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. We hope this resource will help you find the undergraduate research experience that's tailored to you. For an exclusive interview with Dr. Eman Ghanem, former Assistant Director of Student Experience of the FRI, see the following article from our very own Jacob Anderson.

Quick links

Keep in mind, the majors are simply recommendations from your peers. They are not restrictions of the stream! Major:
   

Antibiotics

Overview
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.
Strengths
  • Flexibility of schedule
  • Good group dynamic
  • Shared goals bring students closer together
  • A lot of interaction with mentors and lab directors
  • Open-ended, discovery based environment gives autonomy
Weaknesses
  • Intimidating finding help and assistance
  • Open-ended environment may make things confusing due to less instruction
Suggested Majors
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Neuroscience
  • Nutritional Science
Skills
  • Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR)
  • Growing bacterial cultures
  • Collecting and isolating bacteria
  • Analysis-based lab techniques
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.
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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
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.
Suggested Majors
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Public Health
Skills
  • Gel Electrophoresis
  • Radioactive imaging
  • Pipetting
  • Assaying
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 Intelligent Robotics

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++
  • Experience with robotic hardware and infrastructure
  • Translating design ideas to practical implementations
Independent Projects and Special Opportunities
  1. Designing a system to track how many people are in the building and where.
  2. Creating robots to lead someone who’s lost to their destination.
  3. Building a quad-copter that catches ping pong balls.
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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.
big-data-in-biology-cs big-data-in-biology-wl
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Biobricks for Molecular Machines

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
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.
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Biology of Biofuels

Overview
This stream studies the plant switchgrass and the processes to make biofuels from the grass, which can be used as fuel for cars. The students in this stream learn about the plant’s adaptive traits, including seed size variation, cold tolerance, and drought tolerance in order to maximize the usefulness of the plants. By making these processes more efficient, the stream hopes to allow biofuels to become mainstream. This stream takes an ecological, evolutionary, genetic, and physiological approach to studying switchgrass.
Strengths
  • Flexibility and great mentors
  • Easy to get to know everyone -- especially the RE
  • Guest speakers that work in all areas of the biofuel industry
  • Experience in how to decipher research papers
Weaknesses
  • Doesn't apply to many majors
Suggested Majors
  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Environmental Science
Skills
  • PCR
  • Turning glucose into ethanol
  • Genetic mapping and statistics
  • Tissue collecting
  • Using conductivity meter
Independent Projects and Special Opportunities
      Individual projects vary for different members. Projects include:
  1. Studying cold tolerance in switchgrass
  2. Mapping seed size trait and pinpointing regions of the genome that may control this trait and
  3. Studying how plants use water more efficiently when competition is present
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Biomedical Imaging and Analysis (Brain Pathology)

Overview
The Brain Pathology stream aims to study the effects of diseases on the brain. Students are taught to read MRIs and CT Scans to investigate white matter diseases, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, etc. During the first semester, students are taught the skills they need to understand different imaging techniques. As proficiency increases, students are assigned to various research projects.
Strengths
  • This stream is very applicable to medicine. The skills learned will be useful to future physicians.
  • The mentors and fellow students are supportive, friendly, and encouraging.
  • Ample resources for students. For example, a neurosurgeon affiliated with the stream often visits the class.
Suggested Majors
  • Neuroscience
Skills
  • Reading different MRIs and CT Scans
  • Understanding medical terminology
  • Using special programs to read and interpret patient charts
  • Chance to learn how to use an MRI
Independent Projects and Special Opportunities
    One example of a second semester research project is looking at different brain images in order to measure stroke volumes of stroke victims. The goal is to see if stroke volume as measured off of a MRI scan can be used to predict whether or not the patient will recover.
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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
Weaknesses
  • Some weeks can be very intense due to long procedures
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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Cell Signaling and Signal Transduction

Overview
ATP is released into the cell wall during plant growth where it plays a major role in controlling how fast cells grow. Students in this stream work with plants and localized signaling molecules that are important in various plant growth factors to discover significant new findings on how extracellular ATP controls growth. An example of a first year project involves planting seeds on plate of agar, allowing it to grow, transferring seeds to treatment plate, measuring length of root hairs, obtaining results using imaging software, and presenting results to the rest of the class.
Strengths
  • Research educators work very closely with students providing a strong foundation for future research
  • Very hands on and allows for students to choose their topics
  • Fantastic research educator who really wants freshman to succeed
  • Opportunities for more prestigious positions in the lab
Suggested Majors
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
Skills
  • Micropipetting
  • Designing experiments
  • Doing statistical analysis on experiments
  • Giving presentations (public speaking)
  • Diluting and making concentrations of chemicals
Independent Projects and Special Opportunities
    The projects themselves are independent. The lab is supervised by mentors, but the design and execution of the experiment is mostly up to the student. In addition, there are opportunities for individual projects as students continue in the lab.
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Computational Evolution

Overview
The Computational Evolution stream uses software to simulate digital organisms which have genomes that are subject to variation, selection, and inheritance, the three components necessary for natural selection to occur. The digital organisms will then compete and their genomes will evolve, developing functions such as learning to find food in their rugged landscape. Though the stream may seem niche, it is precisely this niche which presents so many advantages to people interested in the field of computational biology. Despite a moderate workload, with about 5 hours in the lab and 3 outside computation hours a week, opportunities are abundant: one student went to MSU for his summer fellowship to work on his project, with all travel/housing/food expenses paid, and attended a computational biology conference.
Strengths
  • Students are autonomous, but have helpful tutorials
  • Provides skills and opportunities in computational evolution not provided elsewhere, as it is a very specific field
  • Many research internship opportunities and high publishing rate
Weaknesses
  • Limited interaction with PI
Suggested Majors
  • Biology
  • Computer Science
Skills
  • How to use the Texas Advanced Computing Center
  • Super Computing Cluster
  • TX Advanced Computing Cluster
  • Presentations and Lab Write-Ups
Independent Projects and Special Opportunities
    At the end of the first semester in the stream, students come up with an idea to test in evolution. During the summer and spring, students pursue their individual project. One example project looked at the relationship between the length of a genome and the mutation rate of the organism with that genome.
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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 Projects and 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.
comp-materials-cs comp-materials-wl
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Do-It-Yourself 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 Projects and Special 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.
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Electronic Materials

Overview
Students in this stream focus on the design and development of materials commonly used for data storage, optics, sensors, and optical and infrared astronomy. Students work with magnetism and high temperature superconductors. Students make superconductors and measure properties (resistive/magnetic), and use NMR. There are opportunities to work with high-level equipment such as a SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Imaging Device) and an 8 Tesla magnet.
Strengths
  • Very individualized
  • Good instruction on using analytical equipment
Weaknesses
  • Lab is very old, things occasionally break down
  • Time spent fixing equipment (however, students learn how to fix tools and with circuits)
Suggested Majors
  • Physics
  • Electrical Engineering
Skills
  • Fabricate materials (material sciences)
  • NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance)
  • X-ray diffraction
  • Annealing
  • Fabricate superconductor
Independent Projects and Special Opportunities
    The stream gets people on their own individual projects quickly, and everything after first couple of months is original research.
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Epidermal Cell Fates and Pathways (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 Projects and Special Opportunities
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
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Exploring the Universe with 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 Projects and Special 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.
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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
Independent Projects and Special 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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Functional Materials (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 Projects and Special Opportunities
  1. 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
  2. Working with other universities and other departments within UT to test if projects actually translate into the desired application
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Hijacking Microbial Factors for Synthetic Biology (Microbe Hacking)

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
 
Suggested Majors
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Human Ecology
  • Medical Laboratory Science
  • Neuroscience
  • Public Health
 
Independent Projects and Special 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.
hijacking-micro-factors-cs hijacking-micro-factors-wl
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Linear Algebra

Overview
This stream is more like a class than an actual research stream. This class is about theoretical linear algebra, which is indispensable for a serious study in fields such as math, physics, chemistry, and engineering. It is geared towards math majors and involves proofs, operations, and sets. It would be helpful if students have some background knowledge on proofs since this is not an introductory class. This course will give students insight into whether they might want to pursue research in the field.
Strengths
  • Professor is a great lecturer and you can learn a lot by going to class
  • Grading in the class is lenient
Weaknesses
  • The quantity of the content presented can be a little overwhelming.
  • Workload involves 3 hours of class and approximately 8 hours spent on homework a week.
Suggested Majors
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
Skills
  • Proofs
  • Abstract thinking
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Microorganisms in Bees and Other Insects (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. *Does not have Course Instructor Survey (CIS) data for current instructor
Strengths
  • Flexibility of schedule
  • Friendly Research Educator
  • One-on-one attention
  • Tight-knit community within lab
Weaknesses
  • Location on Lake Austin Blvd, distance from campus
Suggested Majors
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Environmental Science
  • Nutritional Science
  • Public Health
Skills
  • Serial Dilutions
  • PCR
  • Creating phylogenies
  • Insect collection, dissection, pinning, and preservation
Independent Projects and Special 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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Nanomaterials for Chemical Catalysis (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
Independent Projects and Special 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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Practical Molecular Sensors - ARI (Practical Sensors)

Overview
This stream is concerned with channeling chemistry knowledge into tools that could serve a useful industry purpose. For example, a section of the stream worked on creating simple detection tools that could sense the presence of tartaric and malic acid, two major components of the flavor in wine. The ultimate goal of the research stream was to scale up findings into a portable tool that could aid wineries in detecting peak harvest times based on concentrations of tartaric and malic acid.
Strengths
  • Prioritizes giving lab experience to transfer and upper division students
  • Flexible in scheduling and choosing a project
  • Fun Research Educator
  • Relevant to industry
 
Suggested Majors
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
Skills
  • Creating saturation curves
  • LoggerPro
  • Dilutions and spectrophotometer
  • PCR
  • Peptide creation
  • Analyze with LCMS, HPLC, Masspec
  • Perform SELEX
Independent Projects and Special Opportunities in the ARI stream, there are three main projects to choose from:
  1.  Ellington project: uses a target aptamers to bind to nerve gas agents and serve as signals for those in risk areas as funded by the Department of Defense.
  2. Borich project with electrochemical sensors
  3. Borich project with UV spectroscopy
Some level of opportunity to collaborate with a local biotech company existed if you continued in the stream. There was also an opportunity to attend conferences to present work.
practical-mol-sensors-cs practical-mol-sensors-wl
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Sarah Simmons Cell Signaling Stream (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 Projects and 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.
    .
sarah-simmons-cs sarah-simmons-wl
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Supramolecular 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 Projects and Special 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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Synthesis and Biological Recognition (Bioactive Molecules)

Overview
This lab aims to better understand protein-ligand interactions, such as ligand-protein interactions of the protein MUP-1, which deals with pheromone release and is vital in chemosignaling. A deeper understanding of binding affinity is fundamental to drug discovery and design and gives us insight into how biological processes operate. Students in this lab have the opportunity to claim organic chemistry lab credit due to the vast amount of organic lab techniques used.
Strengths
  • Professional development and growth as a researcher
  • Prepares student how to deal with failure, which is common in research
  • Good foundation for students interested in synthetic research
Weaknesses
  • High expectations for students from the RE
Suggested Majors
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
Skills
  • NMR spectroscopy
  • Isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC)
  • TLC plating
  • Air-free synthetic techniques
  • Microscale extractions
  • Chem Draw
  • PyMol
  • Reaxys
Independent Projects and Special Opportunities
    Students will design and synthesize ligands in a series of steps. Using proteins found in mouse urines, students analyze the binding affinity of the ligands to the proteins found in the urine.
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Vertebrate Interactome Mapping (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 Projects and 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.
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Virtual Drug Screening (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 Projects and Special 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.
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