Skip to main content

News & Media

News & Media Front Page

$1.4 Million Hughes Grant to Spark Duke Undergraduate Neuroscience Studies

$1.4 Million Hughes Grant to Spark Duke Undergraduate Neuroscience Studies
$1.4 Million Hughes Grant to Spark Duke Undergraduate Neuroscience Studies


Duke Health News Duke Health News

DURHAM, N.C. -- The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has
announced its third major bioscience teaching grant to Duke
University to help fund new educational programs in the
neurosciences, promote discussions about ethics in research,
and continue successful summertime research experiences for
Duke undergraduates and local high school students.

With the $1.4 million in new Hughes funding over four years,
Duke will create an integrated series of science programs that
focus on cognitive neuroscience, an interdisciplinary field in
which behavior, the nervous system, and the brain are studied.
These projects will include:

Two new undergraduate laboratory courses, a Basic
Neurobiology Laboratory and a more advanced Functional
Neuroimaging Laboratory, where students will "learn by doing,"
an educational concept also emphasized in previous Hughes
awards to Duke.

Expansion of the undergraduate first-year FOCUS: "Exploring
the Mind," program, which already offers four classroom courses
where faculty from anthropology, neurobiology, philosophy,
psychiatry and psychology introduce freshmen to the study of
the mind. The enhancements will address topics like the
development of the brain, biology and morality, and how biology
affects social policy.

Launching a new undergraduate neuroscience research forum,
which will complement existing research forums in biology and
chemistry that bring together upperclassmen for independent,
integrated research.

"We're terrifically excited about this generous new support
from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute," said Dr. Charles
Putman, Duke's senior vice president for research
administration and policy, and the principal investigator for
the Hughes grant. "It is going to allow us to continue, and
build on, educational ideas that we think are important," he
added in an interview. "This new grant signals that the Hughes
Institute respects what we have done and gives us a sense of
confidence and pride."

In addition, the earlier Howard Hughes grants funded
well-equipped undergraduate laboratories in both cell and
molecular biology and developmental genetics and advanced
microscopy, where students attend courses during the school
year. During two weeks of summer, the money allows Duke to open
up those labs to secondary school teachers as well.

Previous Hughes support also funded a restructuring of
Duke's introductory courses in biology, mathematics and

"We are particularly grateful to the Howard Hughes Medical
Institute for the role it has played in invigorating
undergraduate science education and emphasizing the importance
of hands-on student learning at Duke," said Robert Thompson,
Duke's dean of undergraduate affairs and a professor of medical

The goal of all these efforts, Duke's Hughes program
organizers say, is to excite young people about science by
teaching it in a more innovative way.

"It seems clearly ridiculous to teach students to play music
by just showing them slides and asking them to read books about
it, but that's how science is often taught," said Daniele
Armaleo, an assistant professor who melds his research and
teaching interests by running the cell and molecular biology
lab course.

By contrast, Armaleo's Hughes-funded laboratory, which is
equipped with advanced research-quality tools such as a
polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine to massively copy DNA
strands, engages students to be much more involved in real
hands-on experiments. And they also learn the "ways of
thinking" behind every technique used in research, he

Similarly, undergraduates and high school students who spend
their summers in Duke research laboratories learn about science
at the cutting edge.

"They have both the pleasure and pain of research projects,"
said Mary Nijhout, associate dean of Duke's Trinity College of
Arts and Sciences. "They really get to see what research

Summer research participants seem to thrive on the intense
regimen of lab work, background literature reading and
seminars, because they realize the key role research plays in
medical and technological advance.

"What I'm working on may be the key to saving somebody's
life," said Maisha Cottman, a Duke engineering junior from
Charlotte. "This is not just trying to study, or cram and pull
an all-nighter just to get through a test." A Howard Hughes
undergraduate research fellow in 1997, Cottman has since
continued studying protein chemistry of sickle cell anemia in a
Duke Medical Center laboratory. A paper she co-wrote was
recently accepted for publication in The Journal of Clinical

"Personally, I think it's a great opportunity, because a lot
of minority students may not enter research fields, not because
there's not an interest but because they aren't aware of the
opportunities," added Cottman, who is black.

Follow-up studies show that of the 72 summer Duke research
fellows that have since graduated, more than 80 percent are
currently in graduate or medical school or in research-oriented
M.D./Ph.D. programs.

Another striking measure of the Hughes program's
accomplishment is the student research symposium that
culminates the summer Howard Hughes Pre-college Program.

"When I heard I was in a botany lab, I thought I was just
going to be watering flowers and studying plants," said Cedric
Burke, a black student from Jordan High School in Durham. "But
then I actually got to extract DNA and make linkage maps and
study chromosomes, genes and inheritance; it was really

News & Media Front Page