Burroughs Wellcome Fund Interfaces in Science
Cross-Disciplinary Program in Biophysical Dynamics and Biocomplexity

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Further Description
Burroughs Wellcome Fund Interfaces in Science

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is an independent private foundation dedicated to advancing the medical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities. BWF has no affiliation with any corporation. It conducts the majority of its grant-making through competitive programs designed to support the career development of young scientists and to build capacity in research areas BWF believes to be undervalued or in need of targeted support. The goals of the Institutional Awards at the Scientific Interface program, which BWF began in 1996, are “to facilitate disciplinary transitions at academic institutions and to train investigators coming from quantitative and theoretical backgrounds so they can introduce new approaches and new ideas into the biological arena.” Additional information about BWF and its programs is available on the Web at www.bwfund.org.

The University of Chicago Cross-Disciplinary Training Program in Biophysical Dynamics and Biocomplexity, Stephen Kron and Norbert F. Scherer, Co-Directors, is one of four grants awarded by the BWF Institutional Award program in 2000. Ours is an integrative program of scholarship between the Biological and Physical Sciences Divisions of the University committed to training creative thinkers who will bring new ideas and solutions to the analysis of complex biological phenomena. It provides outstanding graduate students in physical sciences the opportunity to develop new competencies in their primary disciplines of Physics, Chemistry, Statistics or Computer Science and to bring these skills to bear upon fundamental issues of biology and medicine.

The integration of ideas and methods from many disciplines is necessary to make significant leaps in understanding complex issues including: RNA/DNA Structure, Function and Regulation; Protein Dynamics, Folding and Engineering; Cytoskeleton, Membranes and Organelles; Hormones and Cell Signaling; and Cell Growth, Death and Multi-Cellular Function. The Physical Sciences Division brings expertise on macromolecular-scale manipulation via tweezer and chemical means, biologically-relevant model systems, measurement of dynamics of macromolecules and assemblies on scales from femtoseconds (10-15) to seconds, theoretical and simulation methods, soft condensed matter theory and analysis of nonlinear dynamic phenomena.

In recognition of the value of such interdisciplinary interactions, the University in 1997 established the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics (IBD), currently with 12 faculty from the BSD and PSD, and it is now in the midst of construction of a $200M Interdisciplinary Research Building (IRB) to bring together under one roof many of the experimental and theoretical physical science faculty with the most complementary faculty from the biological sciences. The Institute is already forging a scientific culture of fluid exchange and collaboration across disciplines. Part of its mission is to establish and lead training programs to involve students in new cross-disciplinary approaches to science.

Our BWF Interfaces in Science program is creating the educational basis for the next generation of investigators. The essential feature is to provide funding on a competitive basis for Physical Sciences students with research projects that will place them in a Biological Sciences group, thereby also formalizing interdisciplinary connections and challenging physical and biological scientists to interact on a continual basis in the joint-mentorship of Burroughs Wellcome Fellows. Fellows participate in new “translational core courses” establishing a common culture, and they select an individualized program of additional coursework tailored to their research and career goals. Fellows also take a lead role in a weekly seminar–discussion program where their research is presented and critiqued.

Fellows are recruited from students in the physical sciences on a competitive basis after they have largely completed the requisite course work in their home department. Up to 12 are funded each year, most for two years, thereby allowing up to 30 Fellows to benefit from this cross-training advantage over the period of the grant.

Steve Kron and Norbert Scherer, Co-Directors skron@midway.uchicago.edu, nfschere@uchicago.edu

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