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That schedule suits group leader Sean Eddy, currently an HHMI investigator at Washington University in St. Louis. Eddy knew he wanted to join Janelia Farm 5 years ago, when he first heard Rubin describe the campus. “I'm the kind of guy who prefers to work with my own hands,” says Eddy, a computational biologist who builds mathematical tools to probe genomes. “I enjoy being a professor, but I'm constantly training, training, training. At Janelia Farm, I will get to do the science.” While at the campus, Eddy plans to adapt his computational techniques to the study of neural circuits.
Rubin envisions Janelia Farm as a “combination think tank and research lab,” with an unstructured, open environment that invites brainstorming and long, meaningful debate. The plan for the campus emerged as HHMI leadership realized that some biomedical research problems cannot be adequately addressed in a university environment. Developing new tools for biological discovery, for instance, requires diverse expertise. But university scientists often work in distant departments, with little opportunity to collaborate extensively.
HHMI modeled Janelia Farm after the best features of two widely respected institutions: the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and AT&T's Bell Laboratories in the United States. Although these organizations have had different missions, both incorporated small research groups, generous funding, and top support services.
In addition to the incoming group leaders, HHMI has appointed two senior fellows to Janelia Farm: Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, who is the former director of MRC LMB, and Charles V. Shank, former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who also worked at Bell Labs. The senior fellows will advise Rubin, spend several weeks a year in residence at Janelia Farm, and help shape its research program.
“There are three critical ingredients for a leading lab: stable funding, top scientific leadership, and scientific focus,” says Shank. “Janelia Farm has all three. This HHMI effort is poised to make fundamental contributions to the understanding of neural networks, laying the foundation for a new understanding of the human brain.”
The research programs at Janelia Farm naturally extend HHMI's commitment to offering creative scientists freedom from research constraints. Janelia Farm's campus and scientific program will complement HHMI's long-standing investigator program, which currently consists of more than 300 researchers at 64 universities throughout the United States who have the freedom and flexibility to push the bounds of biomedical research. HHMI recently announced the selection of 43 of the nation's most promising biomedical scientists as new HHMI investigators.
Like HHMI's investigator positions, Janelia Farm appointments are temporary. Group leaders will be appointed for an initial 6-year term. At that point, outside experts and HHMI leadership will review each group leader's contribution, including research progress, collaboration, and mentoring. Successful group leaders will be offered a 5-year renewal, with an invitation to stay at Janelia Farm. (The review process will be repeated every 5 years.) Those leaders also can choose to move on, as HHMI investigators, to another U.S. research institution.
If successful group leaders develop interests that stray from Janelia Farm's mission, they may be offered renewal, without an invitation to stay. Those leaders, too, will be offered HHMI investigator appointments at other research institutions. Finally, group leaders who are not renewed will be given 2 years of research support.