Economist Emmanuel Saez and engineer Dawn Song: MacArthur Fellows for 2010
Economist Emmanuel Saez and engineer Dawn Song: MacArthur Fellows for 2010 (Photos and video courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation)

Thanks to two young faculty members — and, of course, the MacArthur Foundation — the already-sizeable total of active Berkeley campus MacArthur “genius” Fellows grew to 32 at the end of September.

Dawn Song, 35, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, and Emmanuel Saez, who just turned 38 in October, each receive $500,000 in unrestricted fund over the next five years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Song’s recognition comes for her innovative work on protecting computer systems from malicious software, or malware. The MacArthur Foundation cited her approach of identifying security breaches by identifying underlying patterns of computer system behavior that can be applied across whole classes of security vulnerability, rather than focusing on specific errors in programming logic.

“The call was out of the blue and such a pleasant surprise,” said Song, about learning the news. She is particularly looking forward to the potential impact of the award on her ability to pursue unconventional research. “To me, life is about creating something truly beautiful, and in order to do that, often it involves taking a path that is less traveled,” she said. “The MacArthur fellowship will allow me to take that path to explore new territory that other people have not walked.”

One of Song’s project topics is analogous to biological defenses against infection. Much like our human immune system is constantly on the lookout for invaders, the BitBlaze program developed by Song’s lab scans and analyzes binaries of vulnerable software and malicious code, and automatically identifies the root cause of attacks to generate defenses.

Her lab is now working on the next generation of the program, making it more scalable and powerful than its predecessor and is exploring how to extend this technology to other areas, such as networked medical devices and systems.

Song earned her Ph.D. in computer science at Berkeley in 2001 (Her bachelor’s degree is from Tsinghua University in China, and her master’s is from Carnegie Mellon University.)

Emmanuel Saez was praised by the MacArthur Foundation for his quantitative analyses, behavioral experiments, and theoretical insights which enhance “our understanding of the relationship between income and tax policy and reinvigorating the field of public economics.”
Saez said the fellowship offers “great encouragement to devote more time to help explain my work to the broader public, especially when the results can have an impact on current policy debates, such as the taxation of top incomes.”

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