Two University of Minnesota researchers have each been awarded “genius grants” of $625,000 from the MacArthur Foundation.

The no-strings-attached fellowships announced Tuesday went to cognitive neuroscientist Damien Fair, chemical engineer Paul Dauenhauer and 19 others from across the country.

Recipients receive their windfall over five years from the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to use as they please.

The foundation has awarded the grants every year since 1981 to help further the pursuits of people with exceptional talent. Areas of expertise this year include scholarly law, economics, documentary filmmaking and playwriting.

Fair is director of the U’s Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain and is being recognized for devising maps of network connectivity in individual brains that advance understanding of how distinct regions communicate and develop.

“Every step toward a deeper characterization of brain function brings advances in health care, education, technologies, economics and other enhancements to our society that deeply touch our everyday lives,” the graduate of Cotter High School in his native Winona, Minn., said in a statement released by the foundation.

The foundation praised Dauenhauer, a professor in the U’s College of Science and Engineering Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, for developing new technologies toward converting renewable, organic materials into chemicals used in products such as plastics, rubber and detergents.

“Civilization is in a race against time to develop the sustainable energy and materials required to expand and continue a healthy quality of life,” Dauenhauer said in his comments shared by the foundation. “As our original resource of fossil fuels contributes to catastrophic global climate change and environmental pollution, new manufacturing processes are utilizing renewable resources to make unique fuels and clever new materials that have zero environmental impact.”

Also among this year’s recipients is University of Minnesota alumnus Ralph Lemon, who received his undergraduate degree in 1975. He was raised in Minneapolis, where he helped co-found the Mixed Blood Theatre Company in 1976, Lemon lives in New York and is renowned for his work in performance art, choreography and dance.

Candidates for the grants are nominated anonymously by leaders in their respective fields and considered by an anonymous selection committee.

Recipients learn of their selection only when they receive a call from the foundation shortly before the public announcement.