2019 FRI Stream Information

Welcome to the FRI student feedback page, created by the UT Catalyst! The pioneering Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) gives first-year students the opportunity to initiate and engage in real-world research experience with faculty and graduate students. Browse FRI streams and get feedback from your peers on the personalities of each stream. All the information is from students who took a survey about their experiences in their respective FRI streams, and is not affiliated with the FRI/TIDES office. Some streams may be relatively new and have minimal data available.

We hope this resource will help you find the undergraduate research experience that's tailored to you.


Aptamers

Overview
The Aptamer stream aims to develop novel therapeutics, diagnostics, and molecular sensors. The tool of choice for the development of these applications is an "aptamer," an oligonucleotide binding species. In the stream, students use the methods of in vitro selection methodology to identify aptamers against a variety of targets and develop their downstream application. For example, an aptamer that binds to a cancer receptor could potentially inhibit the progression of cancer.

Strengths

  • Can be more active and involved than in other streams

  • Friendly people and a great research educator

  • Learn lots of useful skills

  • Strong preparation for molecular biology and biochemistry classes

  • Opportunity to attend conferences and possibility of publication

  • Strong team environment because of long time spent in the lab

Weaknesses

  • Requires more time commitment than some other streams. However, this provides the opportunity for students to invest in research and work hard towards a goal.

  • Open environment, can get lost easily if you don't have a set goal

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Biochemistry

  • Public Health

Skills

  • Gel Electrophoresis

  • Radioactive imaging

  • Pipetting

  • Assaying

  • Patience, success in other labs

Independent Projects and Special Opportunities

The projects themselves are individualized but overseen by lab mentors. One project involved students determining if FGF9B, a protein related to cancer, binds to RNA to identify the causes of disease. If the aptamer binds to a specific receptor on the protein that induces cancer, then there will be a biochemical change in the structure of the protein. An aptamer that changes the structure can then possibly decrease the likelihood of the onset of cancer.

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Autonomous Robots

Overview
Students create autonomous robots that are used in the GDC for a variety of tasks, including building upkeep and human-interactive assistance. This stream provides access to a variety of hardware, including quad-copters, segbots, and bionic arms. The research focuses mostly on creating a building-wide autonomous intelligence system and fully integrating this type of technology into the GDC. The amount of work involved can be highly variable and will depend on how much effort each student invests in the stream. All work is very code intensive, so an understanding of programming will be useful.

Strengths

  • Post-doc students and professors are very approachable

  • Multitude of resources and lots of freedom to work on projects

  • Lots of hands-on experience that mimics graduate-level research

Weaknesses

  • Students need to be self-driven to succeed

Suggested Majors

  • Computer Science

Skills

  • ROS (Robot Operating System) and C++

  • Understanding of Hardware

  • Experience with robotic hardware and infrastructure

  • Translating design ideas to practical implementations

Independent Research Opportunities

Research projects include designing a system to track how many people are in the building and where, creating robots to lead someone who’s lost to their destination, and building a quad-copter that catches ping pong balls.

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Behavioral Neuroscience

Overview
This stream works with Drosophilia melanogaster (fruit flies) to study the effects of alcohol and neuroimmune signaling. Simple behavioral assays are used to study these effects, and agression (male-male fighting over resources), circadian rhythmicity and sleep, voluntary alcohol consumption, leraning, alcohol tolerance (defined as alcohol-induced alcohol resistance), and alcohol withdrawal systems will be analyzed.

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Medical Laboratory Science

  • Neuroscience


Big Data in Biology

Overview
This stream teaches the basics of computational biology using python packages like pandas, scipy, numpy, matplotlib, and more. It starts with the basics so no prior programming experience is needed before entering the stream. The stream is taught lecture style with project example problems on the screen for students to follow. Since computational biology is an interdisciplinary science, some days may be centered around genomics, statistics, and even algorithms on top of learning about what tools and databases real bioinformatics use on a daily basis!

Strengths

  • Exposure to upperdivision material

  • Marketable skills and relevant material

Weaknesses

  • New stream, so no standardization of projects yet

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Computer Science

Skills

  • Python

  • PCR

  • Handling Large Sequencing Data Files

  • Big Data Analytics

Independent Projects and Special Opportunities

Students have group projects where he or she chooses an open source data set and then use the bioinformatic skills from lab to develop a pipeline from raw data to analysis. For example, one team presented a project on differential methylation of genes promoter apoptosis pathways between different cancerous cell types. For individual work, students have 3 sets of problem sets assigned about once every 3 weeks and one week to complete it. The problem sets are not too challenging but students do have to be well informed about Python to avoid spending hours debugging simple mistakes.

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Bioactive Molecules

Overview
The Bioactive Molecules (BAM) stream synthesizes libraries of structurally similar small organic compounds (ligands) in order to see how well they bind to biologically relevant proteins – this is applicable to the field of drug discovery. During the spring semester, we learn many organic chemistry lab techniques and characterization methods in order to become accustomed to working in a lab. In the fall, each student uses these techniques to execute multistep synthesis in order to generate a ligand. These ligands are tested for their affinities to the sigma 2 receptors which are relevant in neurodegenerative diseases.

Strengths

  • Learn important Organic Chemistry concepts before taking the class

  • Perform real reactions with an overarching goal in mind

Weaknesses

  • It can sometimes be hard to find space to work when the lab is very crowded

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

Skills

  • Lab techniques like extraction, oxidation, and general synthesis techniques

  • Organic chemistry concepts like reaction mechanisms and reading an NMR

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Independent Projects and Special Opportunities

Students are each tasked with synthesizing a ligand through a multistep synthesis. Each of these ligands will have a different selectivity with the sigma 2 receptor. The higher the selectivity to the sigma 2 receptor, the better. Students had the opportunity to apply for a summer research fellowship, in which they worked on the synthesis of their ligand. Not only were they paid, they also gained valuable insight and experience. Summer volunteers likewise had the opportunity to work on their synthesis but worked for shorter periods of time and were not paid.

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Biobricks

Overview
Research in this stream involves cutting genes and inserting them in plants to discover the binding motif of these genes. Genes are synthesized from short DNA fragments and are pieced together to build protein expression vectors. The undergraduates working in this stream form a very close team and are introduced to microbiology lab techniques, research report format, and prepare research posters to present in the annual Undergraduate Research Forum Poster Competition.

Strengths

  • Very approachable PI, genuinely cares about the research project

  • Undergraduates becomes very familiar with various microbiology techniques

  • Great community

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Public Health

Skills

  • PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)

  • Gel Electrophoresis

  • Ligation

  • Transformation

  • Restriction Enzyme Digestion

Independent Projects and Special Opportunities

DPX is a specific DNA sequence that the lab is currently working to isolate and piece together to perform protein expression tests and determine binding motifs. There are a number of summer fellowships available in the lab and the students also present at SURGe research forum poster presentation every year. Last year, their poster won the 1st place award in the poster competition.


Biodiversity

Overview
In this stream, research is done inside as well as outside. In the lab, students measure and catalog specimens, map and analyze distributions, and use molecular genetic tools to uncover evolutionary history and relationships between species. Outdoors, students visit a variety of sites in the Austin area including two UT field stations – the Brackenridge Field Lab and Stengl Lost Pines Field station where specimens are collected and observations are made about the ecology and behavior of the organisms in the area.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Environmental Science


Bioprospecting

Overview
Students in this stream culture fungi from plants in order to extract and identify new secondary metabolites to look for biologically active compounds and potential medical applications. The stream exposes students to a complete set of translatable biology and organic chemistry lab techniques that gives them the edge in pursuing future research and upper-division laboratory courses. As a bonus, the fungi come in all varieties of shapes, colors, and sizes that create eye-catching cultures.

Strengths

  • Very complete set of wet lab techniques

  • Mentors have options to go to conferences

  • Cool fungi

  • Flexible schedules

Weaknesses

  • Some weeks can be very intense due to long procedures

  • RE occasionally known for being slow to help students

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

Skills

  • Fungal isolation and culture

  • Distillation techniques

  • Microscopes techniques

  • Micropipetting

  • Chromatography techniques

  • PCR

  • DNA isolation

  • Extraction techniques: liquid-liquid and solid phase extractions

  • Aseptic techniques

  • NMR (second semester)

Independent Projects and Special Opportunities

Student extracts, purifies, and characterizes siderophores, an iron chelating agent, from fungi to identify the structure and look for interesting secondary metabolite activity.

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Bugs in Bugs

Overview
Students in the stream look at the bacterial symbionts in the digestive tracts of bees and wasps. We identify the roles those bacteria play in digestion, protection against pathogens, and other aspects of host life spans.

Strengths

  • Flexibility of schedule

  • Friendly Research Educator

  • One-on-one attention

  • Tight-knit community within small lab

Weaknesses

  • Location on Lake Austin Blvd, distance from campus

  • Lots of trial and error required due to little background knowledge

  • Freedom also leads to lack of direction

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

  • Environmental Science

  • Nutritional Science

  • Public Health

Skills

  • Serial Dilutions

  • PCR

  • Creating phylogenies

  • Insect collection, dissection, pinning, and preservation

Independent Research Opportunities

Projects are open to student selection. However the typical project looks like the following: students select one insect and one symbiont. Students then choose to test one aspect of that symbiotic relationship. An example research question would be, "What effect does relocating Apis mellifica (honey bee) colonies for commercial pollination have on the size and strength of their internal Gilliamella colonies?"

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Computational Materials

Overview
The main problem with solar energy is that it's not available at night, and storing large amounts of energy during the day to use at night is incredibly hard. The goal of the stream is using computational tools to develop better materials for energy storage, primarily batteries and fuel cells, in order to make solar energy viable for a full 24-hour day. The stream's work is entirely programming-based - students write and use Python scripts to simulate and optimize various catalysts, nanoparticles, and other chemical systems. There is no lab work in this stream. The first part of the stream consists of 6 assignments, each on a slightly different topic. Then, there's an individual project where each student chooses his or her topic, works with a small group and stream mentor to develop a specific research topic, write and run the necessary programs, and put together a short presentation.

Strengths

  • Nice and accessible Research Educator

  • Flexible scheduling

  • No time in wet lab

Weaknesses

  • Not much community of stream (since work is more independent)

Suggested Majors

  • Chemistry

  • Computer Science

  • Mathematics

Skills

  • Python

  • Linux system

  • Theoretical Chemistry

  • Stochastic Probability

Independent Research Opportunities

There projects fall into two main categories. About half the class does "methods" projects, which deal with improving the computational processes used in the simulations. These are a lot more programming-intensive, and are mostly done by CS majors. For example, one project involved finding the best parameters for basin hopping, which is a computational method to find the global minimum of a high-dimensional system. The other half of the class pursues "applications" projects, which are a lot more chemistry-related; they involve problems like investigating the binding energies of different metals, or the reactivity of different nanoparticles.

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Discovering Signals

Overview
Across several organisms, ATP is used as the main energy molecule. However, it was discovered that in animals, ATP was present outside of the cell. Now, why would an organism's cells want to excrete their main energy source? It was found that extracellular ATP (eATP) can actually function as a hormone- many ATP protein receptors have been found on the cells of animals. In plants, eATP also acts as a signaling molecule. Some ATP protein receptors have been discovered on plant cells. This research, however, is much more recent- and some scientists are even skeptical of eATP's hormonal role in plants. The Sarah Simmons Cell Signaling Stream provides freshmen to participate in experiments that no one has done before- analyzing plant root hair growth in response to ATP treatments.

Strengths

  • Flexibility of schedule

  • Kind and Lenient instructor

  • Instructor will give out strong recommendation letter

  • Good for people with interest in grad schoo

Weaknesses

  • Only deals with plants

  • No wet lab

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

  • Environmental Science

Skills

  • ImageJ software

  • Basic lab practice such as pipetting

  • Experimental Design

Independent Research Opportunities

During freshman year, students will be working in groups of 2 to design original experiments. An example is a group that tested the effects of both ATP and ADP treatments on the plant root hair growth.

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Discrete Mathematics

Overview
Implementation of logical notation to understand mathematical arguments via proofs such as induction and other topics like functions and graph theory.

Suggested Majors

  • Computer Science

  • Math


DIY Diagnostics

Overview
The Do-It-Yourself Diagnostics stream targets population health and environmental problems by combining traditional chemistry and biology lab work with computer science to create fast-acting and cheap diagnostic tools. Students can choose to work primarily in either wet lab or coding starting the sceond semester, and are encouraged to pursue individual ideas about novel diagnostics.

Strengths

  • Independent nature of research experiments

  • Flexibility in projects

  • Well-rounded approach to research that includes wet lab and coding

Weaknesses

  • Lack of formal structure

  • Constantly shifting nature of projects can make some students feel lost

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Computer Science

  • Environmental Science

  • Human Ecology

  • Medical Laboratory Science

  • Nutritional Sciences

  • Public Health

Skills

  • Perform PCR

  • Extract DNA

  • Code online apps with Javascript, jQuery, HTML5

  • Use Qubit, nanophotometer

  • Perform statistical analyses

Independent Research Opportunities

FRIome is a project that aims to find relationships between health status and abundance of bacteria in human mouth. Students extract and quantify DNA in saliva samples and attempt to connect bacterial diversity and variation to patterns in survey answers regarding health behvaiors.


Fish Behavior

Overview
This stream studies the behavior of fish to learn more about how they behave in different situations, including how social they are, their mating tactics, and their cognitive capabilities.

Strengths

  • Highly independent environment

  • Mentors and research educator flexible with the schedules

  • Deep interaction with the fish

Weaknesses

  • Work in the lab can become tedious

  • Research can be dull and has no ultimate focus

  • Lab smells like fish

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Environmental Science

  • Medical Laboratory Science

  • Neuroscience

Skills

  • R Studio, Python, imageJ

  • Maintaining a fish tank

  • Reading and analyzing scientific journals

Independent Research Opportunities

Students place a fish in a tank by itself, and half of the tank is white and the other half is black. They put a barrier in the tank, and we measure the amount of time the fish spends in different areas of the tank. This project measures anxiety in fish, serving a model for human behavior and other behaviors. The projects are mainly a group of 3 or 4 with assistance from mentors and our RE.

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Functional Genomics

Overview
This stream studies expression in yeast by subjecting it to stress and observing change in protein levels. Under certain types of stress, some genes of interest are down or up regulated. The long term goal of the lab is to understand transcriptional regulation and why genes are activated or repressed during environmental changes.

Strengths

  • Mentors are excellent at helping out, are available to help

  • Flexibility of the stream is very good (you may come and go as you like)

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

Skills

  • Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR)

  • E Coli. Transformations

  • DNA/RNA extractions

  • Plasmid purification

  • Growth curves for yeast

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Independent Research Opportunities

For most individual projects in this stream, a type of stress is picked and a ‘gene of interest’ is assigned.

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Gene Networks

Overview
Students in the stream study the interactions that specific proteins make with other macromolecules, principally RNA and protein while mediating functions in gene expression. They attach DNA sequences encoding an “affinity tag” (the TAP tag) after the last codon of a gene using molecular cloning techniques and targeted homologous recombination. They then replace one copy of this gene with a tagged version in cultured animal cells (DT40 cells). The modified version of the gene will direct the DT40 cells to produce a protein with the TAP tag attached to its C-terminus. The TAP tag allows complexes to be isolated intact and purified from nuclei.

Strengths

  • Learn important microbiology lab techniques that can be used in future lab classes and biology classes

  • RE is very approachable and genuinely cares about the students' individual projects

  • Wonderful tea time with the lab and Dr. Mackrell every Wednesday afternoon! Who doesn’t love tea and cookies?!

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

  • Public Health

  • Medical Laboratory Science

Skills

  • PCR

  • gel electrophoresis

  • ligation

  • transformation

  • TAP tagging

Independent Research Opportunities

RNA helicases are enzymes that participate in gene expression by engaging in different aspects of RNA metabolism. The best way to understand the function of such proteins is to explore what other macromolecules they interact with to form complexes. The protein encoded by human DHX15 gene is among the class of ATP-dependent RNA helicases that functions in pre-mRNA splicing. By using PCR and other cloning techniques, a full length cDNA coding for hDHX15 protein can be cloned. The cDNA can then be mutated to halt its helicase activity, attached to TAP tag, expressed in cultured animal cells, and isolated to further study the protein complexes that it interacts with.


Glow Worms

Overview
In this stream, students use CRISPR to modify the genes of C. elegans (nematodes) to add green fluorescent protein to the expression of any gene in this organism. Doing so allows for the study of the specific protein and its functions.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry


Luminators

Overview
The Functional Materials stream focuses on lanthanides, a series of chemical elements found at the bottom of the periodic table, to make new compounds that have real world applications such as biomarkers, light emitting diodes (LEDs), and anti-cancer drugs. For some in the stream, Functional Materials has been a decisive factor in determining future careers, helping students realize that chemistry-based research is the path they wish to pursue. The stream is looking for individuals who are interested in chemistry; people who are excited about chemistry, who want to do real chemistry outside of the classroom and who want to become real chemists.

Strengths

  • Build a firm foundation of chemistry knowledge

  • Amicable lab environment of 35 people

Weaknesses

  • Space constraints

  • Lab overlap between streams

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

Skills

  • Learn to make functionalized lanthanide carboxylates, which are used to mark proteins within a cell for early diagnostics and identification of disease

  • Time management

  • Writing and reading scientific papers

  • Problem solving

Independent Research Opportunities

Within the five major projects that the stream is working on, individuals are assigned their own projects that work towards the common goal of the main project. Individuals may work with other universities and other departments within UT to test if projects actually translate into the desired application.

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Magnetic Matter

Overview
Students study intriguing properties of magnetism and electricity, dealing with superconductivity.

Strengths

  • Very flexible, RE and fellow mentors are very informative, real, hands-on research

  • Class structured so that first semester provides background and second allows lab research

  • Professor's directions have direct applications to research

Weaknesses

  • The subject has outpaced the classroom experience of intro CNS classes

  • Workload involves 3 hours of class and approximately 8 hours spent on homework a week.

  • Lack of physical resources within the lab

Suggested Majors

  • Mathematics

  • Chemistry

  • Astronomy

  • Physics

Skills

  • Titrations

  • Learning how to use machinery in RLM machine shop

Independent Research Opportunities

Individual projects include synthesis of single crystals and growing a superconductor out of a barium copper oxide and learning how to operate a piston capable of delivering high pressures and using it to crush superconductors.

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Microbe Hackers

Overview
This stream aims to find problems in the world that can be solved using gene recombination. Once the pathway of a topic is understood via thorough research, students in the stream can find genes of interest and use it at the lower level of bacteria. This allows students to learn about the functionality of the gene and work towards making it a plausible functioning gene at the greater societal level.

Strengths

  • Helpful and understanding Research Educator

  • Good learning pace

Weaknesses

  • New stream, so little standardization of projects

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

  • Environmental Science

  • Human Ecology

  • Medical Laboratory Science

  • Neuroscience

  • Public Health

Independent Research Opportunities

There is a considerable amount of independence on projects. Students can form groups but are still expected to contribute individually in both designing the project and executing it. Through each step, there is substantial support form the professor and mentors. An example is automating the process of sequence alignment and mutation analysis so the students could focus efforts on more subjective or qualitative analyses. The software was able to identify and categorize various kinds of mutations in E. Coli plasmids after several rounds of dilution and growth, and helped identify some of the more mutable areas in the constructs.

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Nano Chemistry

Overview
In the Nanomaterials Stream, dendrimer encapsulated nanoparticles (DENs) are synthesized for use in catalysis. We make these nanoparticles out of a wide range of metals such as platinum and gold which are encapsulated in tree-like organic molecules known as dendrimers . Students learn a wide variety of experimental techniques in addition to refining their writing and presentation skills.

Strengths

  • Stacia Rodenbusch, the stream’s Research Educator (RE), is a wonderful resource for questions

  • Organized leadership that translates to group solidarity

  • Vast array of techniques and skills to learn and refine

  • TAs and student mentors are knowledgeable and eager to help students learn

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

Skills

  • UV-Vis spectroscopy (UV-Vis)

  • Transmission electron microscopy (TEM)

  • Atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS)

  • Energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS)

  • Inert gas purging

  • Micropipetting

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Independent Research Opportunities

From FRI student and mentor Dalton Burch: “One of the projects I did was synthesizing bimetallic gold/palladium nanoparticles with varying ratios of gold to palladium to see if any specific ratio served as a better catalyst than the others. UV Vis spectroscopy played a big role in this project, as it’s how I was able to prove the nanoparticles were monodisperse.” Dalton also had the opportunity to give a speech in front of Texas legislators and prominent UT administration such as President Powers. He was even able to speak one-on-one with them after his speech. Way to go Dalton!

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Plant Pathways

Overview
A comprehensive (classical, modern molecular, forward & reverse) genetics approach is taken to determine how cells differentiate into different phenotypic expressions in the model organism Arabidopsis. Genes are cloned, overexpressed, and integrated into the plant to see how phenotypes are affected.

Strengths

  • Great preparation for upper-division biology courses due to familiarity with lab techniques

  • Valuable work experiences, specifically for those planning to attend graduate school

  • A lot of hands-on experience and lab work

  • Very laid-back environment with a lot independence and little stress

Weaknesses

  • The relaxed environment can make it easy to slack off and become lazy

  • The work may not be as in-depth or as thought-provoking as other labs

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

Skills

  • Basic biology lab techniques (PCR, gel electrophoresis, culturing bacteria, and using micropipettes)

  • Time management and social skills

  • Problem-solving skills and learning to work in an environment with unknown outcomes

  • Learning how to work independently and without constant supervision

Independent Research Opportunities

DNA cloning projects that involve creating new recombinant DNA constructs. DNA is purified, integrated into plasmids, grown in E. coli, and the reintegrated into the plant to create experimental transgenic plant lines. Opportunity to be in contact with people in the research field. Plenty of students in this lab have had their work published, gone on to graduate school, and received prestigious research awards.


Quantum Computing

Overview
The work performed by students in the lab consists of a combination of computer simulation and hardware experimentation using the small state of the art quantum computer available through the IBM Quantum Experience. Students will engage in hands-on learning and research using actual hardware that may be accessed locally or remotely.

Suggested Majors

  • Computer Science

  • Math

  • Physics


Robot Learning

Overview
This research stream will place students at the cutting-edge of robot learning from demonstration research, working with robots to perform complex manipulation tasks, such as autonomously building IKEA furniture. Students will be given instruction in three core areas of robotics: manipulation, perception, and human-robot interaction.

Suggested Majors

  • Computer Science

  • Math

  • Physics


Supra Sensors

Overview
The Supramolecular Sensors streams makes chemical sensors to fingerprint complex mixtures and differentiate them from similar mixtures. For example, with wine, even though all kinds of wine are generally made of the same group of compounds, different concentrations of these compounds are present in each wine varietal, which can be determined by the sensors. The stream’s workload varies depending on your project and schedule, but an average of 6 hours is recommended. The stream’s RE, Dr. Ghanem, is assistant director of the FRI program and often provides her students many research opportunities within CNS and FRI. This stream is great for those interested in hands-on analytical and organic chemistry.

Strengths

  • Great staff support: involved RE and PI

  • Very flexible scheduling and time in lab

  • Good student and mentor community

Weaknesses

  • Projects can take a while to yield productive results; since projects are dependent on one another, work can sometimes get bogged down

Suggested Majors

  • Chemistry

  • Biochemistry

Skills

  • Statistical techniques: Linear Discriminant Analysis (LDA) and Principal Component Analysis (PCA)

  • Analytical chemistry techniques: high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LCMS)

  • Organic synthesis; nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), high-vaccum filtration

  • Peptide synthesis; lyophilization

  • Phage amplification, phage titer, DNA extraction

Independent Research Opportunities

Cachaça, a Brazilian rum, is usually aged in barrels, and thus has different concentrations of tannins from the woods of the barrels they are aged in. Their sensors can be used to figure out what kind of wood the cachaça was aged in. This identification can be used to help the Brazilian companies who contacted the stream to identify local woods that the cachaça can be aged in that will have the same compositional effect as the woods they import to age their cachaça in.

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Virtual Cures

Overview
The virtual drug screening (VDS) stream strives to streamline drug discovery by combining computational methods and wet-lab techniques to discover novel inhibitors of key proteins involved in disease. Students in VDS are provided excellent opportunities to apply for conferences where they can present their research. Scientific research is an invaluable academic pursuit and this stream has helped its students to further their understanding of coursework, enhance their communication, and solidify their decision to conduct research in the future.

Strengths

  • Outstanding support system

  • Devoted RE who guides students in exciting research projects

  • Mentors work closely with students ensuring comprehension in a fun learning environment

  • Rewarding independent research experience

Weaknesses

  • Being part of lab can be time consuming at times

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

Skills

  • DNA sequencing

  • Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR)

  • SDS-PAGE

  • Transformation

  • Cloning

  • FPLC

  • Enzyme/inhibition assays

  • Crystallography

  • Operating molecular docking software (i.e. GOLD, PyMOL)

Independent Research Opportunities

The emergence of antimicrobial resistance from the overuse/misuse of antibiotics poses a serious health threat. Of particular concern is a new mechanism of multi drug-resistance to β-lactam antibiotics (‘last resort’ medications) by the novel New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase-1 (NDM-1). The purpose of this project is to determine if new compounds found through virtual drug screening can inhibit the enzyme’s activity.


White Dwarf Stars

Overview
The group uses cutting-edge sciences grade telescopes to examine the physics behind the pulsation of white dwarfs stars (WDs). WDs are the ultimate fate of 95% of stars at the end of their lives, and the pulsation gives insight into the convection processes in the cooling cores. The stream also includes the new field of experimental astronomy, in which students have the opportunity to make photospheres (“mini chunks” of star surfaces in lab), and conduct experiments on a surface that mimics that of WDs. Skills from this lab are considered internationally cutting-edge, and students have found their skills translatable in astronomy across the department and around the world.

Strengths

  • Spring break trip to McDonald Observatory to use telescopes

  • New members do hands on work with telescopes and scientific data from the start

  • Wide range of projects: computational, observational, and experimental astrophysics which are not exclusive to studying WDs

  • PI/RE/grad student are humble and approachable.

Weaknesses

  • Disjointed due to a quickly expanding stream and diverse projects (but has adapted well)

Suggested Majors

  • Astronomy

  • Computer Science

  • Mathematics

  • Physics

Skills

  • Research telescopes

  • Data analysis

  • basic programming: IRAF (astronomy program), python, Unix, and other specialized astronomical programs

  • Sandia Z machine

  • Presentation skills

  • keeping lab notebook

Independent Research Opportunities

One student compared the two techniques of WD mass determination and found that the results did not agree. The project is now focused on determining the cause for the differences between the old, accepted method and the new technique by expanding the sample size and running experiments related to both techniques. The new method is thought to be suitable for a larger range of star temperatures, while the old method was only valid for hot stars.