As Labor Day nears, many kids are already back in school, and college students will begin heading back to campus soon. While most will return to their classmates with stories about vacations, cookouts and boring jobs, a select group who participated in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program here at the University of Chicago will have much more to tell about a summer spent working on cutting-edge genetic analysis and biological computation in some of the world’s top research labs.
This summer, the REU program hosted students from universities around the country who spent 10 weeks working in two separate labs. A group at the Chicago Center for Systems Biology (CCSB) worked on research into how networks of genes interact to enable cells and organisms to respond to environmental and genetic changes, while those at the Conte Center for Computational Neuropsychiatric Genomics worked with tools for analyzing genomic variations and environmental factors involved with complex mental disorders.Barry Aprison, PhD, education and outreach director for the Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology (IGSB), which oversees both the CCSB and Conte Center at UChicago, said both of these programs are designed to introduce promising undergraduate students to research opportunities and get them involved with hands-on inquiry and analysis. Both are funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health; the CCSB program is in its fifth year, and this is the second year for the Conte summer program. They are part of a larger educational outreach program that also brings biological science research into Chicago Public Schools and mentors high school students in the Collegiate Scholars program.
Two weeks ago, REU students presented results of their summer projects at two separate sessions in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science. The projects ran the gamut of scientific topics, from circadian rhythms in bacteria to database designs for detecting rare genetic mutations. Each student will write up a summary report and return to school this fall with the kind of experience that can only be learned from hands-on work in a world-class research lab.