The Institute spent $776 million for research and distributed $89 million in grant support for science education in fiscal year 2010. Distinguished biochemist Robert Tjian, a long-time HHMI investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, is the Institute's president.
Founded in 1953 by aviator and industrialist Howard R. Hughes, HHMI is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and employs more than 3,000 individuals across the United States. It has an endowment of $14.8 billion.
In 2006, HHMI opened its first freestanding laboratory, the Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. The stunning campus—named for Jane and Cornelia Pickens, whose parents owned the original farm—is home to small groups of researchers who work in a highly collaborative environment. These scientists focus on understanding how networks of neurons enable complex behavior and on developing tools and computational methods for image analysis.
HHMI’s plan for Janelia Farm grew out of an acknowledgment by Institute leadership that some research problems might be better addressed in a place where small groups of researchers with different skills can work together without the barriers typically encountered at a university. Development of new tools to facilitate biological discovery, for example, can require diverse expertise. At universities, scientists from different fields are often compartmentalized, and the criteria used to evaluate researchers by their departments may restrict collaboration outside those walls. Industry, on the other hand, may foster small-group research, but must focus on creating marketable technologies.
Janelia Farm exemplifies HHMI’s approach to biomedical research, which can be summarized in three words: people, not projects. The Institute provides long-term, flexible funding that enables its researchers to pursue their scientific interests wherever they lead. HHMI believes that scientists of exceptional talent and imagination will make fundamental discoveries of lasting scientific value and benefit to humanity if they are given the resources, time, and freedom to pursue challenging questions.
The Institute nurtures the creativity and intellectual daring of scientists who are willing to set aside conventional wisdom or the “easy” question for a fundamental problem that may take many years to solve. Among the characteristics that distinguish this group of scientists are qualities such as creativity, a penchant for risk-taking, and a commitment to discovery, productivity, and perseverance. This unique research model is an imaginative and powerful alternative to funding biomedical research through grants.
Through its model for supporting basic biomedical research, the discoveries made in HHMI laboratories across the country, its commitment to sharing new knowledge and research tools, HHMI nourishes the broader science and education community.
The flagship HHMI Investigator Program employs 330 HHMI researchers, among them 13 Nobel laureates and 147 members of the National Academy of Sciences. In the last decade, HHMI investigators have won nine Nobel Prizes. These exceptional scientists direct Institute research laboratories on the campuses of 70 universities and other research organizations throughout the United States.
Since the early 1990s, investigators have been selected through rigorous national competitions. The Institute solicits applications directly from scientists at medical schools and other research institutions in the United States, with the aim of identifying those who have the potential to make significant contributions to science. HHMI employs an open application process to ensure that it is selecting its researchers from a broad and deep pool of scientific talent.
Once selected, HHMI investigators continue to be based at their home institutions, typically leading a research group of 10-25 students, postdoctoral associates and technicians, but they become Institute employees and are supported by field staff throughout the country.
With freedom and flexibility come high expectations for intellectual output. HHMI demands creativity and innovation. Investigators are expected to work at the frontiers of their chosen field, to ask fundamental questions, and to take risks. HHMI prizes impact over publication volume in its merit-based renewal of investigator appointments and recognizes that some areas of research will proceed more slowly than others.
HHMI launched this four-year pilot program in 2008 to enable selected HHMI investigators to join with scientists outside HHMI to undertake projects that are new and so large in scope that they require a team covering a range of fields. Eight projects support research by 33 scientists from 15 institutions in the United States and 1 in Chile.
In 2009, HHMI identified 50 of the nation’s most promising scientists to receive support at a critical early stage of their careers. HHMI funding over a six-year appointment provides them with the freedom to pursue their boldest research ideas without having to worry about obtaining grants to fund those experiments.
In 2009, HHMI and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa formed a groundbreaking partnership to establish an international research center, the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH). K-RITH’s mission is to conduct outstanding basic science research on tuberculosis (TB) and HIV, translate the scientific findings into new tools to control TB and HIV, and expand the educational opportunities in the region. K-RITH is an independent research institute, led by Dr. William R. Bishai, that will work in collaboration with UKZN and other academic and clinical institutions in South Africa and around the world. Their goal is that discoveries made in the heart of the TB and HIV epidemics will drive innovation to control the deadly diseases. Groundbreaking for the new facility was held in Durban in July 2011.
This pilot program was launched with a competition to select up to 35 early career scientists working outside the United States with the goal of helping these talented individuals establish independent research programs. The competition is open to scientists who have trained in the United States, run their own labs for less than seven years, and work in one of 18 eligible countries. Those countries are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, India, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and Turkey.
The HHMI Science Education Program fuses teaching and research, reflecting the Institute’s commitment to inspiring and educating a new generation of scientists. The largest privately funded education initiative of its kind in the United States, HHMI's grants program is enhancing science education for students at all levels, from the earliest grades through advanced training. HHMI funds initiatives with the power to transform undergraduate and graduate education by engaging students in discovery research. We seek opportunities to create connections across a continuum of learning that extends from the primary grades through high school and beyond and includes activities to increase diversity in the scientific workforce and promote scientific literacy in society.