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by Richard Saltus
Creative thinking by undergraduate professors like Susan Wessler (left) and Scott Strobel is inspiring a new generation of scientists.
Imagine yourself, as a college junior, exploring a rainforest to bioprospect for medically useful microbes, studying plant genomes to observe evolution in action, or analyzing your own DNA to determine the origins and wanderings of your ancient ancestors. That's just a taste of what the 20 recently chosen HHMI Professors are cooking up to tantalize undergraduates, fire their imaginations and develop their skills, and ultimately enhance the ranks of science.
The awardees—teacher-researchers all—will each receive $1 million over 4 years to test-drive ideas that depart from traditional curricula, which tend to emphasize fact memorization and laboratory experiments with predetermined "right" answers. Instead, the Professors will engage students in open-ended research projects using the techniques and tools of working scientists.
These 20 represent the A-team in pursuit of teaching innovations, but the talent pool was deep and their selection was not easy. "Every proposal I read gave me new insights and ideas on improving undergraduate science teaching," says Sharon R. Long, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University and chair of the panel that reviewed 150 applications from 100 leading research universities.
Photos: Wessler: Imke Lass; Strobel: Amy Etra