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Stanford wins $2 million grant to attract undergrads to science

Stanford University has won a $2-million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to strengthen the university's undergraduate biology program, according to Craig Heller, professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.

Stanford won HHMI awards of $1 million in 1989 and $1.8 million in 1994, also for undergraduate science programs.

“This money has been used primarily to sponsor undergraduate research over this period of time,” Heller said. “These grants have fertilized that effort,” making it possible for Stanford to meet a growing demand for undergraduate research.

As a result of the HHMI grant money, about half of Stanford's human biology majors are graduating with honors research projects as compared to 10 to 15 percent before the money was available, Heller said.

The funds also have been used to add more sophisticated equipment to laboratories.

For underclassmen who have less access to laboratories, this year's HHMI grant will fund a new initiative to develop “virtual laboratories.”

“It will give students the ability to actually do experiments on the computer,” he said. “The computer is not meant to take the place of wet bench labs but to give sophomores the opportunity in the context of lecture courses of actually solving problems and getting the feel of setting up experiments.”

Current work includes an effort to create a computer simulation of a kidney, which would respond on the computer in much the same way it would in a laboratory.

HHMI's announcement Wednesday of $91.1 million in grants to 58 universities brings to more than $425 million the amount awarded since 1988 to undergraduate programs.

“The Institute's undergraduate grants program, which is now entering its second decade, is having a major impact on how biology and related disciplines are taught at the college level,” said Purnell W. Choppin, president of the institute.

The 58 universities receiving grants are located in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

HHMI is a medical research organization whose principal purpose is the conduct of biomedical research. More information about the institute can be found on its web site:


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