undergraduate research

Hands on

For Terry Kho and Carolyn Crisp, both rising juniors, laboratory work in biology is an invaluable part of a science education at Brown. Here, they examine plants in an indoor greenhouse.

Credit: Brown University/Mike Cohea

Transforming the science experience

A $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will allow 120 Brown sophomores and juniors to conduct intensive biomedical research in the University’s laboratories.

By Anne Coyle  |  May 19, 2010  |  Email to a friend

For future scientists, having a collaborative environment where they can investigate, question, and learn is invaluable. Knowing this, and calling to mind his own undergraduate experience in a laboratory, Professor of Medical Science Michael McKeown will launch the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Fellows Program to give rising sophomores and juniors a chance to conduct group research in a laboratory setting – an experience they might not otherwise be afforded until their senior year.

HHMI announced today, May 20, that it will award Brown a $1 million grant to fund the new summer research program as part of $70 million in grants to 50 universities. The HHMI Fellows Program will take place over four summers, involving 120 students and providing a team approach to learning over each 10-week research period. One-third of the participants will be underrepresented minority students who will receive additional support to pursue science careers through the HHMI grant.

Each summer, Brown’s student research teams will explore one of four topics: Disease Hunters, which will include research into human genetic diseases in fruit flies; Genome Explorers, which will examine how genes evolve; BioBuilders, which will draw from several scientific disciplines to create biological “machines”; and Life History, Aging, and Genes, which will look at the genetic and environmental components of aging.

Professor Michael McKeown: Offering undergraduates “a tremendous research base.”: Professor Michael McKeown: Offering undergraduates “a tremendous research base.” “The HHMI Fellows Program gives undergraduates a tremendous opportunity for collaboration in an intensive research setting,” said McKeown. “Students do not usually get this experience until their senior year, and by providing it earlier, we will have a group of scientists with a tremendous research base at the beginning of their careers.”

In addition to launching the new summer research program, the HHMI grant will allow Brown to create three new undergraduate science courses. Computation for Biologists will draw from the disciplines of pure and applied mathematics and computer science, teaching students how to gather, analyze, store, and present data. The grant will also create two classes in Science and Society that will tie biological science to societal issues, such as race and genetics. Those courses will aim to deepen scientific literacy among non-science concentrators and expose those concentrating in science to disciplines in social sciences and the humanities.

This marks the fourth HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Program grant that Brown has received. Past grants contributed to Brown’s hallmark Undergraduate Teaching and Research Assistants (UTRA) program, which provides individual research experience to undergraduates. The latest Hughes grant comes at a time when Brown is strengthening undergraduate science education, including opening a state-of-the-art Science Center earlier this spring.

The HHMI Fellows Program will start recruiting participants on campus in the fall of 2010, with the first groups starting their work in summer 2011.