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Biology’s Million-Dollar Boon

MIT’s undergraduate biology curriculum is getting a creative upgrade, thanks to biology professor Graham Walker. He is one of 20 U.S. educators to receive a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Awarded last fall, the grants support improvements in undergraduate science education.

Walker hopes to enrich students’ learning experiences. He will use take-home experiments, such as testing household products to identify carcinogens, to get students more involved in learning. Also, he will add such online enhancements as video clips and interactive Web sites to aid students. “What’s motivating me is to see if I can capture the interest of the students and engage them in the subject,” says Walker, who teaches introductory biology and microbial physiology.

To implement his ideas, Walker will invest some of the award money in people. He plans to create an education group-similar to a research group-comprising undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs, who will meet regularly to discuss curriculum improvement.

Money has never before been available on this scale for curriculum development, Walker notes. This is the first year the grants have been given. Peter Bruns, the Hughes Institute’s vice president for grants and special programs, says, “I expect success because Graham is taking the strategy he knows for research and applying it to education development.”

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