“The Heritability of the Longitudinal Arch of the Foot.”
“Optogenetic Control of Excitatory Neurons in the Mouse Somatosensory Cortex.”
“Double Emulsion Microbubbles: A Targeted Theranostic Approach to Noninvasive Drug Delivery.”
All of these projects might sound like they have been developed in high-end research laboratories far from the likes of Commonwealth Avenue. In reality, they were developed right here at Boston University– and by undergrads.
On Friday, October 19, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) held BU’s 15th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Metcalf Ballroom, featuring collaborated faculty/undergraduate research projects from over the summer.
UROP Program Administrator Tina Fresta says that the program funded a record number of students this year beyond just the 214 posterized presentations displayed in Metcalf, all representing different areas of the university.
“Some of the students are amazing in what they are doing,” said Fresta. “Everything from finding out why there are so many crows in one area to finding genomes for cancer– it’s overwhelming. … There’s a huge spectrum of different studies going on across the university.”
Fresta says that UROP has grown in numbers exponentially since its founding in 1997.
“The provost’s office has been really involved with us, everyone’s really been stepping up,” said Fresta. “Research is a big thing [at BU].
UROP provides competitive grants for the fall and spring semesters, as well as during the summer for undergraduate students who wish to pursue research in their field. Paired with a faculty mentor, Fresta said the program gives the opportunity for students to go in-depth with their interests while receiving a stipend for their work. Students can receive up to $2000 per semester in stipends and up to $700 in supplies, and double the amount during the summer. They may also receive academic credit.
According to UROP, awards are funded by the university as well as other notable organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation. Students may receive specific awards from organizations such as the Clare Boothe Luce Program, supporting women in the fields of science, engineering, and mathematics, or the New England Biolabs for students in the fields of biochemistry or molecular biology. This year, 16 students were also awarded funds as CAS Summer Research Scholars.
Abriella Stone (CAS ’14) spent the summer in Boston under faculty mentor Dr. Swathi Kiran. Kiran is an Associate Professor at SAR Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences as well as the director of the Aphasia Research Laboratory and research director at the Aphasia Resource Center at BU. Stone assisted Kiran in developing an interactive iPad app for aphasia patients.
Aphasia is known as a language impairment characterized by the loss of ability to understand or express speech due to a neurologic injury to the brain, according to Stone. Because many aphasia patients are either unable to come to BU for frequent treatment or cannot afford the treatment, Kiran wanted to develop an clinician-free treatment app for the iPad.
Stone spent the summer researching Kiran’s different treatment types (involving reading, writing, cognition, sentence construction, etc.) and applying them towards the app, helping to develop the at-home alternative that not only offers many treatment options, but tracks patient’s progress as well.
Though Stone is a chemistry major, she became interested in the project because of the potential impact it offered.
“I just knew if I was doing [research] all summer, I didn’t necessarily want to find a specific protein or gene,” said Stone. “I just felt like I needed to see that what I was doing was actually making a difference.”
While Stone took advantage of UROP, she says many people she has spoken to had no idea what the program is or has to offer.
“BU is big and it’s hard to know what’s going on all of the time,” said Stone. “I think it’s just a matter of people not knowing about [UROP].”
Bryan Mahoney (CAS ’13) also believes that students doubt undergraduate research is feasible.
“The problem is not a lot of people think money is available at the undergraduate level, and in a lot of places it isn’t,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney, an English major, researched the language of American Modernist literature and was especially interested in the way technology, especially transportation, affects writing. Mahoney plans to apply his UROP research to his English thesis by the end of spring semester, as well as continue to conduct research on the topic in graduate school.
“By doing this summer research and having this UROP, I get a jumpstart on my thesis and can make my thesis a little more comprehensive,” said Mahoney. “Now I’m applying to grad schools and I don’t think I would have time to do the intensive research that I got [this summer] and I would probably produce something of significantly lesser quality that really wouldn’t be as comprehensive as I wanted it to be. ”
Mahoney was at first unaware that he could apply for UROP.
“I actually didn’t know I could get [into] UROP because it’s so science-heavy,” Mahoney said. He said he was the only English major in UROP this summer.
Fresta says that not all research at BU is limited to science.
“We do see a lot of science students, but you might be surprised to know that we do have a good number of humanities students as well,” Fresta said.
In whatever subject, Fresta says the faculty mentors she has interacted with have all encouraged students to pursue research at the undergraduate level, and that they are always willing to help.
“Everybody has to start somewhere,” said Fresta. “Undergrads are going to walk into a lab–you’re a freshman, a sophomore – you’re not necessarily going to know what setting the microscope is going to be on. There are grad students that step up to help [you]. The mentors themselves are all accessible.”
Stone considers her time with UROP rewarding, and is pleased with her experience.
“[It was] literally the best summer I had,” said Stone. “I never thought I’d have such a great time [in Boston] over the summer.”