for the award money, Marc Edwards feels it is a no-brainer.
“Some people think of going on vacation, or buying a car,” he said. “I was willing to spend my own money on (his research), so I am more than willing to spend someone else's money.”
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation offers the fellowships to just a handful of candidates every year. Only 756 people have been given fellowships to the foundation since it started in 1981.
“The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” the foundation's Web site states. “There are three criteria for selection of Fellows: Exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”
For more information on the award, and to view the recipients for 2007, visit the foundation's Web site at www.macfound.com.