University of Pittsburgh
February 20, 2005

The Thrill of Discovery: Pitt Professor Gets Students Excited About Science

At AAAS meeting, Hatfull will explain why "you're never too young to make a scientific contribution"
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PITTSBURGH—Today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, D.C., University of Pittsburgh professor Graham Hatfull will illustrate how he piques students' curiosity about science.

Hatfull, the Eberly Family Professor and chair of Pitt's Department of Biological Sciences, will talk about how he and other Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) professors at research universities across the country are getting students more involved in science, during AAAS symposium "Rising to the Challenge: Scientific Educators and Educator Sciences," which Hatfull organized.

"The scientific community has sometimes presented itself as being elite or quirky and not accessible to the breadth of innovative and creative students who might be well suited to scientific pursuit," said Hatfull. "The advance of science is well served by the diversity of those who contribute to it. It is not just for the elite, for the 'men in white coats,' or the social oddballs. It is a pursuit that almost every person can contribute to."

To address this issue, Hatfull and colleagues are exploring ways to make research experiences available to students at all stages in their education. Hatfull has turned high school students into "phage hunters": Working with soil samples from backyards, barnyards, and the monkey pit at the Bronx Zoo, he and the students have identified more than 30 new bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria. The genomic information learned from the phages was so significant that Hatfull and the students were coauthors with HHMI investigator William R. Jacobs on a research paper in the journal Cell. "You're never too young to make a genuine scientific contribution," Hatfull said.

The HHMI professors are leading research scientists deeply committed to improving science education. HHMI gave each of them $1 million to find innovative approaches to teaching that infuse undergraduate science education with the excitement and rigor of scientific research. HHMI's program is becoming a model for fundamental reform of the way undergraduate science is taught at research universities.

Hatfull and other HHMI professors will chronicle their educational experiments as part of the AAAS topic track "Teaching and Learning in Science."