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Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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New program trains scientists at interface of physics and biology

A new program will give graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the physical and mathematical sciences interdisciplinary training in the biological sciences, helping to fill a growing need in biology for researchers with strong quantitative backgrounds.

The program is funded by a five-year $2.5 million grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a foundation dedicated to advancing medical science.

"The quantitative sciences are becoming a permanent part of biology," said program co-director John Hopfield, a professor of molecular biology whose original training was in physics.

The grant will support a training program in biological dynamics directed by Hopfield and Simon Levin, the George M. Moffett professor of biology. Called "Interfaces in Science," the program will recruit graduate students and postdoctoral scholars and challenge them to apply their training in modeling complex systems to understanding the behavior of biological systems.

Participants are most likely to be recruited from the departments of physics, applied math, engineering and ecology and evolutionary biology, said Hopfield.

Benefits of the program may go beyond the actual training of students, he added. "It's exciting because it is going to promote interactions between a whole range of faculty members who ought to get together but don't, and the glue that will hold them together is the fact that these students need to be trained."

The grant is one of four that Burroughs Wellcome gave to U.S. universities. (Click here for Burroughs Wellcome news release.) "These awards provide an opportunity for outstanding graduate and postdoctoral students from the physical, chemical and computational sciences to apply their knowledge and talents to biological problems," said Burroughs Wellcome Fund President Enriqueta C. Bond.

"The awards help fill the gap left by federal funding efforts that are discipline specific," said Bond. "Through these awards programs, the fund is trying to jump start a new type of training to meet the quantitative challenges emerging in biology."

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601

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