Emory chemist David Lynn has been named one of twenty inaugural Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) professors nationwide, each of whom will receive $1 million over the next four years to put undergraduates in touch with the thrill of scientific discovery.

These grants are thought to be among the largest of their kind, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Lynn’s is believed to be one of the most generous awards given specifically to enhance the classroom experience at Emory. Lynn’s proposal was one of 150 reviewed from eighty-four research universities; other grant recipients include professors from Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford, and a former Emory faculty member, Isiah Warner, of Louisiana State University.

Lynn, the Asa Griggs Candler professor of chemistry and biology, plans to develop new courses and material for undergraduate science students that highlight the research breakthroughs of graduate students and faculty members. He hopes this type of immediate, sophisticated exposure will jump-start the younger students’ interest in science as a potential career.

“The concept behind the grant is to find ways of stimulating more undergraduate students to recognize the value of graduate research,” Lynn says. “So the focus here is trying to highlight the discoveries that have been made on the Emory campus through graduate research.”

The first course Lynn plans to create will be a freshman seminar studying the ways in which order emerges. This may involve examining how molecules assemble or finding order in the seemingly random patterns of outer space–both areas in which Emory researchers have made significant discoveries.

“The benefit of [having undergraduates relate to] graduate students is that there is more of a peer relationship, a feeling of, ‘This is something I could do, this is happening right here around me,’ ” Lynn says.

The grant money also will be used to support and expand other ongoing HHMI-sponsored programs. In September, Emory received a four-year, $1.6-million grant from HHMI to expand its undergraduate biology and science outreach programs.

“Research is advancing at a breathtaking pace, but many university students are still learning science in the same old way, by listening to lectures, memorizing facts, and doing cookbook lab experiments,” says HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. “We want to empower scientists at research universities to become more involved in breaking the mold and bringing the excitement of research to science education.”

HHMI is a non-profit medical research organization that employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists. Through grants, HHMI seeks to enhance science education at all levels and maintain the vigor of biomedical science worldwide. Headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with labs all over the U.S., the institute is one of the world’s largest philanthropies.–P.P.P.

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