Volume 8, Number 1, 1999

Award supports undergraduate discovery

Brooke Heidenfelder of Doylestown, Pa., is an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, but she has pursued graduate-level research for the past four summers. Supervised by UD’s Don Dennis, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, she’s investigating an enzyme from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that triggers key replication reactions.

Last year, Heidenfelder’s research, sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) of Silver Spring, Md., earned a first-place prize in a competition organized by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. "I like immunology," the UD senior says. "I’m thinking I may go into that field."

Another HHMI undergraduate researcher at UD, Amanda Simons of Mount Laurel, N.J., recently coauthored a scholarly journal article describing a yeast protein that may indirectly promote the recombination of genetic material. Studies of recombination mechanisms may ultimately shed light on a variety of genetic diseases, explains Simons, a senior, who works in the laboratory of Junghuei Chen, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Heidenfelder and Simons are among many UD undergraduates discovering the rewards of scientific investigation through special projects and active learning exercises–thanks to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Most recently, HHMI named Delaware to receive a $1.6 million, four-year grant to continue undergraduate research support and to complement existing, successful problem-based learning (PBL) initiatives, which turn undergraduate students into detectives, by prompting them to investigate real-world problems. Delaware was one of 58 research universities to receive a total of $91.1 million in HHMI grants designed to strengthen undergraduate education programs in the biological sciences.

To win the HHMI award, Delaware submitted one of 191 proposals reviewed by a panel of distinguished scientists and educators working with the prestigious medical research organization.