July 9, 2002
Hughes award helps Purdue fund undergraduate research
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A $2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will allow Purdue University to continue funding undergraduate research, which is good news for students like Indianas Kelli Sanders.
Last year Sanders was studying high school physics in Bicknell, Ind., dreaming about working in biomedicine somewhere down the road. Now, just a year after graduation, she is conducting her own research at Purdue on a Hughes Fellowship, examining the inner ears of zebrafish to help the fight against deafness in humans.
Unlike most science students, who may have to wait until graduate school to pursue research projects, Sanders has started hers in the summer before her sophomore year.
"It's a terrific experience," she said. "I thought I'd just be washing slides for a professor, but I'm getting to do real science. It's way more than I ever expected."
Up-and-coming young researchers like Sanders will continue to get a boost thanks to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute located in Chevy Chase, Md. HHMI has just announced that it will award Purdue $2 million to further undergraduate science education. The money is slated for several projects, one of which is summer research fellowships for 20 promising biology students. In this summers group are 18 students from Indiana.
Purdue has received the highly competitive four-year grant for the third time in 14 years, which is uncommon among awardee universities. Purdue previously received awards in 1989 and 1998.
"This is an achievement for Purdue," said Andrew Quon, program officer for the research university undergraduate science education program at HHMI. "Nearly 200 universities compete for these grants, and most that apply are not funded, let alone more than once."
The grants are awarded based primarily on the quality of the university's proposal, not on past accomplishments. This time around, HHMI's decision was based in part on Purdue's proposal to train students in bioinformatics, widely considered to be the future of biology. Bioinformatics is the use of computational tools for expanding the use of biological and medical data.
"Purdue recognizes that biology is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary," Quon said. "To advance the field, biologists will need to understand computers and mathematical concepts as never before."
The third HHMI grant, which Purdue will begin receiving this fall, will help support students while they delve into bioinformatics. It will also continue to fund undergraduate research projects like Sanders'.
"More than ever, todays students need time in both the lab and the classroom," said Sandy Ostroy, professor of biological sciences. "Our department aims to provide both a theoretical and high-level research experience to our students. We want them to be as broadly educated as possible."
Ostroy said he believes the program will benefit students whether they go on to be scientists or not, because the experience is essential to the development of a scientifically knowledgeable public.
"The best hospitals, for example, want people who have research experience," he said. "If you want to be a good physician, you have to be able to think for yourself. This fellowship opportunity teaches that."
All this adds up to a great program for Sanders, who has not decided what to do after graduation she is considering medical school as an alternative to a research career. But she is certain the experience has broadened her perspective.
"The lab work makes me appreciate what I read in textbooks it's not all just theory anymore," she said. "I'd like to work in research every summer until I graduate."
Writer: Chad Boutin, (765) 494-2081, firstname.lastname@example.orgSources: Sandy Ostroy, (765) 494-8149, email@example.com
Andrew Quon, (301) 215-8913, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelli Sanders, (765) 494-8149, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/hughes.fellowship.jpeg
Students from Indiana who have received Hughes Fellowships for summer 2002: