Carnegie Mellon, Pitt Strengthen Undergraduate Research Through Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grants Totaling $3.6 Million-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, June 5, 2006

Carnegie Mellon, Pitt Strengthen Undergraduate Research Through Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grants Totaling $3.6 Million

Schools Are Two of Only Three State-Wide To Receive Undergraduate Science Education Program Grants

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University has been awarded $1.5 million and the University of Pittsburgh has been awarded $2.1 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to strengthen their undergraduate research and outreach programs in biological sciences. Both grants are for the duration of four years.

The grants — which are two of three awarded in Pennsylvania — underscore the region's strength in biological sciences training, according to officials at both universities. The third funded program in Pennsylvania is at Lehigh University. There are 50 universities nationwide receiving 2006 HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Program Grants.

The Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 report by the National Science Board, part of the National Science Foundation, found that the share of science and engineering degrees in the U.S. is low relative to other countries. As the globalization of science and engineering research in labor markets continues, the competitiveness of U.S. graduates will be increased by participating in research at the undergraduate level.

Elizabeth Jones, head of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon and principal investigator of the Carnegie Mellon grant, said the award to Carnegie Mellon will allow the department to continue its strong commitment to interdisciplinary research and education.

"Interdisciplinary studies are deeply embedded in the Carnegie Mellon culture, and this HHMI funding will help the university to effectively train a new generation of biologists who will bring the tools and perspective of numerous disciplines to bear on solving problems in biological research," said Jones, who is a University Professor and the Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences.

At Carnegie Mellon, the funding will enable several new, advanced interdisciplinary lecture and laboratory courses to attract students from fields including mathematics, statistics, engineering, and computer science. The proposed courses, undergraduate research initiatives and outreach programs will serve to train more students in quantitatively oriented studies needed to advance life sciences research today. New courses include a lecture and simulation/modeling course called Information, Entropy, and Noise in the Brain, and a course that integrates electronics and optics for biology. The HHMI funding will also strengthen the successful Summer Research Institute for rising sophomores and offer introductory biology courses in a variety of "flavors" tailored to the growing and heterogeneous population of science, social science, and engineering students. In addition, the Carnegie Mellon program will expand outreach activities and organize interdisciplinary faculty research symposiums to acquaint prospective biology students with emerging fields in the biological sciences.

"Programs like these have led to a huge increase in the enrollment of biological sciences majors. The proposed courses, undergraduate research initiatives and outreach programs will all serve to train more students in quantitatively oriented studies needed to advance life sciences research today," said Richard D. McCullough, dean of the Mellon College of Science.

Carnegie Mellon faculty have a lengthy track record of HHMI support, with the latest award representing its fifth consecutive HHMI award in support of bioscience education. Faculty now currently oversee three active HHMI awards, including a $2.2 million grant to Jones to develop interdisciplinary programs for biological sciences majors. This grant has helped to support the highly successful Summer Research Institute, which immerses rising sophomores in advanced molecular biology laboratory techniques during an intense summer experience.

Collectively, the HHMI awards also have made possible the establishment of the an undergraduate computational biology initiative, which in turn laid the groundwork for a joint computational biology doctoral program with the University of Pittsburgh. In fall 2005, Carnegie Mellon received a prestigious $1 million HHMI grant to support the development of an interdisciplinary joint doctoral program in computational biology. During its first three years, Carnegie Mellon will be the lead institution under Robert Murphy, professor of biological sciences and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, who serves as program director for the grant. Pitt will be the lead institution during the latter five years, with new funding by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

At Pitt, the new grant will fund programs in the Department of Biological Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences that encourage lengthy, meaningful research experiences for undergraduates. Students will be able to begin research as early as the summer before their freshman year through a program called FastStart, and the programs aim to keep them conducting research through graduation. Along the way, Pitt students will participate in project-based freshman biology labs and BioResearch101, a research introduction workshop for rising sophomores. During the summer after their junior year, experienced student researchers will receive training in how to mentor students new to the program. With this grant, the university aims to create a thriving undergraduate research community that will add value to the research experiences of both students and faculty.

Pitt's current biology outreach programs will also receive support from the grant. These initiatives include summer workshops for Pittsburgh high school science teachers in which they develop inquiry-based modules to teach their students throughout the year; "Pitt Kits" that contain supplies for teachers to implement those modules; and summer science camps for local middle and high school students. In addition, the workshops will be expanded to Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., only 15 miles from Pitt's Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology.

The Pitt programs will be administered by Graham Hatfull, the Eberly Family Professor of Biotechnology and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences. Hatfull is also co-director of the Pittsburgh Bacteriophage Institute and a "million-dollar" HHMI professor who recently received a $500,000 renewal grant to continue his research and education activities.

The HHMI has supported undergraduate science education at the nation's colleges and universities since 1988. Through its undergraduate grants, the institute has provided 247 institutions of higher learning with nearly $700 million for programs that include undergraduate research opportunities; new faculty, courses and labs; teaching and mentoring training; and work with pre-college students and teachers.

To view the HHMI news release, see For the NSF National Science Board Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 report, visit


About Carnegie Mellon: Carnegie Mellon is a private research university with a distinctive mix of programs in engineering, computer science, robotics, business, public policy, fine arts and the humanities. More than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students receive an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration, and innovation. A small student-to-faculty ratio provides an opportunity for close interaction between students and professors. While technology is pervasive on its 140-acre campus, Carnegie Mellon is also distinctive among leading research universities for the world-renowned programs in its College of Fine Arts. For more information, visit

About the University of Pittsburgh: The University of Pittsburgh, founded in 1787, is an internationally respected center of learning and research in the arts, sciences, humanities, professions and health sciences. An independent state-related, coeducational research university, Pitt comprises a Pittsburgh campus — home to 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools — and four Western Pennsylvania regional campuses. The university offers nearly 400 distinct degree programs and confers more than 7,500 degrees annually. For more information, visit

By: Lauren Ward