Middlebury

College receives NSF grant for genetics research and science education

April 26, 2009

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Grant of $175,000 per year for up to five years to Jeremy Ward, assistant professor of biology at Middlebury College.

 

The grant for "Toward the Genetics of Meiosis: Integration of Meiotic Biology and Public School Science Outreach" will involve about 20 undergraduates and an undetermined number of Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS) and High School (MUHS) students and teachers in the research together.

 

The project, as conceived by Ward, will combine the fields of genetics, cell biology and molecular biology to determine the structure and function of a mammalian gene that is important to the sexual reproduction process. Concurrently, the Middlebury College students will develop a mobile genetics lab called the "Gene Wagon" to use at the middle school and high school.

 

"The field of meiosis research has been affected by recent genome sequencing efforts and a rapid increase in the use of genomic technologies," Ward said. "These advances have exceeded the resources of most secondary, middle and elementary education systems.

 

"Using meiosis as a model, we will use the NSF award to engage our students, both pre-college and college-level alike, by giving them intellectual access to the cutting-edge scientific discoveries that will prepare them for the post-genomic era. We will conduct molecular biological research in meiosis and integrate the creativity and fundamentals of that research into our local public-school curricula."

 

Ward will serve as the principal investigator on the project, with both Catherine Combelles, assistant professor of biology at Middlebury, and Janice Willey, associate superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union, listed as his collaborators. The project also will employ a research/outreach coordinator.

 

Maximum grant of $875,000

The project will commence on September 1, 2009, and it is eligible for renewal each year thereafter for a total of five years "contingent on the availability of funds and the scientific progress of the project," according to the NSF. At $175,000 per year, the grant could reach $875,000 after five years.

 

Ward elaborated on how the College and public schools will work together: "The College students will devise and teach programs in the local schools, and local school students and teachers will come to the College to participate first-hand in the research. ...We hope that when the local school kids see science being performed by college students, and when they get their own hands on the project, that it will inspire them to do more science."

 

Associate Superintendent Willey sees that the NSF project will enrich science education at the middle school and high school levels.

 

"Addison Central Supervisory Union is thrilled to be included in this collaborative project with the College," Willey said, "and we are particularly happy that it's in the area of science. Since the inception of No Child Left Behind in 2001, our focus has been on reading, mathematics, and writing, and the sciences has been somewhat neglected. So we wholeheartedly embrace this opportunity."

 

Assistant Professor Ward earned both his B.A. in cell biology/genetics and his Ph.D. in cancer biology from Cornell University. He did a postdoctoral fellowship in mouse meiotic genetics at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, before joining the Middlebury faculty in 2003. For more information about Ward and his research interests, click here.

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