Two UCSD Engineers Awarded $1 Million Teaching Grants from Howard Hughes Medical Institute

San Diego, CA, April 5, 2006 -- Two UCSD engineering professors affiliated with Calit2 will receive $1 million each over four years in unrestricted grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to develop innovative educational programs to "ignite the scientific spark in a new generation of students."

Pavel Pevzner
Pavel Pevzner, Professor,
Computer Science and Engineering
Pavel Pevzner, a new HHMI professor and professor of computer science and engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering, plans to introduce computer science and computational aspects of bioinformatics to all biology majors on the UCSD campus. The first computer scientist to be named an HHMI professor, Pevzner also plans to promote collaborative research experiences for undergraduates in bioinformatics.

Robert Sah, the other new HHMI professor and a professor of bioengineering at in the Jacobs School, plans to introduce undergraduate students into his tissue-engineering research program, which is aimed at growing human cartilage and bone joints as replacement parts for patients with debilitating joint injuries and diseases.

Robert Sah
Robert  Sah, Professor, Bioengineering (right) with Ph.D. candidate Kyle D. Jadin.
Sah noted that while undergraduate students at UCSD are exposed to excellent teachers in lecture halls and classrooms, students would also benefit greatly from more one-on-one interactions with faculty members, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and other researchers in dynamic research laboratories. "In my project, there is a research theme of regeneration of knee joints, understanding how joints normally work, and trying to understand how to create them so that we can make replacement parts," Sah said.

Sah, Pevzner, and the other 18 professors at a total of 18 research universities across the country will enjoy wide latitude in what to do or how to develop innovative science education programs. HHMI will provide the 20 professors with the resources "to turn their own considerable creativity loose in their undergraduate classrooms."

Sah Video
Robert Sah talks about the impact his HHMI professorship will have on undergraduate bioengineering education at UCSD.
Length: 1:55
Some of the award winners will design programs to attract more women and minorities to science. Others will turn large introductory science courses or classes for non-science majors into engaging, hands-on learning experiences that challenge students to think like working scientists.

"The scientists whom we have selected are true pioneers-not only in their research, but in their creative approaches and dedication to teaching," said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. "We are hopeful that their educational experiments will energize undergraduate science education throughout the nation."

Pavel Pevzner outlines his plan for collaborative research experiences in bioinformatics and teaching algorithmic techniques to UCSD biology majors.
Length: 5:23
UCSD's Pevzner said his selection as a 2006 HHMI grant recipient is in recognition of the increasingly computational emphasis in biological research. Noting that the education of biologists has changed little in the past 20 years, Pevzner advocates "a new philosophy of teaching computer science to biologists." "There is a large algorithmic component to biology," said Pevzner. "In fact today's biologists arguably need more algorithms and more computer-science skills than chemists, or physicists, or even some engineers."

To remedy that situation, Pevzner has developed a new course on algorithmic biology that will be open to all biology students in spring 2007. The HHMI professorship will also allow Pevzner to develop collaborative research in bioinformatics for undergraduates, teaming them with grad students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty. "They would work on well-defined projects with a realistic, one-year goal of completing the project and preparing a paper for publication," he explained.

Related Links

Howard Hughes Medical Institute
HHMI News Release
Profile of Pavel Pevzner
Profile of Robert Sah

Media Contacts

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Doug Ramsey, (858) 822-5825,