MAPLEWOOD, NJ (WCBS 880 / AP) – The latest list of MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipients includes New York City children’s choir founder Francisco Nunez, Chicago skyscraper architect Jeanne Gang, North Carolina concussion researcher Kevin Guskiewicz, and a silversmith from New Jersey.

WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman Has The Story

“It’s everybody with hammers as a rhythm. If you hammered this piece, it would be a little different rhythm, just like when you are humming a tune,” 67-year-old Ubaldo Vitali said at his Maplewood silversmith shop on Tuesday.

Vitali has been working in this shop for 38 years.

“I received a phone call. I was not supposed to tell anybody, including my children,” he told WCBS 880 reporter Alex Silverman.

He was in a Home Depot at the time and, at first, he didn’t believe it.

“How can you believe such a thing? Until they started describing to me what they knew about me, then I know it could not be from Google,” he said. “It’s actually kind of scary. They know more about me than my wife does.”

“Why me?” he wondered.

Vitali works entirely by hand restoring centuries old metal art and analyzing chemicals.

Though he probably never will, he’d like to know who put his name in the hat.

“Maybe I shouldn’t. It sounds pretty good the way it is,” he said.

The $500,000 fellowships for 2011 were announced Tuesday by the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Vitali says he won’t let the money change him.

“Research, work, and it will not change anything, except give me peace of mind,” he said. “It will make me to relax. I don’t need to rush in an assignment.”

He does, however, not feel a sense of responsibility.

“Now you have to prove… not to disappoint the people who entrusted you with this gift,” he said.

Recipients can spend the no-strings-attached grant money however they like. But many say the honor makes them focus on what they would accomplish in their fields if only they had the means. Many of this year’s recipients say they’re still making plans for the money.

As in previous years, a wide variety of fields are represented on the list of recipients, including both arts and sciences.

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