Campus News

Bowdoin Receives $800,000 Grant for Biology and Biochemistry Curricula

Story posted July 10, 2000

Bowdoin College has been awarded a grant of $800,000 from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to further undergraduate education and research in its life sciences departments, including an online "virtual world" version of the college’s Coastal Studies Center in Harpswell.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is the nation’s largest private supporter of science education from elementary school through postdoctoral studies.
The highly competitive Hughes grants are awarded only once every four years to institutions serving primarily undergraduates. Since 1988, the philanthropy has committed about $477 million to undergraduate science education. Overall, fifty-three colleges and universities in 22 states and Puerto Rico will receive $50.3 million in awards for undergraduate biological sciences education.

Bowdoin will use the grant funds to increase the number of students in the summer research program and to start up three new research training laboratories. The funding will also allow Bowdoin faculty to develop, in partnership with the Foundation for Blood Research in Scarborough, a seminar series on bioethics and the impact of science on people’s lives.

The grant will allow Bowdoin to develop a comprehensive database on the biological life at the college’s Coastal Studies Center, which is located on a 118-acre coastal property in Harpswell. The database will be used to create a 3-D "virtual world" which students will use to explore the center in real time via the internet. Students will help construct and will contribute data to the database throughout their four years at Bowdoin.

Under the four year course of the grant, the biology faculty will institute a one-semester laboratory course focusing on laboratory techniques and experimental design, as well as a course to prepare Bowdoin graduates to teach science courses in elementary and secondary school.

Another project under this grant will invite Maine science teachers, particularly from rural schools, to a week-long summer program at Bowdoin. The sessions will help teachers introduce experimental scientific techniques to Maine secondary school students.

Bowdoin’s inter-departmental major in biochemistry has been successful in training students to join the ranks of the nation’s best scientists and physicians. Within a few years of graduation, from one-half to two-thirds of Bowdoin’s biology, chemistry, biochemistry and neuroscience students continue their studies at leading graduate and medical schools, including Yale, CalTech, Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, University of California-Berkeley and MIT. In a recent survey of biochemistry graduates, 56 percent of respondents had earned M.D.’s and 18 percent had earned Ph.D.’s.

Bowdoin received a Hughes grant in 1993 to introduce undergraduate students to the methods and techniques of lab-based science. Hughes funds have increased the quality and quantity of realistic lab-based experiments in the core courses of Bowdoin’s life sciences. They have also supported an average of 30 student research projects each year.

"Biology and technology are moving forward at an incredible rate," said Joseph G. Perpich, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. "These grants build on previous HHMI awards to help ensure that the coming generation of scientists and educators will be able to tap the enormous potential of the Web, genomic databases, and other technological advances in biological research and teaching. These grants will help bring the extraordinary excitement of today's biology to undergraduates."

HHMI’s grants program supports science education in the United States and a select group of researchers in other countries, complementing its principal mission: the conduct of research in cell biology, computational biology, genetics, immunology, neuroscience and structural biology with its own scientific teams. Altogether, the Institute has awarded more than $850 million in grants, primarily to enhance science education from preschool through postdoctoral studies. Additional information is available at

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