A Caltech biology professor and a Los Angeles violinist and activist were among 25 people named Thursday as 2018 MacArthur Fellows, an honor given annually to people who demonstrate “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.”

Awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the fellowships include a $625,000 no-strings-attached cash award to support the recipient’s “originality, insight, and potential.”

The local honorees are Caltech biology professor Doris Tsao, 42, and Los Angeles Philharmonic violinist Vijay Gupta, 31.

In 2017, Tsao, a neuroscientist, helped lead a team that discovered how the human brain uses only about 200 neurons to recognize someone’s face, even though an infinite number of different possible faces exist. She and her group further aim to discover how the brain “stitches together” individual pixels of light — the photons hitting our retinas — to determine recognizable objects in space.

“Doris’ selection as a MacArthur Fellow is a great honor for her and extremely well deserved,” Tsao’s colleague, biology and chemistry Professor Stephen Mayo, said. “(She) has been a true pioneer in exploring how we perceive the world around us and she has completely revolutionized our understanding of how our brains see faces.”

Tsao — who has received several research awards — earned her doctorate in neuroscience from Harvard in 2002, after completing her undergraduate studies in biology and mathematics at Caltech in 1996.

She returned to Caltech as an assistant professor in 2008 and became a full professor in 2014. In 2016, she was appointed leadership chair and director of the T&C Chen Center for Systems Neuroscience at Caltech.

“I am deeply grateful to the Macarthur Foundation for this great honor. I think it’s not so much a recognition of me personally as it is of a crazy, shared dream to understand vision,” she said. “I’ve been lucky to be on this journey with incredible mentors, colleagues, students and (post-doctorals).”

Gupta, who has been performing on an international scale since age 8 and made his soloist debut at age 11 with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, joined the L.A. Philharmonic in 2007 at age 19. While a member of the L.A. Phil, he began training a musician with a mental illness that led him into homelessness — which inspired Gupta to create the nonprofit Street Symphony, aimed at bringing music to the homeless and incarcerated.

Featuring musicians recruited from the L.A. Phil and other organizations, Street Symphony regularly performs on skid row in downtown Los Angeles, in county jails and at transitional housing facilities.

Street Symphony also provides music education programs and workshops and recently began a fellowship program pairing talented people on skid row with emerging artists for a yearlong instruction program.

“Dedicated to bringing beauty, respite and purpose to those all too often ignored by society, Gupta is demonstrating the capacity of music to validate our share humanity and focusing needed attention on interrelated social issues that cluster at places such as skid row,” according to the MacArthur Foundation.

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