• David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

Harvard to Sink Fortune in Science

27 January 1999 7:30 pm

Harvard University will spend up to $200 million over the next 5 years in a bid to stay at the forefront of several hot areas of academic research. The school has already committed $70 million to two new interdisciplinary research centers focusing on genomics and nanotechnology, according to a story to appear in Friday's issue of Science. Efforts in neuroscience, computer research, and the links between evolution and global climate change could be launched within a year.

The bold initiative--made possible by fund raising and the sharp growth in recent years of Harvard's now $13 billion endowment--is designed to revitalize the 363-year-old university's research tradition, which has already earned its science faculty 29 Nobel Prizes and top rankings for publishing widely cited technical papers. The initiative also represents an aggressive bid to attract top-notch students and scientists. "There is a sense that we cannot afford not to do this," says Jeremy Knowles, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which teaches all of Harvard's 6600 undergraduates and most of the university's 11,000 graduate students. At least with other top-tier schools not standing idle: Princeton University in New Jersey, for instance, is campaigning to raise $60 million for a new Institute for Genomic Analysis, while the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena is raising funds for a $100 million Biological Sciences Initiative.

Harvard's Center for Genomics and Proteomics will team biologists, chemists, engineers, and other scientists to mine genome data for clues to the genetics of behavior, evolution, and the origins of disease. Center researchers will draw on a wide range of new technologies, including DNA chips to study the expression of hundreds of genes at once and computer algorithms to sort out seemingly chaotic genetic data. In the Center for Imaging and Mesoscale Structures, chemists, physicists, and engineers will study, image, and fabricate structures no bigger than 100 nanometers. Potential research areas include tiny electronic and mechanical devices and imaging cell structures and proteins.

Harvard's plans don't surprise academics at other elite institutions. Princeton provost Jeremiah Ostriker says Harvard is "making downpayments in excellent areas that their peer institutions are also looking at."

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