The blueprint for a renovated biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology (BBMB) laboratory at Whitman made a large impression on funders at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“What better way to make progress in science than by tearing down the walls that keep scientists apart?” HHMI says of the project on its Web site.

As a result, Whitman will receive an $800,000 grant from HHMI as part of a national program to enhance undergraduate instruction and research in the life sciences.

Jim RussoJim Russo

“We have a unique, interdisciplinary science program in BBMB,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry Jim Russo.

“We’re incorporating at the undergraduate level science that historically has been done at the graduate level. The Hughes grant will enhance our program by expanding research opportunities as well as course opportunities.”

The grant will serve four purposes: expand student-faculty collaborative research on campus and through Whitman’s association with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle; create a new faculty line in bioanalytical chemistry; renovate the BBMB laboratory; and expand outreach partnerships with middle- and high-school science programs and teachers in the Walla Walla Valley.

The proposal, coordinated and chiefly written by Russo, was one of 192 applications reviewed for HHMI by a group of distinguished scientists and educators.

“One of the key aspects of the Hughes program is its recognition of the interdisciplinary roles that chemistry, physics and biology play in that picture,” said Russo. “The grant will reach multiple departments and faculty. It has a very broad reach, which is exciting for all of us in the life sciences.”