Claire Tomlin

Alumna, Electrical Engineering (BASc ’92)

Claire Tomlin is officially a genius.

A 1992 Waterloo alumna from electrical engineering, Claire is a bright young electrical engineer, specializing in aviation, with faculty appointments at both Stanford and Berkeley and more than 120 papers to her name.

But the phone call from the MacArthur Foundation still came as a surprise. Popularly known as genius grants, the $500,000 no-strings MacArthur Fellowships go to the most creative, promising people the foundation can find. There’s no application process: the phone simply rings. The 2006 geniuses included a jazz violinist, a neurobiologist, a country doctor – and Claire.

Claire’s expertise is in the modelling of control systems. Her work has an aeronautical flavour: she’s developed protocols to automate some of the intricate work of air-traffic controllers, and designed control systems that will let teams of unmanned aerial vehicles fly in formation.

Claire wants to use her genius grant to apply her control theory expertise to matters biological: how the intricate activation and de-activation of genes orchestrates the development of fruit fly wings, for instance. The unique research will be another high point in an already high-flying career.