Welcome to the FRI student feedback page, created by the UT Catalyst. Browse FRI streams by major and get feedback from your peers on the personalities of each stream. Included is also student survey results for each stream (if available). We hope this resource will help you find the undergraduate research experience that's tailored to you.

ANTIBIOTICS

The purpose of this stream is to collect and grow antibiotic-producing bacteria that are found from soil samples around the UT campus. In each soil sample, a large diversity of species allows students to identify antibiotic products and compare the potency of these products across different strains. The stream is heavy in microbiology and lends itself well to potential medical applications.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Neuroscience

  • Nutritional Science

  • Medical Laboratory Science

  • Public Health

  • Chemistry

Strengths

  • Flexibility of schedule

  • Good group dynamic

  • A lot of interaction with mentors and lab directors

  • Open-ended, discovery based environment gives autonomy

Weaknesses

  • Open-ended environment may make things confusing due to less instruction

  • Lots of reading required to close the knowledge gap


APTAMERS

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.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Biochemistry

  • Public Health

Strengths

  • Friendly people and a great research educator

  • 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

Skills

  • Gel Electrophoresis

  • Radioactive imaging

  • Pipetting

  • Assaying

AUTONOMOUS ROBOTS

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. All work is very code intensive, so an understanding of programming will be useful.

Suggested Majors

  • Computer Science

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

Skills

  • ROS (Robot Operating System) and C++

  • Understanding of Hardware

  • Experience with robotic hardware and infrastructure

  • Translating design ideas to practical implementations

BIG DATA IN BIOLOGY

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.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Computer Science

Strengths

  • Exposure to upper division material

  • Marketable skills and relevant material

Weaknesses

  • Rather new stream, so no standardization of projects yet

BIOACTIVE MOLECULES

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.   

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Biochemistry

  • Public Health

  • Nutritional Sciences

  • Neuroscience

Strengths

  • Learn important Organic Chemistry concepts

  • Flexible lab hours

  • Helpful mentors/RE

  • It is possible to get an Organic Chemistry Lab credit

Weaknesses

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

  • The class is sequential, so if an experiment goes wrong it is hard to catch up

BIOBRICKS

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.

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Public Health

  • Neuroscience

  • Medical Laboratory Science

Strengths

  • Very approachable PI

  • Great community

  • Structured environment, with clear instructions  

  • Flexible schedule

Weaknesses

  • Difficult concepts may require extra effort learning in background information

Skills

  • PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)

  • Gel Electrophoresis

  • Ligation

  • Transformation

  • Restriction Enzyme Digestion

BIODIVERSITY

The Biodiversity Discovery stream is interdisciplinary and develops skills relevant for a variety of careers in science. Research occurs in the lab and in the field. In the lab we measure and catalog specimens, map and analyze distributions, and use molecular genetic tools to uncover evolutionary history and relationships between species.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Environmental Science



BIOPROSPECTING

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.

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

Strengths

  • Very manageable course load

  • Mentors have options to go to conferences

  • Flexible schedules

Weaknesses

  • Some weeks can be very intense due to long procedures

  • Course structure is variable from time to time

Skills

  • Fungal isolation and culture

  • Distillation techniques

  • Microscopes techniques

  • Micropipetting

  • Chromatography techniques

  • PCR

  • DNA isolation



BUGS IN BUGS

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

Suggested Majors

  • Biochemistry

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Environmental Science

  • Human Ecology

Strengths

  • RE is invested in the success and learning process of each student

  • Useful processes in lab that touch on a variety of topics

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

Skills

  • PCR

  • Grow and plate bacterial cultures

  • Dissect insects

  • Prepare samples for submission

  • Study evolution and population of species

  • Microbiological, entomological, and ecological techniques

VIRTUAL CHEMISTRY (COMPUTATIONAL MATERTIALS)

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. 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.

Suggested Majors

  • Chemistry

  • Computer Science

  • Mathematics

Strengths

  • Nice and accessible Research Educator

  • Flexible scheduling

  • No time in wet lab

Weaknesses

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

DISCOVERING SIGNALS

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.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

  • Environmental Science

Strengths

  • Knowledgeable and friendly RE

  • Flexible scheduling

  • Independence

  • Gain important lab skills

Weaknesses

  • No wet lab

  • Some work can be monotonous at times

Do-it-Yourself DIAGNOSTICS

This lab focuses on making technology easier in the medical and public health field using various lab techniques, coding and data analysis. It’s a great combination of molecular biology and app based diagnostics. Students can choose to work primarily in either wet lab or coding starting the second semester, and are encouraged to pursue individual ideas about novel diagnostics.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Computer Science

  • Medical Laboratory Science

  • Human Development

  • Public Health

Strengths

  • Lots of independence and flexibility

  • Interesting projects

Weaknesses

  • Lack of structure can make the stream feel disorganized

  • Constantly shifting nature of projects

Skills

  • Extract DNA

  • PCR

  • Code online apps with Javascript, jQuery, HTML5

  • Use Qubit, nanophotometer

  • Perform statistical analyses

  • 3D Printing

VERTEBRATE INTERACTOME MAPPING (GENE NETWORKS)

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.

Suggested Majors

  • Biology

  • Biochemistry

  • Chemistry

  • Public Health

  • Medical Laboratory Science

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

Skills

  • PCR

  • Gel Electrophoresis

  • Ligation

  • Transformation

  • TAP tagging





Independent Project/Special Opportunities
Isolation of antibiotic-producing bacteria and comparison of similar strains of bacteria in wet and dry environments. Students compared which type of environment grows the most potent antibiotic-producing bacteria.

Skills

  • Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR)

  • Growing bacterial cultures

  • Aseptic Technique

  • Thin Layer Chromatography

  • Science Writing

  • Analysis-based lab techniques like Genetic Coding, NCBI BLAST searches, etc.

*New RE this upcoming semester, so no survey results available









Independent Project/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.

apt1.png
apt2.png






Independent Project/Special Opportunities
Examples of 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.

aut1.png
aut2.png



Independent Project/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.  

Skills

  • Python

  • PCR

  • Handling Large Sequencing Data Files

  • Big Data Analytics

*No survey results available

Skills

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

  • Organic chemistry concepts like reaction mechanisms and reading an NMR

Independent Project/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 complete weekly lab reports detailing their experiments.

Bioactive1.png



Independent Project/Special Opportunities
There are a number of independent projects that students work to complete. These projects involve mutating proteins and assessing their functions.  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.

BRICK1.png






Strengths

  • Very hands on

  • Get to frequent the field lab

Weaknesses

  • Not enough hard science

  • Rather new stream

Skills

  • PCR

*No survey results available


Independent Project/Special Opportunities

Isolation of antibiotic-producing bacteria and comparison of similar strains of bacteria in wet and dry environments. Students compared which type of environment grows the most potent antibiotic-producing bacteria.

props2.png
prosp1.png

Independent Project/Special Opportunities
Projects are open to student selection. However, the typical project looks like the following: students select one insect and symbionts. For example, looking at the range expansion of insects and change in their distribution as a result of various factors (climate change, land inhabitants, etc.)

bug2.png
bug1.png




Independent Project/Special 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.

Skills

  • Python

  • Linux system

  • Theoretical Chemistry

  • Stochastic Probability

*No survey results available

Independent Project/Special 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.

disc1.png
disc2.png





Independent Project/Special Opportunities
One student’s independent project is using a DNA amplification method called Loop Mediated Isothermic Amplification, otherwise known as LAMP, to simply and accurately diagnose Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Another student has been working on a Ultra Violet radiation detecting Wearable device.

DIY2.png


Independent Project/Special 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.