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Green, hypercities projects win MacArthur grants

The Chicago-based foundation awards 17 teams a total of $2 million for developing technologies for kids' education and digital media.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation said Thursday it awarded 17 teams a total of $2 million for contest entries to develop technologies for kids' education and digital media.

The innovative competition was unveiled last August. Seven teams won either $100,000 or $238,000 for creating new digital environments for informal learning, and 10 teams won between $30,000 and $72,000 for inventing concepts around networking in education.

One winner was Greg Niemeyer of the Center for New Media at UC Berkeley. His team, which won $238,000, developed Black Cloud, an environmental studies game that's designed to encourage high school students in Los Angeles and Cairo, Egypt, to interact virtually and physically in their respective cities.

"Teams role-play as either real estate developers or environmentalists using actual air quality sensors hidden through the city to monitor neighborhood pollution. Their goal is to select good sites for either additional development or conservation," according to the team. The kids then collaborate and share their findings online.

Another winning project was called HyperCities, led by Todd Presner, professor at UCLA. The Web project is based on digital models of real cities, with points of interest linked to oral histories of people who have lived there before. HyperCities is a collaboration of universities and community partners in Los Angeles, Lima, Berlin, and Rome. The team was awarded $238,000.

Another stand-out project surrounds the environment. Called the Sustainable South Bronx Fab Lab, the project is part of a broader initiative led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but is particularly focused on bolstering environmental building in the suburb of New York. The project, which won $100,000, is a physical lab that helps people turn digital models of urban sustainable buildings into real world constructions of plastic, metal, and wood.

As part of their awards, all of the winners will be given time with business consultants and be able to showcase their projects at a conference next year of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, according to the McArthur Foundation.

According to Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation, the 17 winners (out of a total of 1,010 applicants) represent some of the "best thinking from many disciplines and professions working to harness the power of the web for learning."

He added: "We look forward to the insights they will provide."