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Jan. 8: Carnegie Mellon, Pitt Launch Joint Ph.D. Program in Structural Biology and Biophysics


Amy Pavlak
Carnegie Mellon University

Jim Swyers   
University of Pittsburgh   

Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh Launch
Joint Doctoral Program in Structural Biology and Biophysics    

PITTSBURGH—Since its completion in 2003, the Human Genome Project has resulted in the discovery of myriad new proteins and pathways, creating a pressing need for researchers who are able to decipher the structure and function of these vitally important molecules. To meet the demand for this new scientific work force, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh are launching a joint doctoral degree program in structural biology and biophysics.    

Structural biologists use powerful, highly sophisticated technologies like X-ray crystallography, electron microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to reveal the three-dimensional structure of proteins and other molecules. Biophysicists apply physics principles along with mathematical models and computer simulations to unravel biological systems at the molecular and cellular levels.    

"There is a relatively small pool of people with this type of specialized training, and competition for qualified students who can be trained in these technologies is fierce. The ability to offer an advanced degree in these disciplines will allow us to compete with other top-tier institutions in recruiting the best and brightest students," said Angela Gronenborn, co-director of the new program and professor and chair of the Department of Structural Biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.Structural Bio

Gordon Rule, professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon and co-director of the program along with Gronenborn, added that the combined expertise and resources of the two participating institutions promise to make it a highly visible and attractive program.    

"We believe the program will be very appealing to prospective students. The courses will be jointly taught by internationally recognized faculty from both institutions, and instrumentation and facilities at both institutions are available for training," he said.    

Another major attraction of the program, known officially as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology Graduate Program, is its high degree of flexibility. Students will be able to develop expertise in a variety of disciplines, including cellular biophysics, biophysical methods, protein and viral structures, gene regulation and signaling, chemical structure and dynamics, and computational biology, just to name a few.

The program also offers students hands-on training with state-of-the-art instrumentation in Pitt's new Biomedical Sciences Tower 3 (BST3). Few expenses were spared in equipping BST3 with the most advanced instrumentation for structural and biophysical research and training, according to Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.    

"Whether it's NMR, X-ray crystallography, electron microscopy or the latest in computational systems, we have some of the most advanced facilities of this type in the country and some of the nation's top experts to train students how to use them. It really is an outstanding environment for students who want hands-on training with such sophisticated instruments," Levine said.    

"This new program exemplifies the collaborative activities and research between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, and offers students world-class training across disciplines," said Carnegie Mellon Provost and Senior Vice President Mark Kamlet. "Structural biology is by its nature an interdisciplinary science. We are pleased to work with Pitt in providing one of the richest educational and research programs available in this field."

For more information about the joint doctoral program, visit


About the Schools of the Health Sciences: The Schools of the Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh include the Graduate School of Public Health and the schools of medicine, nursing, dental medicine, pharmacy, and health and rehabilitation sciences. The schools serve as the academic partner to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Together, their combined mission is to train tomorrow's health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease, and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care. For fiscal year 2005, Pitt and its institutional affiliates ranked seventh nationally among educational institutions in grant support from the National Institutes of Health.

About the Mellon College of Science: The Mellon College of Science (MCS) at Carnegie Mellon includes the departments of biological sciences, chemistry, mathematical sciences and physics, and serves as home to a number of interdisciplinary research centers. MCS faculty and students collaborate with other top-ranked Carnegie Mellon programs to advance research and education in biosensors, proteomics, bioimaging, tissue engineering, neurobiology, bioinformatics, computational biology and green chemistry.