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News Release 97-024

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Biologist to Share Expertise, Teaching Techniques on CD-ROM

Medal of Science winner to help create college curriculum

March 26, 1997

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Imagine the effect on scientific literacy if every college teacher could turn at will to a Pulitzer Prize-winning expert on biodiversity and gifted lecturer to explain biology fundamentals to undergraduates.

This scenario is becoming a 'virtual' reality with the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) has awarded a $50,000 grant to develop a CD-ROM-based curriculum package that will give every student access to the insights of Harvard University biologist Edward O. Wilson. Wilson has won Pulitzers for two non-fiction works, On Human Nature and The Ants.

The CD-ROM, will contain video clips of Wilson as well as teaching materials and techniques he accumulated over many years. It will allow students "to conduct their own investigations as if they were actually on a field trip with him," said Herbert Levitan, who heads NSF's undergraduate course and curriculum development program.

Wilson's decision to involve himself in the project, Levitan noted, fits well with NSF's strategic goal to encourage working scientists to take an active role in science and mathematics education. He pointed out that few scientists are as qualified as Wilson to undertake such a venture.

Wilson was awarded the National Medal of Science--the nation's highest scientific honor--in 1976 for his work on the organization of insect societies and the evolution of social behavior in insects and other animals. He recently has earned international attention for warning that the earth appears to be entering a period of unprecedented extinction of species that are largely human-caused.

Wilson's use of technology also is well regarded. Among his several NSF grants over the years was one to inventory and computerize the world-renowned beetle collection at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, where he served as curator.

Wilson retired from teaching last fall. He was known at Harvard as a skillful and beloved professor. "At his last lecture, the students just showered him with praise," said Susan Green, a university spokeswoman. "He was very popular."

The CD-ROM project, said Charles Savitt, the president of Island Press, which published Naturalist, Wilson's autobiography, will allow thousands of students who never will meet Wilson in person to benefit from both his scientific knowledge and his talents as a communicator and teacher. But just as important, he added, it will serve as a model for incorporating high-quality science content into a new medium that is more versatile than a textbook.

Island Press will develop the CD-ROM as the centerpiece of a package, called Teaching Tools for Biology. The disk will include computer simulations, animations, and slides. It will be designed for use in introductory and mid-level biology courses to discuss basic concepts such as evolution, ecology, and genetics as well as such complex topics as biodiversity and conservation biology.

Island Press, in partnership with Adobe Systems, Inc., of San Jose, Calif., one of the world's leading software developers and a team of nationally prominent scientists and educators, hopes to learn "how to pull pedagogy, science content, and the new media together," said Savitt. "And whether that new media can be used to increase science literacy."


Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
Herbert Levitan, NSF, (703) 292-8681, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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