Ana Maria Rey, recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (Photo/ Brad Baxley)

Latina physicist chosen for MacArthur Foundation “genius” award

When Ana Maria Rey received the call that she was chosen as one of the 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellows she said she couldn’t believe they were talking to her.

“I got the call about two weeks ago and it was pretty impactful,” she told NBC Latino. “I had to keep it a secret because we had to wait until today when they released the names.”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program began in 1981 and has been recognizing individuals with a track record of achievement that show promise for future contributions in diverse fields and across multiple disciplines. The 2013 Fellows were selected through anonymous nominations and will join the 837 other Fellows who have been recognized since the founding of the program. Each member receives a stipend of $625,000 paid out over five years without provisions or requirements so the Fellow can work on their respective vision.

“Since I was very young, I loved the possibility of describing with math the behavior of the world,” she said. “I could describe how a ball was going to fall by writing an equation and that fascinated me. I wanted to learn if I can describe how a ball behaves, I should be able to describe how more complicated things behave.”

Ana is a theoretical atomic physicist and was chosen for her work with the properties of ultra-cold atoms. By collaborating with experimental groups, typically of eight people, Ana uses mathematical models to describe the complex behavior of nature.

The Colombian native moved to the United States in 2000 after she received a B.S. in physics from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. She went on to pursue her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland and is now a fellow at JILA in the University of Colorado at Boulder and a research assistant professor in the Department of Physics.

“I want to continue and broaden my research,” says Rey, who will be using her grant money for that cause. “ I love what I do. There are many unanswered questions that I want to investigate and see how much progress we can make in science.”

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