Grant goes to sciences

The Richard King Mellon Foundation has awarded $25 million to support life sciences research and education at Carnegie Mellon through the creation of the Life Sciences Competitiveness Fund.

The LSCF will be used for a variety of projects, including the hiring of faculty and the creation of new facilities, including laboratories. The grant will also be used to form the Presidential Scholars Fund, a source of financial support for graduate students who are pursuing research in the life sciences.

Speaking of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Senior Media Relations Director Ken Walters said, “They do recognize Carnegie Mellon as a leader in the field.” Walters said that the LSCF is geared toward supporting projects in various areas, including quality of life initiatives and medical robotics.

“There are a lot of different areas that you can touch on,” he said. “The idea is that the fund gives the opportunity for researchers to do their work in the hopes of developing solutions, whether it’s products or services, that are going to solve real-world problems.” Walters added that part of the fund’s purpose is to attract top students to Carnegie Mellon.

Scott Izzo, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, stated in an e-mail that the fund is part of an effort to increase the university’s competitiveness by supporting graduate students. According to Izzo, student talent helps the university compete for research money, and this money boosts job opportunities in the region.

“The region’s economy has a large stake in life sciences and without question both talent and advanced technology are key to competing,” Izzo stated.

Carnegie Mellon’s Vice President of Research Rich McCullough said that the fund will support a number of different disciplines within the life sciences, including computational biology, engineering, computer science, and biology-based cognition. The money will not go toward any one specific project; instead, “It’s going to be open to anything that has to do with the life sciences,” he said.

McCullough, who was involved in writing and presenting the proposal to the Richard King Mellon Foundation, said that the grant is geared toward strengthening Carnegie Mellon’s leadership role in a range of interdisciplinary subjects. It is also aimed at promoting research and student education.

McCullough said that Carnegie Mellon has grown tremendously in its life sciences programs over the past 10 years and, since the year 2000, Carnegie Mellon has hired 50 new faculty members in the life sciences. In addition, the university has formed two new Ph.D. programs with the University of Pittsburgh — one in computational biology and the other in biophysics. McCullough said, “The Richard King Mellon Foundation helped us to make that next leap to make us competitive.”

McCullough said that researchers at Carnegie Mellon are currently investigating the use of computational biology to understand different ways of attacking cancer. Researchers are also exploring the biological basis of cognition and the use of robots to perform surgery. McCullough said, “We have lots of really interesting things going on.”

Part of the funding from the LSCF will be directed toward the Presidential Scholars Fund, which will provide financial support for graduate students.

McCullough said, “The students are the fuel, and the students are the one who do the work that creates the great scientific studies that come out of Carnegie Mellon.”

According to McCullough, these studies help Carnegie Mellon’s faculty become world-renowned, and they also make the university more attractive to prospective students.

“That research and teaching blend that we have at Carnegie Mellon and interdisciplinary approach becomes attractive to undergraduate students and graduate students.”

In the past, the Richard King Mellon Foundation has supported the university through financial contributions to a variety of projects. In 1994, the foundation contributed $6 million to the formation of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a center used jointly by Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh. The center focuses on the neural underpinnings of cognition, especially cognitive development. In 1998, the foundation contributed $11 million to the creation of science laboratories in Doherty Hall.

This year’s $25 million LSCF is the largest private foundation grant that Carnegie Mellon has ever received.