Summer Projects at UMass Amherst Put Undergraduates in Natural Sciences, Engineering Labs

AMHERST, Mass. - Two separate programs at the University of Massachusetts, one in natural sciences and one in engineering, are enabling undergraduates from UMass and schools across the country to work as scientific researchers this summer.

The Research Experience for Undergraduates program, coordinated by faculty in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is in full swing in two dozen laboratories across campus, according to John Nambu, a member of the biology faculty and co-organizer of the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) group. Between MCB and the Chemical Biology groups, 26 undergraduates, who will be entering their junior or senior years in September, are working alongside UMass scientists on projects ranging from examining chromosomal abnormalities in the bloodworm, which lives in the clay bottom of the Connecticut River, to how nerve cell connections form in the fruit fly. Funded by grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the program aims to immerse undergrads in the laboratory experience for 10 weeks, Nambu said. While many are UMass students, the program accepts students from across the country.

A second program, the environmental and civil engineering department’s Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates, is aimed at encouraging undergraduates to pursue advanced degrees in engineering. Seven students are spending 10 weeks on campus, doing intensive research on topics including designing concrete structures that are earthquake-resistant; tracing the sources of soil and water contamination; and treating the runoff from chemicals used in the de-icing of aircraft during winter.

The program, in its fourth year, is funded by the National Science Foundation, and is coordinated by faculty members James LaFave and Sharon Long. Participants each work with a faculty mentor, and essentially go from being classroom students to independent researchers, said LaFave. Students are chosen to participate in the program on the basis of their academic standing and an essay. If they choose to enter graduate school, LaFave said, their graduate degrees in engineering will allow them to move more easily into leadership roles. A graduate degree can also open doors in both academia and industry, Long added.