Biophysical Society Summer Research Program: The Time of Your Life

li_alexMy name is Alex Li. I am a rising third-year undergraduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in B.S. Chemistry with a focus in biochemistry. I first found my love of chemistry in high school after taking AP Chemistry and now I wish to specialize my interests in organic chemistry after taking a two-semester sequence of it with Michael Crimmins. I have always loved science since I was a kid – it led me to questioning “why” and “how” to every scientific phenomenon, as if I am the detective trying to fit every piece of a jigsaw puzzle. In my free time, I like to play the piano (classical), listen to new music (rap), and try new outdoor adventures (skydiving). I plan to pursue a dual-DDS/DMD and PhD in dentistry and organic chemistry in the future, as I am interested in career options such as clinics, industry, and academia.

I first heard about the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program from Howard Fried, who strongly suggested that I should apply to this program, because he wanted me to get exposed to the field of biophysics. I chose this program because it lasted for so long and I wanted to get the most out of learning and research this summer.

I worked this summer under Kevin Weeks, under whom I researched about different conformations of the RNA genome within satellite tobacco mosaic virus (STMV). This work is related to biophysics in that the research can be applied to visualize RNA structure and dynamics in vivo with high-throughput analytical methods (i.e. x-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy). By understanding the biomechanics of the STMV viral life cycle (i.e. entry, disassembly, replication), we can obtain the knowledge to develop antiviral drugs that are effective against more complex viruses (i.e. adenovirus, rhinovirus, poliovirus) that have the same structure as STMV’s. It was a rewarding and challenging summer in Kevin’s lab, especially working entirely independently and discovering literature sources to plan out my experiments.

What I liked so much about BPS Summer Course was that it is different from what other REUs [Research Experiences for Undergraduates] provide to motivated science students during the summer. It is a combination of everything: lectures/recitations, career panel workshops, seminars, lab tours, and fun social events! The lectures provided a brief overview, but intensive insight, into different fields of biophysics from UNC faculties; we also had fantastic TAs who helped us understand biophysics since it was confusing a lot of the time. There were workshops that gave helpful advice and learning tools for graduate school or MD/PhD admission process, GRE testing, abstract and personal statement writing, and much more. Different faculties from universities across the United States gave seminars about their biophysics research, which were very engaging and interactive. We also got to tour different lab facilities across UNC’s campus (which I never knew about!) to see some of the coolest science equipment, such as atomic force microscope. Some of the best memories I have made this summer was during the Emerald Isle beach trip – a social event that should be continued for future classes!

Overall, I am beyond elated to say that this summer program was a blast – both educationally and socially. I am glad I applied and I strongly recommend others to do so in the future. I will dearly miss all of the friends I have made this summer and like to thank all of the BPS Summer Course coordinators that helped made this summer possible.

-Alexander Y. Z. Li, 2016 Biophysical Society Summer Research Program Fellow


Charting the Course: How the BPS Summer Program Prepares Students for Success

Stephani Page, currently a doctoral student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Biochemistry & Biophysics Department, was one of the first students to complete the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program, in 2008. After this year’s reunion weekend, she reflected on her experiences in the program and how it helped lay the foundation for success in her PhD program.

ThougStephani-Page-headshoth it feels like yesterday, the swath of gray hairs growing from my temple tells me otherwise: the first day of the Biophysics Summer Course was over seven years ago.  Barry Lentz, the director at the time, laid out his expectations for the next two and half months.  In what I know now to be typical Barry fashion, he announced to my fellow classmates that I was accepted into the PhD program at UNC and that I would gain a lot from the summer program.  He was correct.

The summer program was an opportunity to transition into my PhD program, and I needed to make the most of it.  Looking back on the experience, I can think of many key benefits – but I narrowed it down to just two.  I built a network that would prove to be very important for my tenure as a graduate student; and as I gained knowledge in biophysical applications, I developed skills that would prove beneficial for my classes and research.

Graduate school is stressful, to say the least.  My favorite analogy calls a PhD program an endurance race.  I considered it paramount to build a network of people invested in my success.  The summer course gave me the opportunity to encounter different faculty so that I could begin to assess who would be a part of my system of advocates and advisors.  I met my graduate PI, my committee chair, and two of my committee members during the summer course.  One of those committee members was my summer course PI.  In a broad sense, through the summer course, I learned more about how to identify those individuals who are invested in my success and who care about my wellbeing as I strive to reach my goals.  I began to learn the difference between a mentor and an advisor, why each is important, and the ways that they can overlap.  I learned to identify my own needs as a budding scientist – a skill that I build on to this day.  Though not everyone who participates in the summer course chooses to attend UNC or get a PhD, the ability to identify what you need in order to thrive in any environment is invaluable.

I had a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and graduated from my master’s program in Biology during the summer course.  To that point, I hadn’t been in an environment where I could blend those two backgrounds, much less make sense of a broad, interdisciplinary field such as biophysics.  The summer course exposed me to biophysical techniques such as x-ray crystallography, NMR, mass spectrometry, and fluorescence spectroscopy.  We were exposed to molecular dynamics simulations and bioinformatics.  Statistical mechanics, partition functions, and Boltzmann – the physics of life took on meaning.  And I was able to apply what I was learning through my own research project.  By the time I was sitting in classes as a graduate student, I had experienced (and endured) these primers on topics that were complex and difficult.  I was able to approach my classes without being intimidated.  In moments of difficulty, I had relationships with faculty and more senior graduate students (who I had encountered during the summer course) and I was able to get help.  As a teaching assistant, I had examples to use in order to help other graduate students grasp concepts.  Overall, it was a crash course in critical analysis, collaboration, and interdisciplinary approaches applicable to any environment

As I mentioned earlier, the majority of my faculty support system during my PhD program were individuals I had encountered during the summer course.  I am thankful to say that I have built a support system of people who had completed the summer course with me, and in years after my class.  There is a common bond that we share as the select few who were able to encounter this experience.  As a graduate student on the cusp of completing my PhD, I look back on the experience with fondness.  The summer course is geared toward students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in biophysics and related areas or science.  Whether those individuals from underrepresented groups adopt the banner or not, as we navigate the various fields of science, we are trailblazers.  We will bring others along.  We will clear paths.  We will mentor, advise, and advocate.  The Biophysics Summer Course, to me, continues to represent an opportunity to learn more about oneself, to gain knowledge and skills applicable to any environment, and to build networks aimed at ensuring one’s own success.

Find out more about the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program in Biophysics.

Biophysical Society Summer Research Program: A Novel Internship for the Science-Addicted

My name is Manuel Castro, I am a rising senior at Arizona State University, and my major is Biochemistry with a focus in medicinal chemistry. From a relatively young age, I knew that my love of science was considerably broad. I enjoy the fields of chemistry, biology, and physics; through undergraduate lab reseCastro,Manuel headshotarch opportunities, I became more familiar with the interdisciplinary concept of biophysics, and subsequently, the breadth and depth associated with this area of study. When my lab mentor told me about the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program, I enthusiastically applied.

At Arizona State, I work in an NMR lab that focuses on characterizing the structure and function of membrane proteins. Under Dr. Wade Van Horn, my work in his lab has helped direct me towards achieving a career within the large realm of biophysics; namely, structural biology. Upon receiving my acceptance letter to the BPS Summer Program, I began looking into various professors at UNC Chapel Hill that complemented my interests. I quickly found Dr. Matt Redinbo, a professor whose lab also focuses in the structural and chemical biology of proteins involved in human disease, but with X-ray diffraction instead.

Coming from an NMR lab, I entered Dr. Redinbo’s crystallography lab with the intention of exploring the structural biology spectrum more broadly. I really wanted to learn X-ray crystallography first hand to help me decide this coming year where to focus my applications for graduate school programs. I expected my work in Dr. Redinbo’s lab would be very general, including making buffers, cleaning dishes, etc. To my pleasant surprise, the same day I met Dr. Redinbo in person, he already had me setting up crystal trays. Within a few more weeks into the BPS course, I was shadowing graduate students using the x-ray source, which I consider my favorite part of the summer course thus far. In addition to the research, I have learned a lot about scientific communication. We give presentations which help train us for graduate-level coursework by having us present on what their research is about and the direction it is headed.

The program also offers classes that introduce important topics of physical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics. For those who have taken those classes, the course serves as a wonderful review; for those that have not, it is a fantastic introduction to central themes of biophysical studies. These are formal courses with important feedback such graded assignments and quizzes; however, the courses are not for credit. This promotes a comfortable learning environment for students of all levels of education and disciplines.

Overall, I think that this summer has been one of the best of my life so far. The BPS Summer Program allowed me to travel across the country and make new friends from various fields and interests. I would strongly suggest this internship to anyone who is passionate about science, and I have no regrets when I reflect upon my stay at UNC Chapel Hill.

Summer Course Winds Down

For the sixth consecutive year, the Summer Course in Biophysics wrapped up with a final symposium at the Rizzo Conference Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This symposium featured student presentations on their independent summer research projects. TAs, lab supervisors, PIs, course directors, and classmates all participated in asking discussion-instigating questions at the end of each talk.

This final symposium concluded a summer filled with lectures, quizzes, and independent biophysics-related research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The ten students came from across the country to live together in a dorm, collaborate in study groups, and participate in scientific seminars and poster sessions together.

The past 11 weeks weren’t all work though. Students participated in social activities over the course of the summer. A trip to the beach and a Durham Bulls baseball game were two highlights. Professional development courses were also offered, allowing students to prepare themselves for the graduate school application process.

Immediately following the final symposium, students and course Co-Directors, Mike Jarstfer and Barry Lentz, all attended a closing dinner. While students were not always sure about their immediate plans – where they want to apply to graduate school or what type of degree to peruse – it was clear that their summer experience in the lab had impacted them to incorporate biophysics research into their future career goals.

If you know an undergraduate minority student who would be a good fit for the Summer Course, get in touch! Email Society Course Administrator, Vida Ess ( for more information.Image

BPS Summer Course Alums Return to Chapel Hill

IMG_0246For the fifth consecutive year, students and past alumni gathered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for the 2013 Biophysics Summer Course Reunion. The current Summer Course students were joined by 13 alumni and 4 guest faculty members who traveled from around the country to partake in networking events, dinners, and scientific talks.

The weekend began with dinner at the Carolina Brewery in downtown Chapel Hill where alumni happily reunited and introduced themselves to the current class of students. By the time entrees were served, alumni and current students chatted like old friends. Much of the conversation focused on research and graduate school advice from alumni.

The next morning, the current class of students kicked off the Reunion Symposium by giving alumni and visiting faculty a feel for what they have been doing in the past weeks. The current students presented their summer research projects and answered questions from their peers as well as Mike Jarfster and Barry Lentz, Course Co-Directors.

One of the weekend’s highlights was certainly the talks given by the visiting faculty. Linda Columbus,University of Virginia; Ernesto Fuentes,University of Iowa; Ari Gafni, University of Michigan; and Barbara Goldman, Purdue University, each spoke on their current research and the career hurdles they faced when starting out their scientific careers. After lunch, the guest faculty held an open panel discussion where current students and alumni asked questions about graduate school, networking, and success in industry.

Later that evening, Reunion attendees gathered for a traditional North-Carolina-style BBQ, featuring pulled pork, hush puppies, and banana pudding. Current students, visiting faculty, and alums mingled, relaxed, and discussed some of the scientific and career topics that were presented earlier in the day.

On Sunday, the alumni took the stage. After a late brunch, past students gave presentations on their current research and participated in a panel where current students could ask for career and networking advice. Highlights included the first Summer Course graduate to receive their PhD, Yadilette Rivera Colon, University of Massachusetts Amherst, who will begin a teaching postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania, this fall.

After a weekend packed with science and socializing, current students headed back to their dorms and alumni all hitched rides back to the airport. The Reunion was over, but phone numbers and email address were exchanged. After all, one point emphasized by guest faculty members and alumni alike, was to always take advantage of chances to broaden your network!

Kicking Off the Sixth Summer Course in Biophysics

Last month, ten students from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds traveled from all over the country to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, marking the start of the NIGMS-funded Biophysical Society Summer Course.

These students will spend the next 11 weeks immersed in biophysics research, lectures, and seminars. Course Co-Directors Mike Jarstfer and Barry Lentz have set up a summer schedule including lectures by UNC faculty as well as seminars by visiting speakers. Outside of the classroom, students will spend their summer working in UNC research labs that they selected based on their own scientific interests. By the end of the summer, students will have spent enough time in the labs to have sufficient data for a poster presentation at a scientific conference, such as the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting.

The Summer Course in Biophysics is not all work and no play! Students will partake in field trips and social activities, such as a day trip to the beach, a minor league baseball game, Independence Day BBQs, and a team-building ropes course. A reunion for current and past Summer Course students is planned for the middle of the summer, where the current class will present their preliminary research to visiting alumni. Professional development sessions to help students plan their scientific career will be held periodically throughout the summer.

Meet the 2013 Summer Course students:

Summer Course - Augustine AjuoguAugustine Ajuogu
Northwest University



Summer Course - Daniel Cantu - double checkDaniel Cantu
Texas A&M, Corpus Christi



Summer Course - Jaime Ramirez

Jaime Ramirez
Rio Hondo College



Summer Course - Sean Helmueller

Shawn Helmueller
University of Minnesota, Duluth



Summer Course - Johnnie Wright

Johnnie Wright
Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis



Summer Course - Mariel Jimenez

Mariel Jimenez
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Pedras



Summer Course - Joe Kousouros

Joseph Kousouros
Hunter College



Summer Course - Quenton Bubb - double check

Quenton Bubb
Johns Hopkins University



Summer Course - Joshua Mannheimer

Josh Mannheimer
Colorado State University



Summer Course - Joe Park

Joseph Park
University of Florida, Gainesville



BPS Reaches Out to Minority Undergrads at ABRCMS


Summer Course alum, Katiria Gonzalez Rivera, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Uduak Udoeyo, Temple University with BPS Staff member Vida Ess.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Biophysical Society sponsored a booth at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). ABRCMS 2012 took place in San Jose, California, and despite the unseasonable cold spell, minority students from across the country gathered to network and present their scientific research.

Between scientific symposia and professional development sessions targeted for undergraduate minority students, participants found time to visit the exhibit hall, where BPS sponsored a booth, meeting with interested students and discussing ways the Society can help a student on their career path.

While BPS staff members discussed how the Biophysical Society could fit into a student’s career goals, summer course alumni were on hand to talk about their experience with the Biophysical Society Summer Course in Biophysics, an 11-week intensive introductory course for undergrad minority students at UNC, Chapel Hill funded by NIGMS.

In addition to exhibiting, BPS sponsored poster awards for outstanding biophysics related research that were presented to students during the closing banquet. Local members, Daryl Eggers and Ricky Cheng judged posters over the three days of poster presentations. In addition to reviewing poster awards, Eggers and Cheng selected two students with exceptional posters to receive Minority Affairs Committee travel awards to present their research at the 2013 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The two undergraduates who received these awards were Ninotchska De Valle, University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo and Alan Stern, City College of New York.

If you stopped by the BPS booth at ABRCMS in San Jose, let us know in the comments! BPS is already looking forward to another great conference at ABRCMS 2013 in Nashville!