Each recipient will receive $500,000 in the next five years to do with as they wish, the foundation said.
"The MacArthur Fellowship is not only a recognition of their impressive past accomplishments but also, more importantly, an investment in their potential for the future," said Robert Gallucci, president of the foundation.
He said MacArthur hopes the freedom the fellowship provides will enable each "to pursue unfettered their insights and ideas for the benefit of the world."
Among this year's recipients is Benjamin Warf, a pediatric neurosurgeon who is revolutionizing the treatment of hydrocephalus and other intra-cranial diseases in very young children.
Another fellow, Marine ecologist Nancy Rabalais, documents the environmental and economic consequences of hypoxic zones in the Gulf of Mexico.
Recipient Olivier Guyon, an optical physicist and astronomer, designs telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation that play a critical role in the search for Earth-like planets outside our solar system.
Other recipients include geochemist Terry Plank, journalist David Finkel, stringed-instrument bow maker Benoit Rolland, fiction writer Junot Diaz and photographer An-My Le.