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07/08/2002 07:00:00

Caltech gets $1.8 million from HHMI for undergraduate biological sciences

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded $1.8 million to the California Institute of Technology for support of undergraduate programs in the biological sciences.

The four-year grant to Caltech is one of the 44 awards the HHMI is making this year at a total expenditure of $80 million for bolstering programs at the undergraduate level. Specifically, the grant program is aimed at addressing the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of biological research, providing support for new undergraduate work in areas such as genomics and computational biology, and encouraging minorities to pursue research careers.

According to Raymond Deshaies, an associate professor of biology at Caltech and principal investigator of the grant, the funds "will enable Caltech to maintain its position near the pinnacle of American undergraduate education by supporting the development and implementation of innovative curricula and outreach activities."

Some of the major Caltech initiatives the grant will support include continued development of chemistry professor Nate Lewis's educational chemistry videos; expansion of outreach activities of the Caltech Precollege Science Initiative (CAPSI); and continued development of new lab courses in biological imaging, informatics, structural biology, and neurophysiology.

Steve Mayo, associate professor of biology and chemistry as well as an HHMI associate investigator, is co--–principal investigator of the grant.

In announcing the grant, HHMI president Thomas R. Cech said in a statement that "biology is progressing so rapidly and interfacing with so many other disciplines that undergraduate teaching runs the risk of substituting quantity for quality."

"Through these grants, the institute is providing resources to help universities bring their undergraduate science teaching up to the level of their research programs."

Among other existing programs Caltech will support with the grant money are the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, which has operated for a number of years to provide undergraduates with a chance to work on real research projects. The HHMI funds will be used for SURF stipends in the biological and chemical sciences.

Also, HHMI funds will be used for the Minority Undergraduate Research Fellowship (MURF) program, which was created in 1991 and has been supported by HHMI since 1992. This program is directed toward giving gifted underrepresented minority undergraduate students from other universities a summer of research on the Caltech campus.

Of the $1.8 million grant, $318,000 is earmarked for the CAPSI program, which is an ongoing commitment by Caltech to augment science teaching at the K-12 level in 15 area school districts. The new grant will include further development of CAPSI's innovative hands-on science curriculum, as well as high school teacher education and scientist-teacher partnerships.

Founded in 1891, Caltech is located on a 124-acre campus in Pasadena. The Institute also manages the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory and operates eight other off-campus astronomical, seismological, and marine biology facilities. Caltech has an enrollment of some 2,000 students, more than half of whom are in graduate studies, and a faculty of about 290 professorial members and 54 research members, and some 550 postdoctoral scholars. Caltech employs a staff of more than 2,400 on campus and 4,800 at JPL.

U.S. News &World Report consistently ranks Caltech's undergraduate and graduate programs as being among the nation's best. The average SAT score of members of recent incoming freshman classes has consistently been at 1500.

Over the years, 29 Nobel Prizes and four Crafoord Prizes have been awarded to faculty members and alumni. Forty-seven Caltech faculty members and alumni have received the National Medal of Science; and eight alumni (two of whom are also trustees), two additional trustees, and one faculty member have won the National Medal of Technology. Since 1958, 13 faculty members have received the annual California Scientist of the Year award. On the Caltech faculty there are 80 fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and on the faculty and Board of Trustees, 70 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 45 members of the National Academy of Engineering.

Written by Robert Tindol