Margaret McFall-Ngai
Margaret McFall-Ngai

Microbiology expert wins $1M, plans to transform biology education

Margaret McFall-Ngai, director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaiʻiat Mānoa, has been awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) professorship grant.

HHMI professors are accomplished research scientists who are deeply committed to making science more engaging for undergraduates. With this honor, McFall-Ngai will receive $1 million over five years to develop innovative approaches to teaching undergraduate science.

She plans to develop an entirely new concept of a biology curriculum for UH Mānoa and other institutions of higher learning. The ideal curriculum will engage leading researchers in the education of future biologists, as well as introduce those in other STEM disciplines to biology.

McFall-Ngai’s research laboratory focuses on two areas: the role of beneficial bacteria in health using the squid-vibrio model; and the biochemical and molecular “design” of tissues that interact with light. She is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and National Academy of Sciences, and has been heavily involved in promoting microbiology as the cornerstone of the field of biology.

“The biological sciences are undergoing a revolution with the recognition that the microbial world is the basis of the health of all ecosystems, from tropical rainforests to the human body,” said McFall-Ngai. “This newfound knowledge demands efforts to reformulate research and education, as well as to design mechanisms by which to inform the public of the widespread ramifications of this new view. My goal with the HHMI professorship is to transform the teaching of biology at the undergraduate level by promoting the integration of microbiology and macrobiology into a single, comprehensive systems biology.”

The HHMI Professors Program empowers research scientists who can convey the excitement of science to undergraduates. The professors model fundamental reform in the way undergraduate science is taught at research universities through innovative teaching that demonstrates the rigor and value of scientific research. They are committed to expanding and enhancing research opportunities for undergraduates and are encouraged to share ideas and collaborate with their peers to improve science education.

“I am honored to be selected as an HHMI professor and to serve UH in this role over the next few years,” she said.

Source: A UH News story