Carnegie Mellon University

A Letter from the Department Head

Welcome to the Department of Biological Sciences!  It has been my privilege to oversee our departmental community as Department Head for the past two years. Let me share my enthusiasm as I summarize some recent advances in our research and educational missions.

Undergraduate education
We have developed new courses in cutting edge bioscience, with focus areas that include stem cells, cancer, genome engineering, and molecular neuroscience. Increasing student interest in Biological Sciences has led us to offer two sections of Honors Modern Biology, the introductory course for students who are likely to major in Biological Sciences.

Graduate education
Increased flexibility in our Ph.D. training program has allowed us to recruit Ph.D. student cohorts with increasingly broad interests, as reflected in their choices of courses and rotation laboratories. We have developed a new graduate course in quantitative data analysis, in which datasets from our own laboratories serve as models to present analytical approaches and caveats. We have also expanded the breadth and depth of courses for students in our MS program, which we run jointly with the Department of Computational Biology. Both of these graduate programs have benefitted enormously from the appointment of Dr. DJ Brasier as Assistant Department Head for Graduate Affairs, and the promotion of Ena Miceli to Director of Graduate Operations. We are also very excited about our new Biological Sciences Graduate Student Action Committee, a Ph.D. student-led enterprise that will help shape our training and professional development activities, as well as many other aspects of graduate student life.

Faculty recruitment
We have hired two tenure-track Assistant Professors, Dr. Eric Yttri and Dr. Leon Zhang, as well as a new teaching-track Assistant Professor, Dr. Stephanie Wong-Noonan. Eric is a Systems Neuroscientist who focuses on how diverse neural circuits are coordinated to turn decisions into actions. Leon combines Bioengineering and Chemistry-based approaches to develop imaging and function-based strategies to understand pathological processes in cells and tissues. Stephanie has training in Cell Biology and Bioengineering, and is strengthening our students' understanding of applications in the Biosciences.

Faculty recognition
Congratulations to Dr. Aryn Gittis, who has been promoted to Associate Professor, and to Dr. Marcel Bruchez, who has been promoted to Professor. Overall our faculty have a strong national and international presence, as reflected in 19 appointments to journal editorships, nine appointments to foundation advisory boards, 13 appointments to national or international grant review panels, and nine appointments to international conference planning committees.

Research mission
Our research accomplishments this year include exciting advances in a chemotherapy delivery system, elucidation of a communication mechanism among ear infection-causing bacteria, discovery of a new paradigm for regulatory protein evolution, the definition of specific cells for therapeutic intervention in movement disorders like Parkinson's, and insight into the mechanisms of parallel information processing in the brain. We have competed successfully for several new grants from the federal government and foundations, including over $7 million in BRAIN Initiative awarded to projects in the Department of Biological Sciences and Chemistry, the Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

We are in the midst of defining new directions that will augment our leadership role in Biological Science research and education, and will strengthen our integration into the Mellon College of Science and Carnegie Mellon campus communities. I welcome your interest in the department. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Sincerely yours,


Aaron P. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences 
Professor & Head, Department of Biological Sciences