Pitt, Carnegie Mellon Launch Joint Doctoral Program in Structural Biology and Biophysics

Issue Date: 
January 16, 2007

Since its completion in 2003, the Human Genome Project has resulted in the discovery of myriad new proteins and pathways, creating a pressing need for researchers who are able to decipher the structure and function of these vitally important molecules. To meet the demand for this new scientific work force, Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University are launching a joint doctoral degree program in structural biology and biophysics.

Structural biologists use powerful, highly sophisticated technologies, such as x-ray crystallography, electron microscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, to reveal the three-dimensional structure of proteins and other molecules. Biophysicists apply physics principles along with mathematical models and computer simulations to unravel biological systems at the molecular and cellular levels.

“There is a relatively small pool of people with this type of specialized training, and competition for qualified students who can be trained in these technologies is fierce,” said Angela Gronenborn, professor and chair in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Structural Biology and codirector of the new program. “The ability to offer an advanced degree in these disciplines will allow us to compete with other top-tier institutions in recruiting the best and brightest students.”

Courses in the program will be taught by Pitt and Carnegie Mellon faculty members, and instrumentation and facilities at both universities will be available for training. The program, known officially as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology Graduate Program, will enable students to develop expertise in such disciplines as cellular biophysics, biophysical methods, protein and viral structures, gene regulation and signaling, chemical structure and dynamics, and computational biology.

The program also will give students hands-on training in state-of-the-art instrumentation in Pitt’s new Biomedical Sciences Tower 3. “Whether it’s NMR, x-ray crystallography, electron microscopy, or the latest in computational systems, we have some of the most advanced facilities of this type in the country and some of the nation’s top experts to train students how to use them,” said Arthur S. Levine, Pitt senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the University’s medical school. “It really is an outstanding environment for students who want hands-on training with such sophisticated instruments.”

For more information about the joint doctoral program, visit www.biophysics.pitt.edu/.