Imagine getting a million bucks to carry forward a project dear to your heart. That's the happy fate of 20 educators who have been selected as Howard Hughes Medical Institute professors. The professors will invest their grants in projects that further science education for undergraduates. "In this program we are supporting faculty to use research-grade innovation to advance science education," says Peter Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs.
HHMI asked 100 research universities to nominate up to two faculty members to compete for the awards. Nominees were evaluated for the potential impact of their proposed projects on undergraduate science education and for their educational and research achievements.
Several of the awardees have ties to chemistry, including Catherine L. Drennan, an associate chemistry professor at MIT; Irving R. Epstein, a chemistry professor at Brandeis University; Baldomero Olivera, a biology professor at the University of Utah who studies molecular mechanisms involving the nervous system; Scott A. Strobel, a chemistry professor at Yale University; David R. Walt, a chemistry professor at Tufts University; Jennifer West, a bioengineering professor at Rice University; and Richard N. Zare, a chemistry professor at Stanford University.
Students of these professors will benefit from innovative and downright fun teaching techniques. Strobel, for instance, will take a dozen undergraduates bioprospecting for natural products produced by microbes in rain forests, HHMI reports. The students will purify and analyze the compounds they collect and test them for useful properties.
The institute is also extending funding for some of its first group of HHMI professors, who were selected in 2002. Those awardees include Louisiana State University chemistry professor Isiah M. Warner.