May 19, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LURED BY THE PROSPECT OF
14-HOUR DAYS AND
NO WEEKENDS OFF, RESEARCHERS GATHER AT
SMITH FOR SCIENCE "BOOT CAMPS"
Unique Program Provides
Two Semesters' Worth
of Molecular Biology in Two Weeks
NORTHAMPTON -- The techniques of molecular biology -- including
DNA sequencing, cloning strategies and genomic screening -- have
made possible many of the recent advances in the treatment of
AIDS, cancer, malaria and other intractable diseases. Molecular
biology also holds great potential for eradicating plant diseases
and developing drought-resistant crops.
Because of the field's rapidly expanding usefulness in uncovering
an array of scientific and medical solutions, established scientists
and other professionals are returning to the classroom to add
to their repertoires the experimental methods of molecular biology.
Enter the New England Biolabs Molecular Biology and PCR (Polymerase
Chain Reaction) Summer Workshops, offered in three sessions each
summer at Smith College. The only program of its kind in the
world, these intensive scientific "boot camps" for
science professionals are widely considered indispensable for
gaining facility with the tools and approaches of molecular biology.
The sessions aren't known as "boot camps" for nothing.
After two weeks of 14-hour days (weekends included), participants
come away with the equivalent of two university semesters' worth
of broad laboratory and classroom instruction in the field.
The founding director of the program is Steven A. Williams, Gates
Professor of Biology at Smith. Now in its 18th year, the program
has trained more than 2,000 scientists from every state and more
than 50 other countries.
Intended for beginners in molecular biology, the program now
numbers among its alumni physicians; researchers from universities,
colleges and institutes; and engineers from a variety of specialties.
Professionals employed in a wide spectrum of other fields --
such as law, pharmacology, plant biology, genetics and physiology
-- have participated as well.
"It's really remarkable the range of people we get,"
Williams remarks. "As far as the availability of comprehensive,
general molecular biology programs, this is pretty much the only
course there is."
Participants in the program live in student housing on the Smith
campus but spend little time in their rooms. After a 7:30 a.m.
breakfast, a daily regimen of labs and lectures begins at 8:30
and continues to 10 p.m. with one-hour breaks for lunch and dinner.
The only day off during the two-week session is the middle Sunday.
"They know what they're getting into," says Williams
of the long hours, "but we work very hard at keeping the
Fifty attendees per session work in pairs on experiments that
include construction of genomic and cDNA libraries, purification
of DNA and RNA, DNA sequencing, cloning strategies, quantitative
PCR and other subjects.
"We try to give them all the tools they'll need so that
when they leave here they can read the molecular biological literature,
set up their labs to do experiments right away and collaborate
with other scientists," Williams explains.
Program faculty members are Williams; Barton Slatko, of the DNA
Sequencing Group at New England Biolabs, Inc.; Alan L. Scott,
a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns
Hopkins University; and Lori Saunders, an assistant professor
of biology at Smith.
One aspect of the program that makes it particularly valuable
is the cutting-edge equipment used in the labs, such as automated
DNA sequencers. More than $1 million worth of equipment has been
contributed to the program by companies such as New England Biolabs
in Beverly, Mass.; MJ Research in Boston; and Applied BioSystems
and Stratagene, both based in California.
The equipment remains at Smith year-round, where it is available
for student and faculty use. The resulting availability of the
high-quality scientific equipment makes Smith one of the best
places in the world for undergraduates to study molecular biology
and related disciplines, Williams observes. This is particularly
true now that Smith is developing a molecular biology center
in the biological sciences department. This cutting-edge facility
is currently being developed as a world-class center for molecular
biology research and for the training of both students and faculty
at the college. The center will also have as one of its major
goals the training of students for future careers in emerging
infectious diseases -- such as, SARS, West Nile virus, etc, --
and the study of agents that could be used in bioterrorism.
Begun by Williams in 1986, the summer workshops have been adjusted
years to address new techniques and equipment, incorporating,
for example, the automated DNA sequencers and PCR technology.
This year, the program will help establish a facility for using
microarray -- or gene chip -- technology, an important new strategy
for approaching problems in molecular biology.
When he started the program, Williams says he thought it might
be useful for only a few years. Now, he can't imagine discontinuing
it and, despite minimal advertising, struggles to accommodate
a long waiting list of applicants each year.
"We see these workshops as an important service to the scientific
community," he explains. "We train scientists from
so many fields, people who have a broad impact on a wide range
The 2003 sessions begin on June 1 and end on July 26.
-- 30 --
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost
liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state
and 55 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's
college in the country.