Brandeis is one of ten research universities selected to receive the 3-year grant in a nationwide competition among 132 institutions. The grant will enable the university to develop a program in quantitative biology, which uses physical modeling and quantitative experimentation traditionally associated with physics and chemistry, to understand how cells and biological macromolecules function.
The grant was awarded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which joined forces to provide both start-up funds and sustaining support for the multidisciplinary graduate training programs. The programs will bring together students in biochemistry, biophysics, structural biology, chemistry, molecular and cellular biology, neuroscience and physics.
"Our goal is to facilitate changes in doctoral education that will enable biomedical scientists to work well across disciplinary lines," noted Peter J. Bruns, HHMI's vice president for grants and special programs.
"This grant could only happen in a place like Brandeis, where physics and life sciences freely mix," noted physicist Jané Kondev, who spearheaded the university's proposal, along with biochemistry chair Jeff Gelles.
The grant consists of two components: hiring a new faculty member in quantitative biology and developing a set of four courses and community-building initiatives such as biweekly seminars, monthly lunches, and an annual boot camp and retreat at which students present papers. The grant also includes funding to create a state-of-the art instrumentation laboratory course with equipment such as laser tweezers, spectrometers and research-level confocal and fluorescence microscopes.
"These scientists will be better equipped to advance medical research in the 21st century, solve major challenges, and optimize the delivery of human healthcare," said Roderic Pettigrew, NIBIB director.
"We're already very collaborative here at Brandeis, but being able to bring people together in this new program and lab will make us that much stronger at the interface of the physical and life sciences," noted Gelles. "Brandeis is a natural home for this program."