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Summer 2019 Research Opportunities

Specific ISRA opportunities will be canceled if enrollment minimums are not met. Should this occur, students will be given the chance to move to an opportunity with open seats or have their money refunded.


Molecular Neuroscience with Dr. Andrés Vidal-Gadea, Professor of Molecular Neuroethology

In this project, we will investigate the neuronal deficits associated with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) using the tiny nematode worm C. elegans. Students will learn how to care for these animals and they will then test the motor, learning, and memory skills of worms afflicted with DMD. This will involve the use of transmitted microscopy to film animals, motion tracking software to analyze their behavior, fluorescence microscopy to evaluate neuronal health, and statistical software to compare healthy and dystrophic groups. One long term goal in Dr. Vidal-Gadea’s lab is to identify ways to slow the progression of this disease which affects 1 in 3,500 boys. (Minimum = 6 high school students and maximum = 16 school students) 

c. elegans worm

C. elegans worm with muscles labelled in blue (pharynx) and green (body wall). Red circles are muscle cells nuclei.

Chemistry of Gold Nanoparticles with Dr. Jeremy Driskell, Associate Professor of Analytical Chemistry

Gold nanoparticles have the potential to positively impact many aspects of modern medicine. These medical applications require a detailed understanding of how biological molecules, such as proteins, interact with gold nanoparticles. Students will be introduced to the unique properties and many uses of gold nanoparticles. With guidance, each participant will synthesize and characterize gold nanoparticles using state-of-the-art instruments. Each participant will then be assigned a different protein and conduct experiments to measure its adsorption onto the gold nanoparticles. Students will then search for information on the protein, such as molecular weight, charge, function, etc. As a team, students will share their findings and look for correlations between protein properties and the adsorption behavior. (Minimum = 3 high school students and maximum = 8 high school students)

Driskell Research
Photograph of gold nanoparticles in suspension (left) and image of individual gold nanoparticles at high magnification collected with a transmission electron microscope (right). Image courtesy of Dr. Jeremy Driskell.

Biochemistry with Dr. Marjorie A. Jones, Professor of Biochemistry

Students will learn to grow Leishmania tarentolae, a one-celled organism, which is a pathogen for reptiles but not humans, so it can safely be used as a model system. Students will learn how to grow cells using sterile technique and measure cell growth using several enzyme assays. Students will also help perform spectroscopy assays to measure how additions of various compounds affect the cells. The long-term goal of this research is to propose new pharmaceutical drugs to treat human Leishmania diseases, which infect more than 20–25 million people worldwide and for which there are few good treatments. (Minimum = 4 high school students and maximum = 14 high school students)

Protein Biochemistry with Dr. Chris Weitzel, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry

Proteins fulfill countless functions. For example, they catalyze the multitude of reactions that are carried out within our bodies, provide structural support to cells, and are critical components of our immune system. Simply put, proteins are polymers of small molecules called amino acids. In the first step of translation or protein synthesis, an amino acid is attached to its appropriate transfer RNA (tRNA). This so-called “charged” tRNA then delivers the amino acid to the ribosome for use in translation. Importantly, this reaction is catalyzed by the aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs) and is fundamental to the accurate decoding of the genetic code. Because the aaRSs are essential bridges, linking the worlds of nucleic acids and proteins, this family of up to twenty enzymes is found in virtually every biological organism. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that synthetases, through multiple mechanisms, are gaining function in addition to their classical functions in translation. One powerful mechanism clearly at play is the evolution of synthetase paralogs, or two proteins that evolved from a common ancestor gene. Over time, the genes for these two proteins can accumulate mutations leading to variations in amino acid sequence and potentially different, but often related functions. Remarkably, there are several examples within the third domain of life, the Archaea, where a second gene encoding a protein product with homology to leucyl-tRNA synthetase (LeuRS) has been maintained. The short-term goal of my research is to understand the functional significance of maintaining a second LeuRS-like protein within the Archaea. Specifically, we are investigating the cellular role of this second LeuRS (LeuRS-I) within Sulfolobus islandicus (S. islandicus), a member of this domain. 

Students will be introduced to the many techniques involved with generating a protein to be characterized in a laboratory setting. With guidance from current lab members, which include undergraduate and Master’s level biochemistry students, participants will clone the genes for proteins particularly interesting to the Weitzel lab. Students will also purify a protein, capitalizing on its physical characteristics (affinity for a resin, size, and charge), after overexpressing the target using non-pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli). Students will use polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and Western blotting as a means to identify proteins of interest. Opportunities to identify protein interacting partners, grow an archaeal extremophile, and carry out protein localization studies within E. coli and S. islandicus cells using fluorescence microscopy will also be available. (Minimum = 3 high school students and maximum = 6 high school students)

Information Technology

MIT App Inventor with Elahe Javadi Assistant Professor of Information Technology
In this project, students will develop an Internet of Things (IoT) mobile app on MIT App Inventor ( to communicate with an Arduino device. We start with basic activities such as turning on/off a light using a cell phone which can evolve into more advanced apps depending on the interest of the participants. Participants are encouraged but not required to cary an Android phone with them. (Minimum = 2 high school students and maximum = 4 high school students)
Specific ISRA opportunities will be canceled if enrollment minimums are not met. Should this occur, students will be given the chance to move to an opportunity with open seats or have their money refunded.


Previous ISRA Research Opportunities


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If you have additional questions or would like more information about the Illinois Summer Research Academy, please contact:

Olesya Courier, CeMaST Marketing, Event & Project Coordinator
Phone: (309) 438-1898


2019-02-18T09:25:12.065-06:00 2019