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Summer 2021 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.

Face-to-Face ISRA Opportunities Scheduled for June 21st - June 25th, 2021


Investigating stress resistance in pathogens with Dr. Jan Dahl, Assistant Professor of Microbiology

Hypochlorous acid (HOCl), the active ingredient of household bleach, is the most commonly used disinfectant in medical, industrial and domestic settings. Moreover, HOCl plays a key role during mammalian host defense, when cells of the innate immune system produce HOCl to combat invading pathogens. Once released from immune cells, HOCl evolves a very rapid toxic effect on bacteria, contributing to the effective killing of invading microbes. However, bacteria have evolved strategies to resist bleach stress, which greatly contribute to their survival. Thus, we need a better understanding of how bacteria defend themselves against HOCl. We will use a broad range of genetic, biochemical, and microbiological methods to study bacterial responses to stress, e.g. bleach stress. During the Illinois Summer Research Academy, you will investigate the HOCl response in different bacteria. You will test the HOCl-sensitivity of the deletion strains both on plates and in liquid culture to identify those genes, which cause the strongest HOCl-sensitive phenotype compared to the corresponding wild-type. (Minimum = 6 high school students and maximum = 9 high school students)

Developmental Endocrinology with Dr. Ryan Paitz, Assistant Professor of Endocrinology

Projects in our lab use the developing chicken embryo to study how embryos regulate their exposure to steroids and environmental chemicals during development. When an egg is laid, the yolk contains relatively high levels of steroids that were transferred to the yolk while it was still being formed. Females can also transfer environmental chemicals (i.e. pesticides and BPA) to the egg. Luckily the embryo possesses the ability to regulate its exposure to steroids and chemicals by metabolizing these compounds before they ever reach the embryo. This metabolism primarily takes place in the developing extra-embryonic membranes early in development. Students will investigate factors that potentially regulate the growth and function of these membranes. Projects will involve testing how different compounds (such as steroids and environmental chemicals) might stimulate or inhibit the protective capacity of these membranes. Students will learn a variety of techniques; from dissections to microscopy to molecular techniques. (Minimum=3 students; Maximum=6 students)



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 = 8 high school students and maximum = 18 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. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that synthetases, through multiple mechanisms, are acquiring alternative functions in addition to their classical roles in translation. One powerful mechanism 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 diverge, leading one to adopt a unique function. The Archaea represent the third domain of life, home to many extremophiles including Sulfolubus islandicus which grows at 75°C and pH 3.5. Remarkably, this organism, and its close relatives, encode two genes for leucyl-tRNA synthetase (LeuRS). We have found that the second copy is lacking classical functions associated with the LeuRS family of enzymes, but yet is essential for optimal viability of this organism. This, and other evidence, suggests that it has evolved an important, novel function. 

Students will join the team and help decipher the critical role this LeuRS paralog plays in S. islandicus using a multidisciplinary approach consisting of techniques from biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics. With guidance from current lab members, participants will take part in molecular cloning, protein purification, and gene expression analyses using RT-qPCR and Western blotting. Students will also have opportunities to culture bacteria and an archaeal extremophile and carry out investigations using microscopy. (Minimum = 2 high school students and maximum = 8 high school students).

Nanoscience and Materials Chemistry with Dr. Jun-Hyun Kim Professor of Analytical and Materials Chemistry

Nano-scale metal particles are highly attractive optical materials because of their large surface areas, tunable structural changes, and easy recyclability. The optical property of metal nanoparticles originates from the surface plasmon resonance (the collective oscillation of conducting electrons on a metal surface). Upon exposure to light, these nanoparticles can transition to an excited state and the resulting electrons can relax back into their ground state, releasing energy in the form of heat. This heating event allows for a temperature increase on the surface of the metal nanoparticles and/or a reaction medium that can be applied to photothermally-enhanced catalytic reactions, signal enhancements, and triggering components for delivery systems. Our ultimate research goal is designing nano-scale materials that respond to external stimuli (e.g., pH, temperature, and light).   (Minimum = 4 high school students and maximum = 8 high school students)


 The scheme describes the photothermal heating properties of nano-scale metal particles and their potential applications. Image courtesy of Dr. Jun-Hyun Kim.  


Virtual ISAR Opportunities Scheduled for June 7th - July 9th, 2021

Information Technology - June 7th - June 11th, 2021

Exploring the World of Artificial Intelligence  with Dr. Elahe Javadi & Dr. Rosangela Follmann, School of Information Technology

During this week, students will explore a sample of AI models (for image processing, music creation,..) and tools (e.g., TensorFlow), and design and implement research projects by building an image processing app using MIT App Inventor ( ). We start by analyzing a few of the publicly available AI experiment tools, then work on model performance evaluation (e.g., sensitivity, specificity), design and evaluate or our MIT app tools, and dissect broader issues of ethics and bias in the AI field.  Participants are encouraged but not required to have an Android phone with them. Prior experience with Scratch programming is useful but not required. ( Minimum = 8 high school students and maximum = 18 high school students )

Math - July 5th - 9th, 2021

Computational Tools in Geometry and Number Theory with Dr. Sunil  Chebolu and Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, Department of Mathematics
Geometry and Number theory are the two oldest branches of mathematics and yet they play a pivotal role in current research.  We will explore several applications of geometry and number theory from a practical standpoint. We will engage astronomy problems that can be approached from a fundamental level of geometric analysis. Students will learn to collect and employ empirical data in relation to theoretical models as a way to propose patterns within the behavior of natural systems, like the planetary solar system. Participants will engage in problem solving, as well as problem posing with geometry and number theory topics.  Our tools include theoretical methods and  computational analysis with SAGEMATH software (web-based).
We will also engage in exploratory work in mathematics research topics at a level suitable for novice mathematicians to learn the craft, experiencing critical research tools and strategies. We ask: what is the job of a research mathematician, and what is it like to do that job? Considering the literature and history of mathematics as a discipline for research, we examine both known and unknown results. Finally, we examine the mathematical literature to survey research topics in Euclidean or non-Euclidean geometry and in number theory. Students will engage in mathematical communication and practice presentation skills. 
(Minimum = 10 high school students and maximum = 20 high school students)
Dr. Sunil Chebolu  is a professor of mathematics and undergraduate director in the department of mathematics.  His primary research interests are in algebra and number theory. He enjoys exploring connections between mathematics and other fields including astronomy and music. He has been teaching mathematics for almost 20 years at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  
Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, is a professor of mathematics and an associate director of the Center for Math, Science and Technology (CeMaST). His primary research interests focus on the cognition of geometric measurement concepts, examining the integration of number and space in the learning of mathematics. Barrett has taught mathematics and mathematics education topics for over 20 years at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
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.


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Phone: (309) 438-1898


2021-04-07T15:58:02.866-07:00 2021