It comes as a phone call out of the blue. You can't lobby or plan for it. All you can do is hope for it, and usually that's in vain. Each year only 20 citizens of the U.S. receive this call, in which they are informed that they have won MacArthur Foundation fellowships for extraordinary originality.

The award, popularly known as a genius grant, comes with a check for $500,000.

Mandolin player and composer Chris Thile, one of 23 recipients of the 2012 MacArthur fellowship, described his feelings after receiving the phone call to the Los Angeles Times.

"I think I must have turned white," he said. "I've never felt so internally warm. My heart was racing. All of a sudden, I felt very askew physically. I was trying to catch my breath.... I thought, 'Oh my God, did I win a MacArthur?'"

The MacArthur grants have been awarded since the 1980s to persons of extraordinary creativity and originality. The fellowships span an array of categories and pursuits: writers, scientists, artists, sociologists, filmmakers, teachers and others.

Recipients are chosen on the basis of the originality of their work and their potential for future creative work; the award is not based on past achievement, and recipients do not have to report on how they spend the fellowship money.

In contrast to other fellowship awards, the MacArthur Foundation does not receive applications. About a hundred key persons from a variety of spheres are invited each year to propose candidates for the prize; only they can nominate candidates. They are sworn to complete secrecy; and they correspond with one another anonymously. The award’s intention is to support people, not projects, the MacArthur Foundation explains.

The names of the 2012 genius grant winners were leaked yesterday by the Huffington Post a few hours before the official announcement. Thirteen males and ten females won the fellowship. Their ages are from 31 ‏(in the case of the musician-composer Thile‏) to 66 ‏(the age of Maurice Lim Miller, whose Family Independence Initiative rewards self-sufficiency among residents of low-income neighborhoods. One of the proud recipients was Maria Chudnovsky, an Israeli-American aged 35, from Columbia University. Chudnovsky, whose research explores connections between graph theory and other branches of mathematics, including linear programming and geometry, received her undergraduate and Masters level degrees from the Technion, in Haifa.

Other 2012 MacArthur genius grant recipients are Uta Barth, 54, from Los Angeles, a conceptual photographer, Claire Chase, 34, from Brooklyn, whose International Contemporary Ensemble engages audiences in the appreciation of contemporary classical music, Raj Chetty, 33, an economist at Harvard University, whose research analyzes how policy decisions affect real-world behavior; Eric Coleman, a geriatrician at the University of Colorado School of medicine whose work helps patients make the transition from hospitals to homes or other care facilities; Junot Diaz, a fiction writer affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose works explore experiences of immigrants; David Finkel, a Washington Post journalist known for his reporting on military affairs; and Olivier Guyon, an optical physicist and astronomer at the University of Arizona.

Chudnovsky was born in Russia, and immigrated with her family to Israel when she was 13. After completing her first and second degrees at the Technion, she pursued her doctorate at Princeton University. She has worked as a professor at Columbia University since 2006.

Chudnovsky’s work focuses on graph theory. “I research abstract, theoretical constructs connected to graphs,” she explains.

Explicating the conferral of the 2012 fellowship to Chudnovsky, the MacArthur Foundation site stated:”In an early breakthrough, Chudnovsky and colleagues proved a conjecture offered in the early 1960s, known as the “Strong Perfect Graph Theorem,” that identifies specific criteria required for a graph to fall into the “perfect” class. Any perfect graph can be colored efficiently − and graph coloring bears a direct relation to finding efficient solutions to problems such as allocating non-interfering radio frequencies in communication networks. Since this landmark accomplishment, Chudnovsky has continued to generate a series of important results in graph theory. Although her research is highly abstract, she is laying the conceptual foundations for deepening the connections between graph theory and other major branches of mathematics, such as linear programming, geometry, and complexity theory.”