September 24, 2002

Hoy Receives Grant For New Technology

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Prof. Ronald Hoy, Merksamer Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior was recently awarded the $1 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant. The award is annually given to 20 research professors from across the nation by the HHMI.

The grant money will be distributed over the course of four years with each professor receiving $250,000 a year. The HHMI grant is meant to encourage faculty to “innovate new teaching materials or courses and develop ideas in their discipline that would involve undergrad teaching,” Hoy said.

Essentially, HHMI grant allows the recipients more flexibility in their teaching methods.

“It affords each professor a lot of freedom, certainly financial freedom. It provides money to buy specialized equipment such as multimedia and high speed digital equipment,” said Hoy.

Hoy hopes to benefit students at Cornell as well as at other universities by bridging the gap between the classroom and the laboratory. He plans on doing so by further developing his classes and creating multimedia materials for students outside Cornell to use.

At Cornell, he will develop courses in neurogenetics, the study of genetics in behavior, by bringing Drosophila into the classroom.

Drosophila, more commonly known as the fruit fly, are “model organisms [for studying] genes that are in all animals,” said Bruce Johnson, a senior research associate in the department of neurology and behavior. Much of scientists’ basic knowledge of human genetics is derived from research done on Drosophila. It is far easier to manipulate the genetics of fruit flies, such as their wings or their eye color, because the results are more immediate since they have a shorter lifespan.

Another area that Hoy hopes to develop lectures in is biomimecticks, the study of biomedical engineering. “The idea is to examine how animals and plants have ‘solved’ problems in the world on how to cope and survive,” Hoy said.

These principles can then be applied to human society. For example, bats use the principle of biosonar everyday when “they emit little noises and pips and then listen to echoes for guidance. Instead of using light waves, they use sounds to interrogate the environment,” Hoy said. This same principle is the idea behind ultrasound.

To spread his teaching beyond Cornell, a “DVD or CD-ROM of a set of lab exercises and lecture enrichment materials” will be produced and can be used by any teacher at any university Hoy said.

Hoy and his research associates are already familiar with the process of producing a complete CD-ROM with video clips instead of a written lab manual. In 1999, they received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a lab manual on neurophysiology and they chose to create it in a more visual form in order for it to be more comprehensive and useful to students.

“We’ll be extending from that — the same approach, but the content will be quite different. It will have an emphasis on integrating what we know from genetics and molecular biology with neurobiology,” said Robert Wyttenbach, a senior research associate in the department of neurology and behavior.

“It speaks very highly of him that he was awarded the Hughes grant on very stiff competition. Despite his high position, he has a remarkable devotion to teaching and the quality of teaching,” said Wyttenbach.

Archived article by Diana Lo