New Brunswick, NJ - The National Science Foundation has awarded Rutgers University scientists two grants totaling nearly $3 million to support outreach beyond the borders of the university to regional high schools. The two programs enabled by the new NSF funding build upon the Waksman Student Scholars Program established in 1993, through which more than 1,500 high school students and 72 teachers from 46 New Jersey high schools have engaged in molecular biology research.
Professors William Sofer and Andrew Vershon of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University, the recipients of the grants, will jointly direct the two programs - "Bioinformatics: Learning by Doing," a four-year project, and "HiGene: A Genome Sequencing Project for High Schools," a three-year project.
Sofer, a professor in Rutgers' Department of Genetics, said the first program will develop Web-based tools and resources so that high school students will be able to conduct genuine bioinformatics research in their schools. The major software product will be the DNA Sequence Analysis Program (DSAP) - an online, interactive learning and teaching tool that will be field tested, revised and refined through feedback from teachers and students over the term of the project.
"By using the DSAP online tool, students will learn about the emerging field of bioinformatics, which draws upon mathematics, biology, computer science and molecular biology," Sofer said. "Students will learn while participating in an authentic research project and then publish their results so that scientists worldwide can access and make use of their analyses."
Because the software will be available over the Internet, students regardless of their location will be able to participate in original research and contribute to scientific investigations using the resources developed in this project.
HiGene, the second program, targets 75 teachers who will participate in the project, along with about 30 students per year who will attend a summer program at the Waksman Institute, and some 300 students who will participate in HiGene remotely from their schools throughout the balance of the academic year.
"HiGene will immerse teachers and students in the culture of science, bridge the gulf between the research community and the high schools and, for students, open the door to career opportunities in the burgeoning field of bioinformatics," said Vershon, a professor in Rutgers' Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. "HiGene will encourage and promote the use of the vast array of Internet-based tools that has been built up around the field of molecular biology over the past few decades, and lead teachers and their students to an understanding of how DNA sequence information is acquired and analyzed."
Over the years, the WSSP has been sponsored by the Waksman Institute, Rutgers' Department of Genetics and Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and Rutgers' Division of Life Sciences. It has been supported by other grants from the NSF, the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Merck & Co., Inc.
In addition, GE Healthcare's Life Sciences Business in Piscataway has been an active participant in the WSSP, providing reagents, logistics support and the time of its employees. In the coming year, GE Healthcare plans to expand the relationship with Rutgers by adding a mentor program and having the high school science teachers come to GE Healthcare over the summer to learn about protein science.
Established in 1766, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is America's eighth oldest institution of higher learning. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Camden, Newark and New Brunswick, Rutgers offers more than 280 bachelor's, master's, doctoral and professional degree programs. The university is home to 27 degree-granting schools and colleges, and more than 150 specialized centers and institutes.