2019 American Ingenuity Award Winners

Credit: Kayla Reefer

Lil Nas X

YOUTH

Lil Nas X, a 20-year-old rapper, singer and songwriter from Atlanta, is reimagining what it means to mix genres in music. His country rap single “Old Town Road” went viral on the social media platform TikTok and sparked debates about who can lay claim to country music and spent a record-breaking 19 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. In late June, Lil Nas X released 7, his debut eight-song EP —an extension of his genre-bending experiment, drawing on rap, rock, country and punk music.

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Credit: Emiliano Granado

José Andrés and World Central Kitchen

SOCIAL PROGRESS

Restaurateur José Andrés and World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit he founded after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, are revolutionizing the way emergency food aid is delivered. Together, they have mobilized a global network of chefs to feed communities in crisis with the speed, efficiency and resourcefulness of a restaurant kitchen—and the care and compassion of a home cook. The nonprofit is now taking its model around the world: This year, Andrés and World Central Kitchen have served meals to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, firefighters battling wildfires in California, victims of the cyclone in Mozambique and many others.

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Credit: Miranda Barnes

Amy Sherald

VISUAL ARTS

Known for her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery, artist Amy Sherald continues breaking new ground with her solo show “the heart of the matter…” at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Manhattan. Her work seeks to fit African-Americans into the canon of American portraiture that has so long excluded them. Her subjects, all of whom are black, wear brilliantly colored clothes and are often set against simple, dreamlike backgrounds. Their gaze is assertive and their posture poised. Sherald paints skin in grisaille—a technique used to remove skin color from her portraiture and inspired by old black-and-white photographs of black people. In 2016, Sherald became the first woman to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition at the National Portrait Gallery.

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Credit: Annie Marie Musselman

Alex Kipman

TECHNOLOGY

The Brazilian-born inventor Alex Kipman is the visionary behind many of Microsoft’s most pioneering products, including the “mixed-reality” headset known as HoloLens. Unlike virtual reality goggles, which enclose viewers entirely in a simulated world, HoloLens allows users to view and interact normally with the real world while benefitting from holograms, which they can control using hand gestures, voice commands and eye tracking. Kipman joined Microsoft in 2001 after graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in software engineering. Now Microsoft’s Technical Fellow for AI and Mixed Reality, he holds more than 100 patents and was named Inventor of the Year by the nonprofit Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation.

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Credit: Adam Glanzman / Brinson+Banks (Bouman, Ozel)

Sheperd Doeleman, Director, and the Event Horizon Telescope Team

PHYSICAL SCIENCES

Sheperd Doeleman of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Harvard University led the Event Horizon Telescope Team—a group of more than 200 researchers—in the international effort to create the first-ever image of a black hole. On April 10, the team released an image of a supermassive black hole 55 million miles away in the elliptical galaxy M87. The project harnessed the curvature of the Earth to create a world-wide virtual telescope. Eight ground-based radio telescopes collected more than a petabyte of data through observations of the black hole in April 2017. They then spent two years assembling the data into a unified image—the first visual evidence of black holes confirming Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The Event Horizon Telescope team plans to continue observing black holes using greater resolving power and sensitivity. It recently received the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and a $12.7 million National Science Foundation grant to create the next-generation Events Horizon Telescope.

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Credit: John David Pittman

Ewelina Mamcarz and Stephen Gottschalk

LIFE SCIENCES

A team of doctors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital developed a cure for X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency—a genetic disorder colloquially known as “bubble boy” disease. Babies born with this disorder essentially have no functioning immune systems. The researchers used the shells of HIV viruses to deliver healthy copies of defective genes to ten infants. All of the babies developed full immune responses without serious side effects. The research team included Dr. Brian Sorrentino, a pioneer in the field of gene therapy, who led the work before he died in 2018; Dr. Ewelina Mamcarz, a Polish-born pediatric hematologist and oncologist who has been working at leading U.S. medical centers for the past decade; and Dr. Stephen Gottschalk, the current chair of St. Jude’s department of bone marrow transplantation and cellular therapy.

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Photo Credit: Celeste Sloman

Heidi Schreck

PERFORMING ARTS

Heidi Schreck opens an honest debate over the meaning, value and limitations of America’s founding document in her play What the Constitution Means to Me. The play, which Schreck wrote and starred in, is a reincarnation of national American Legion speech contests she participated in as a high school student. Thirty years later, Schreck’s work examines Roe v. Wade, immigration and a host of biases and pitfalls she identifies in America’s founding document. What the Constitution Means to Me premiered in Clubbed Thumb in 2017 before moving to Broadway. Schreck earned Tony Award nominations for Best Play and Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, and was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her other original plays include Grand Concourse, Creature, There Are No More Big Secrets and The Consultant.

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