Hopkins Receives $1.8 Million Hughes Grant Arts and Sciences, Engineering will buy computers, improve labs By Emil Venere Undergraduates who take Harry Gold-berg's course on the neurophysiology of vision find themselves pursuing the kind of real-science research usually reserved for graduate students. It is no ordinary classroom experience. "The best way to describe it is that, after college it will be the one course that you remember," said Yonatan Grad, a chemistry major who took the course the first semester it was offered, last spring. It caught on quickly with students, who learned to use creativity and critical thinking instead of just textbooks to devise their own research projects. "For the first time in my Hopkins career, students were actually getting together outside of class to discuss it ... which is unusual," said Grad, an 18-year-old junior from Rochester, N.Y. Scoring well on tests is not the only gauge of whether students will excel in the real world, said Dr. Goldberg, a research associate at the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute. "If the students cannot apply what they have learned, I would argue that the students really don't understand the material," he said. "I like them to think about what they're learning and think about how that information can be used." The neurobiologist had his students probe how different cells in a frog's retina respond to different visual stimuli. Various stimuli, such as a dark spot or vertical bars moving from left to right, were produced on a computer-driven television monitor. As the frog's retina cells responded to the different stimuli, electrical signals from the cells were amplified and recorded. The course is an example of the kind of teaching that helped earn Hopkins a $1.8 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, said Shin Lin, associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. The four-year grant, announced this week, was issued through the institute's Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program. Nearly every item on the grant proposal, including the physiology of vision course, was approved for funding. In the past, Goldberg's course has been funded by the Biology Department and a previous Hughes grant. "The reason we received everything we asked for was because our proposal was so highly rated," said Dr. Lin, director of the program at Hopkins. The money will enable Hopkins to double its number of summer fellows, to 25. Undergraduates who are selected for the program spend the summer working with veteran scientists, gaining valuable research experience. "We are also expanding the program to include students from historically black colleges," Dr. Lin said. About 60 students have completed the fellowship program since it began in 1989. The largest chunk of the money, $1.2 million, will go toward equipment including sophisticated computer hardware for biophysics students and a special teaching version of a nuclear magnetic resonance system for the Chemistry Department. Another innovation is the addition of Introduction to Laboratory Research in Biophysics. The new course, which will be taught by Dr. Lin, fills a void in undergraduate education by giving students a firm working knowledge of advanced laboratory techniques. Undergrads usually learn advanced laboratory skills by joining a research laboratory. Unfortunately, it might take a full year for the student to become proficient while working in a lab. "It's inefficient," Dr. Lin said. "I will introduce the students to a solid core of modern basic research techniques. After this intensive training period, when they get into a lab, they will already be able to do a lot of things. It makes them a lot more valuable to research laboratories. "Secondly, instead of a cookbook type of laboratory course, which we have plenty of, this one kindles research," he added. "They will do experiments that are modeled after classic research experiments." The grant money will also be used to upgrade instruments and replace equipment at a time of increasing undergraduate enrollment. "It couldn't have come at a better time," Dr. Lin said. "We are accepting more undergraduates, and we have to spend more money on them. This is really a boost." Grant funding extends well beyond the Biology Department, since it is used to finance programs in other departments, such as Physics, Chemistry and Engineering, which provide courses in subjects related to biology. The grant represents an increase in annual funding of $250,000, spreading $1.8 million over four years, compared with a $1 million five-year grant issued to Hopkins in 1989. This year the Hughes Institute issued a total of $86 million in grants to 62 universities. Individual grants ranged from $1 million to $2 million.
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