Two UCLA Science Professors Awarded $1 Million Grants From Howard Hughes Medical Institute to Support Creative Approaches to Undergraduate Education
Two UCLA professors are among 20 professors nationally to be awarded $1 million grants by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to creatively improve undergraduate science teaching.
UCLA's new "HHMI Professors" are Utpal Banerjee and Robert B. Goldberg, both professors in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology.
UCLA is the only university in the United States to have more than one professor selected for this honor.
HHMI challenged professors to "show the same ingenuity in undergraduate teaching" as they do in scientific research, and this week announced those who met their challenge.
Goldberg will create a novel program to teach undergraduates about the "excitement of discovery," the process by which science is conducted, and how advances in biology are rapidly transforming our lives.
"One of my goals," Goldberg said, "is to show undergraduates how research is carried out, how scientists are just like 'the rest of us,' how much effort, imagination and creativity go into experimental thought, and how much fun science is."
Goldberg will combine an interactive course, "Genetic Engineering in Medicine, Agriculture and Law," with a cutting-edge laboratory experience that will use state-of-the-science genomic technologies to uncover significant genes. The course will teach students how to think critically about experimental science and societal issues raised by emerging new genetic technologies.
"Students will emerge from the course with a conceptual background in what genes are, how they work, how genes are manipulated, and how advances in gene technology are transforming society," said Goldberg, who is also co-director of the Seed Institute.
Undergraduates in his course will be organized into teams that will carry out original research concerning which genes control the earliest stages of seed development.
"I anticipate that many new clues will be uncovered about the genes and processes that regulate seed development," Goldberg said, "and that undergraduates will present their results at conferences and contribute to original publications. I will share with these students the excitement I have for the process of discovery, and make 'science come alive.'"
Banerjee, who chairs UCLA's Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, will create a "fundamentally different research environment for a significant number of undergraduates at UCLA," he said. As an HHMI Professor, he will bring undergraduates to work in large laboratory courses in close cooperation with his lab, where his team studies the nature of cell-cell communication in Drosophila, the fruit fly. The Drosophila eye is a "premier genetic system for studying many cellular and developmental processes," said Banerjee, who added that a database of eye mutations would be an "extremely valuable resource."
"How does one cell talk to another, and how does it lead a cell to take on a certain fate?" Banerjee asks. "How does it know what it is to become? Cells must have some way of deciding who is going to do what. In order for them to take on a specific fate, they must rely on signals they get from their neighbors. Those signals have a molecular basis."
All of the fruit fly's genes are known, and its two-week reproduction cycle makes it easy to produce large numbers of flies very quickly. However, not all of its gene functions are known.
Banerjee's undergraduate students will create mutant flies, removing one gene at a time in the developing eye or the blood. They will do this for a large number of genes. Students will learn the functions of genes and how different gene functions relate to one another. Each student will map mutations and will learn molecular mapping techniques.
"UCLA undergraduates will produce publishable results with implications for human gene function and disorder," he said. "At the end of four years, a near saturation map of mutations will be created on the Drosophila chromosome."
Most of the students in Banerjee's project will participate for multiple quarters.
"I'd like to see a system where undergraduates start doing research in science very early in their careers," Banerjee said.
Fred Eiserling — UCLA dean of life sciences, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, and director of UCLA's Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program — said he is "delighted" that UCLA won two of these HHMI teaching awards, and praised the "exceptional" teaching skills of professors Goldberg and Banerjee.
HHMI invited 84 research universities to nominate faculty members. A panel of scientists and educators reviewed 150 proposals and selected 20 HHMI Professors at 19 universities in 13 states.
"Research is advancing at a breathtaking pace, but many university students are still learning science the same old way, by listening to lectures, memorizing facts and doing cookbook lab experiments that thousands have done before," said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech, a biochemist who continued teaching undergraduates at the University of Colorado at Boulder after he won a Nobel Prize. "We want to empower scientists at research universities to become more involved in breaking the mold and bringing the excitement of research to science education."
HHMI is a private philanthropy dedicated to biomedical research and science education. The institute employs 324 investigators who conduct basic medical research in HHMI laboratories at 69 of the nation's leading research centers and universities. Through its complementary grants program, HHMI supports science education in the United States and a select group of researchers abroad.
· See the news release and related links from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at: www.hhmi.org/news/091802.html
· Robert B. Goldberg: www.mcdb.ucla.edu/Research/Goldberg/index.htm
· Utpal Banerjee: research.mednet.ucla.edu/cfm/lifesci/MCDBfaculty.cfm?FacultyKey=2