Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)

One of the greatest challenges facing 21st-century society is finding a sustainable energy supply. Energy is ultimately the basis for a large part of the global economy but today we are mostly dependent on nonrenewable fossil fuels, whose reserves are dwindling, and their use contributes significantly to pollution and climate change. Biomass from plants and algae represents an abundant carbon-neutral renewable resource for the production of energy and biomaterials. Whereas microbes offer efficient and sustainable ways to convert this biomass into liquid fuels or chemical feedstock currently derived from fossil fuels. With adequate research and proper implementation, plants, algae, and microorganisms can help address the energy crisis. However, the emerging ethanol and biodiesel industries are presently a coproduct from crops, such as corn and soybeans, grown as a food source. This poses problems of competition for land usage, expansion of crops into agriculturally marginal areas, deforestation, and potential threats to food security. Furthermore, traditional agricultural crops cannot provide, with current technologies for biomass conversion, the large quantities of liquid biofuels that will be necessary to displace petroleum-derived transportation fuels. To achieve sustainability, next generation biofuels may need to derive from nonedible sources such as microalgae and lignocellulosic plants. In fact, achieving a sustainable biofuels strategy will ultimately depend on basic research in many aspects of nonmedical microbiology, plant biology, genetics, biotechnology, bioinformatics, chemistry and engineering. Our future will depend on students willing to take on these challenges.


The laboratories involved in our summer program cover a wide spectrum of bioenergy research topics such as the study of nonfood crops for biomass production, metabolic engineering of oilseed biosynthesis, green algae as liquid biofuel production systems, microbial carbon sequestration, biochemical pathways of lignocellulose conversion, and system engineering of microorganisms for biomass conversion. Students with a background in Biology as well as those with training in Mathematics or Computer Science who would like to gain research experience in Biology are strongly encouraged to apply. Each student will be assigned a faculty mentor and participate actively in the design and implementation of a ten-week research project. Students will explore the frontiers of knowledge and learn cutting edge techniques while having access to state-of-the-art instrumentation in individual labs as well as in the core facilities. A weekly seminar series will provide an opportunity to exchange ideas with other students, researchers, and faculty. The program also offers a number of social and recreational activities as well as several self-help seminars for students interested in attending graduate school. We expect that the diversity of experiences will encourage students to pursue scientific careers in sustainable energy systems, productively contributing to solving society’s needs.


More information and details about application here.



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Nicole Buan

Assistant Professor
Area of Research
Biochemistry/ Redox Biology Center
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