HHMI launches new program to provide advanced technology for use in core facilities that are intended to serve a cohort of users – including researchers from outside the HHMI community.

Technology and discovery often act in tandem to advance science, but new technology can come with a hefty price tag, which delays broad accessibility. With this in mind, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has launched its Transformative Technology Program which allows HHMI Investigators to acquire cutting-edge research equipment for their institution that simultaneously benefits their HHMI and non-HHMI colleagues.  

Through cost sharing with host institutions, the Transformative Technology Program provides a path by which HHMI scientists and colleagues can obtain research equipment that’s typically difficult to fund. In general, this program will purchase and own the major equipment items, while the host institution's cost-sharing funds will mainly support the setup and operation of the core facilities that house the instruments.

In this initial competition, HHMI invested a total of $18.8 million among the six approved proposals. Philip Perlman, HHMI senior scientific officer and Transformative Technology Program organizer, says that, although proposals must originate with an HHMI investigator, proposals that benefit their colleagues were encouraged.

“We’re funding advanced technology for use in core facilities that are intended to serve a cohort of users – including researchers from outside of the HHMI community – and these user groups can evolve as new faculty are hired and as research changes over time,” says Perlman.

The first Transformative Technology competition generated a pool of 24 preproposals that totaled $60 million (not counting an additional roughly 30 percent in cost sharing by the host institution). HHMI leadership and scientific advisors narrowed the contenders to 10 semifinalists who submitted complete proposals, which were reviewed further. Six proposals were selected for funding, each at a different HHMI host institution, most of which will also serve researchers at several research sites.

The awardees, affiliated institutions, and proposal areas are listed below:

HHMI Investigator


Proposal Area

Kevin Campbell

University of Iowa

Mass Spectrometry

Grant Jensen

California Institute of Technology
City of Hope National Medical Center
University of Southern California

Titan Krios Cryo-Electron Microscope (Cryo-EM)

Craig Mello

University of Massachusetts Medical School
Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Brandeis University
Yale University

Talos Arctica Cryo-EM

Eva Nogales

University of California, Berkeley
University of California, San Francisco
University of California, Davis
University of California, Santa Barbara
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Titan Krios Cryo-EM

Craig Pikaard

Indiana University, Bloomington
Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis

Cryo-EM Camera

Michael Rosen

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Talos Arctica Cryo-EM

The program’s initial competition encouraged submissions related to imaging technology, though proposals on other topics were also accepted. Five of the six awarded applications requested equipment for cryo-EM research, a technique in which frozen specimens, such as biomolecules, are imaged with a beam of electrons. Perlman says that the technique has become a game changer in structural biology research, as reflected in an outpouring of journal articles using cryo-EM that report high-resolution structures of complicated biomolecules. The program also funded a high-end mass spectrometer.

Perlman notes that access to these types of advanced instruments will not only boost ongoing research, but also could enable scientists to take their work in new directions.

Transformative Technology competitions are planned for alternate years, budget permitting, with the second iteration likely to be announced in early 2017. Future competitions may have diverse themes depending on technological opportunities at the time – or no suggested emphasis at all.

Through this program, the Institute will offer opportunities to HHMI investigators to propose to purchase, adapt, or develop transformative technologies.

“It's hard to know what the technology scene is going to look like in a year or two,” says Perlman. “I can’t say what the next round of proposals will bring, but the strategy and flexibility built into planning for this program give us a high degree of confidence that we will continue to make wise investments in research tools that will benefit the HHMI community of researchers and also their non-HHMI colleagues.”

For More Information

Jim Keeley 301.215.8858