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Professors Receive $1 Million Teaching Grants

Computer Science and Engineering Professor Pavel Pevzner
Bioengineering Professor Robert Sah
Pavel Pevzner (top) and Robert Sah (bottom right) received Howard Hughes Medical Institute grants “to turn their own considerable creativity loose in their undergraduate classrooms.”

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded $1 million each over four years in unrestricted grants to Jacobs School professors Pavel Pevzner and Robert Sah to develop innovative educational programs to “ignite the scientific spark in a new generation of students” at UCSD.

Pevzner, professor of computer science and 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.

Bioengineering professor Robert Sah plans to bring 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.

Sah notes that while UCSD undergraduates are exposed to excellent teachers in lecture halls and classrooms, students also benefit greatly from 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 says.

Sah and Pevzner are two of the 20 professors who this year were notified by HHMI that they will receive $1 million “to turn their own considerable creativity loose in their undergraduate classrooms.”

Some of the 2006 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,” says Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president.“We are hopeful that their educational experiments will energize undergraduate science education throughout the nation.”

Pevzner was selected in part as recognition of the increasingly computational emphasis in biological research. He advocates a new philosophy of teaching computer science to biologists:“There is a large algorithmic component to biology.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.