Cracking Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s Interdisciplinary Grantmaking

It’s really a unique program, when you stop to think about it, though we think it’ll be growing more and more common in the coming years: Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s Interfaces in Science grantmaking program seeks out early career scientists working right on the edge of the divide between biomedicine and physics, computer science, engineering, and nanotechnology. It’s interdisciplinary grantmaking that seeks to solve those pressing scientific problems that require broad expertise in a variety of different fields. Pretty neat. The program itself began in 2001, and since then it has made 99 awards totaling nearly $50 million.

Providing $100,000 each year over the course of five years, the Career Awards at the Scientific Interface (CASI) program selected ten recipients in 2013. BWF specifically seeks out young scientists to “bridge advanced postdoctoral training and the first three years of faculty service.” In other words, BWF knows that this stage of a young scientist’s career can be the most challenging—and the most formative—and it wants to provide support and encouragement to those whose research covers more than one discipline at a time.

“Scientific advances such as genomics, quantitative structural biology, imaging techniques, and modeling of complex systems have created opportunities for exciting research careers at the interface between the physical/computational sciences and the biological sciences,” says Rusty Kelley, program officer. “Tackling key problems in biology will require scientists trained in areas such as chemistry, physics, applied mathematics, computer science, and engineering.”

So just who are the lucky scientists receiving the money? Well, they’re a consistently brilliant bunch, as you might expect. First of all, all ten of 2013’s honorees hail from BIG schools: Johns Hopkins, Sloan-Kettering, Princeton, MIT, UC-Berkeley. They’re spread pretty evenly across the country, but uniformly from huge, well-endowed universities that tend to attract the best and brightest. Their fields of study and how they’re applying their expertise vary greatly, which is good news for anyone seeking a piece of the action. The ten projects funded by this program in 2013 include analyzing heme metabolism in malaria, examining the intricacies of proteins and biomarkers via nanotechnology, and something called “wiring up the synthetic fly.” That last one’s from Princeton, and it has our interest piqued. Yours too? Well, you can read up on more details about the 2013 CASI awardees here.