NIH Grant Funds Training Of New Generation of Interdisciplinary Researchers

A cross-disciplinary training program covering science at the intersection of engineering, physics and biology is slated to receive a $1.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant.

The Integrated Graduate Program in Physical and Engineering Biology (IGPPEB – or, more commonly, PEB) was started with seed funding from the University in 2008 and further supported by the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences. With the five-year grant, which comes from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) of the NIH, the program will continue to grow.

Lynne Regan, a professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and of chemistry, is director of the program. Corey O'Hern, associate professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, physics, & applied physics; Simon Mochrie, professor of physics & applied physics and Tom Pollard, professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and of molecular biophysics and biochemistry comprise the 'leadership team' for this and other convergent efforts at Yale. All four attended a party at Kline Biology Tower last week to celebrate the grant and acknowledge the contributions of all the faculty from the School of Engineering & Applied Science, Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Yale School of Medicine who have worked to make this program a success. Graduate students from all years of the program also joined the celebration. Their key role in making the program a success was also recognized.

"Interdisciplinary research is where cutting-edge discoveries will be made," Regan said. "So they can be leaders in such endeavors, we need to educate students to have a breadth of understanding so they can converse and appreciate science in areas other than their own, yet still have a depth of knowledge in their area of specialization. PEB takes a holistic approach to graduate education, with opportunities to participate in outreach, to improve communication skills and to interact with researchers at other institutions - all being integral components of the program."

Transcending traditional boundaries between disciplines, the program trains a new generation of scientists skilled at applying physical and engineering approaches to biological research. PEB has a balance of students with physics/engineering and biology backgrounds who learn partly through reciprocal peer tutoring, as well as joint mentoring by faculty from physics, engineering, and biology.

Corey O'Hern, co-director of the program, noted that competition for such grants is extremely intense. Although the original application was well received, the Yale team had to revise it several times before funding was secured. The grant is extremely important for Yale because it is the first training grant that is specifically intended to fund students from engineering and physics departments in addition to the biological sciences.

"The training grant funds students who will belong to the IGPPEB cohort, who will take the IGPPEB curriculum, and who want to carry out research at the engineering/physics/biology interface," O'Hern said. "For physics and engineering students, it will teach them the necessary biology they'll need to know to carry out the research. For biology students, it will teach the necessary mathematics, physics, and computer programming necessary to carry out research at the interface of engineering, physics, and biology."

The School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS) offers several of these courses. O'Hern, for example, is currently teaching the PEB course, Biological Physics, which is cross-listed in multiple departments. Similarly, the IGPPEB course Methods and Logic in Interdisciplinary Research is notable because it is also cross-listed and is taught by a wider set of faculty than any other Yale course.

For more information about the program, go to the PEB website. For more information about the Raymond and Beverley Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences, go to the Institute's website