Yale Launches New Integrated Ph.D. Program in Physical and Engineering Biology

Yale will offer a new Ph.D. program in physical and engineering biology, bringing together disciplines that have traditionally been studied independently.

The Integrated Graduate Program in Physical and Engineering Biology (IGPPEB) will use an interdisciplinary approach to bring together students and faculty from both the physical sciences and engineering with those from the life sciences.

“We need to transcend traditional boundaries and embrace innovative approaches in order to solve future challenges in the biological and life sciences,” said Steven Girvin, deputy provost for science and technology. “These approaches will be carried out by a new generation of scientists who are skilled at applying physics and engineering methods and who are sufficiently sophisticated in their biological training to tackle these cutting-edge problems.”

“Potential areas that would benefit from such an approach range from building protein-based nanomaterials to understanding why and how a mosquito is attracted to human sweat,” said Lynne Regan, the program’s director and a professor in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and the Department of Chemistry. “Clearly such research has enormous practical implications.”

The program will accept applications this fall for its inaugural class in September 2009. The IGPPEB grew out of a monthly discussion group Regan, along with applied physics graduate student Tamara Chiba, initiated over two years ago to allow students and faculty in the physical and life sciences to connect and share ideas with each other. “We had been seeing graduate students coming into these departments who wanted an interdisciplinary program of study, and we knew we didn’t really have anything like that,” said Regan.

So along with several other faculty members whose research spans the physical and biological sciences, and with a lot of input from current cross-disciplinary students, Regan helped put together a committee that developed a proposal for a dedicated physical and engineering biology graduate program and secured funding from the University. So far, there are 22 faculty members affiliated with the program — a number Regan hopes will continue to grow. “It’s a very inclusive program,” she said. “Anyone whose research or teaching interests mesh with IGPPEB’s vision is welcome to participate.”

Depending on their backgrounds, graduate students in the program will take courses from a broad array of subject areas, such as “Boot-Camp Biology for Physicists and Engineers” and “Boot-Camp Mathematics for Biologists.” Students will also choose two advisors affiliated with the program — one from the physical sciences and one from the life sciences. In addition to their formal classes, Regan hopes the program’s students will learn from each other’s varied backgrounds as well. “Everything about the program is set up to facilitate collaborations between the students, faculty and departments, and to integrate teaching, learning and research at all levels.”

The program’s executive committee also includes Corey O’Hern, associate professor of mechanical engineering and physics, Simon Mochrie, professor of physics and applied physics, and Thomas Pollard, Chair and Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.

Further information about the program can be found at http://www.peb.yale.edu.

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