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Efforts within the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Biological Sciences to encourage aspiring scientists at the precollege and undergraduate levels have been rewarded with two prestigious grants totaling $2 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), as well as the renewed appointment of department chair and Eberly Family Professor Graham Hatfull as one of 13 HHMI Professors nationwide and the only one in Pennsylvania.

HHMI announced today the 2010 recipients of its Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education and HHMI Professors Program grants. The first award supports programs that seek to improve science education; the second supports the programs of individual research scientists taking innovative approaches to science education. Institutions and faculty members must be invited to apply for each grant.

Pitt was among only seven institutions to be selected for both awards, along with Harvard, Louisiana State, MIT, UCLA, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale.

The four-year grants Pitt received will support academic initiatives that cultivate high school and undergraduate students' interest in science and biology by involving them in active research. The $1.2 million Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education grant will support the biological sciences department's summer undergraduate research program. During the summer, undergraduate students undertake a research project at Pitt that expands their scientific knowledge and their professional demeanor. Through mentoring and peer-to-peer sessions, students discuss their work to seek and provide feedback, help one another with difficult techniques, and resolve conflicts. The 2010 grant is the department's fourth since 1992 and brings the combined total to $6.8 million.

Hatfull's selection for the HHMI Professors Program includes $800,000 to support his nationally implemented Phage Hunter program. Established in 2002, the Phage Hunter program takes students into the field to collect and study the genetics of bacteriophages, tiny viruses that infect bacteria and show promise in treating such human diseases as tuberculosis. In 2008, HHMI took the program nationwide as part of its Science Education Alliance initiative, and more than 800 freshmen at 44 universities have been introduced to the yearlong course. Hatfull was previously named an HHMI Professor in 2002 as well as an HHMI "Million-Dollar Professor," receiving a $1 million grant to support the Phage Hunter project.

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