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Rackham Certificate Program in Nanobiology

The Rackham Graduate School Certificate program in Nanobiology has been approved and interested students should contact Professor Bradford Orr: for details.

Our goal is not to create a new Ph.D. program, but rather to provide a cross-cutting certificate program that will prepare students from biological disciplines to undertake modern nanotechnology research and that will prepare students from physical science disciplines to undertake modern biological research. We wish to integrate students from a number of existing graduate programs within this interdisciplinary research structure and thereby to provide a coherent strategy for educating students more broadly in nanobiology while still maintaining intellectual depth in a core discipline.

As a research entity, MNIMBS provides many opportunities for interdisciplinary studies to be performed by graduate students. We have faculty, post-docs, and graduate students from Applied Physics, Chemistry, Biophysics, Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and the Medical School working on our projects. This wide range of backgrounds gives us a unique approach to and perspective on the problems we are attacking. It is very appropriate for us to partner with these departments and programs to provide a new approach for the education of graduate students.

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Graphic by Paul D. Trombley

A student wishing to obtain a Rackham certificate in Nanoscience and Technology would need to declare an area of emphasis and satisfy the requirements for that area. Each individual concentration has its own academic oversight and requirements to be satisfied before a student would obtain a Certificate.  Currently, within the University, there are three clearly identifiable areas that a student can concentrate in: nanobiology, nanomaterials, or nanoelectronics.  MNIMBS offers the opportunity to do a certificate in nanobiology.  Discuss the requirements with Professor Bradford Orr:

The overarching theme of the certificate, and the concentrations, is the interdisciplinary nature of the research. The objective of this certificate program is to allow students to develop high-level competency in a broader range of subjects than is the norm for their Ph.D. discipline. In recognition of a student’s greater range of experience and competence, the Rackham Nanoscience certificate with emphasis on nanobiology would be awarded.

Through the creation of this certificate program, our overall objective is to fundamentally change the mindset of physical and biomedical scientists and engineers. In contrast to engineering disciplines, where there is a long history of truly interdisciplinary collaboration, the majority of physical and biomedical scientists work in relatively small research groups. Our certificate program is structured to support, and in some cases, to require, significantly greater in-depth collaboration between research groups. One measure of the success of our effort will be the extent to which this program brings about a genuine change in the level of collaboration between research groups in the physical and biomedical communities.

We provide here a specific example that illustrates the new interdisciplinary graduate training program can work. This involves Dr. Almut Mecke, a former physics student who originally intended to do "string theory." After several years of course work and preliminary research, Almut decided that she wanted to work in a group environment rather than alone and, wanting to have an impact on the quality of human life, she chose to work with the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute. We were starting our program on targeted cancer therapeutics, and Almut originally joined, thinking that she would perform molecular dynamics simulations of nanoparticle-membrane interaction.

In the end, her Ph.D. thesis (2004) contained not only these simulations, but also a wealth of experimental atomic force microscopy data on aqueous particle-lipid layer interactions. She produced a statistical mechanical model that points to the physical mechanism by which these nanoparticles interact with lipid layers, and her studies opened up an entire new area of research for us in nanoparticle toxicity. Her thesis committee was composed of Professors from Applied Physics (Bradford Orr, Ph.D., her advisor), Chemistry, Biophysics, Chemical Engineering, and the Medical School. After graduation, her research was selected as the best graduate thesis in the Physics department for 2005.

Ms. Mecke not only exemplifies the kind of interdisciplinary research that we do at
MNIMBS; she also illustrates the need for a new interdisciplinary graduate training program. Although Almut was ultimately successful in her research, there were numerous hurdles to overcome before this could be approved by the relevant units. Our now established certificate program in nanobiology provides a smoother path for students who choose to explore this sort of interdisciplinary training. New courses will assist in getting students up to speed in the range of skills needed to make their measurements and interpret their results.

Our Institute needs institutional as well as sponsor and donor partners to develop a truly integrated interdisciplinary approach for graduate students in the physical sciences to learn and contribute to the revolution that is occurring in the biological and medical fields.



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