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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Department of Biological Sciences
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Department of Biological Sciences
1W14 Jonsson-Rowland Science Center
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 Eighth Street
Troy, NY 12180-3590

Phone: (518) 276-6446
Fax: (518) 276-2344

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Undergraduate Research

Biology undergraduates have many research opportunities. At Rensselaer, you can:

  • Work with professors who are experts in their fields
  • Perform research for class credit or pay
  • Get published and otherwise recognized for your work

The first step is to identify a research project and mentor that are right for you, and then determine whether class credit or pay makes more sense.

Working With Experts

Many undergraduates work in faculty labs for several years, deepening their research skills during the semesters and summer. You can initiate research in faculty labs at any time during your college career, but during your sophomore or junior year is recommended.

First, identify a faculty mentor whose lab you will work in. Most research-active faculty will consider taking undergraduates into their labs for credit. Research projects are as diverse as the research interests of the faculty, from structural biophysics to neuroscience, to ecology, and everywhere in between.

Research-active faculty include: Barquera, Bedard, Boylen, Bystroff, Dordick, Garcia, Gilbert, Koretz, Ligon, Linhardt, Makhatadze, Nierzwicki-Bauer, Plopper, Swank, and Wang.

Credit or Pay? Which is Right For You?

Biology undergraduates can choose to do research for class credit or pay, depending on the kind of experience wanted, and the availability of funds. To help you decide, check out the article, "For credit, funding, or experience?" from the Office of Undergraduate Education.

Research for Class Credit

Classes That Teach Skills Used in Modern Biology Research

  • BIOL 4710 - Biochemistry Laboratory
  • BIOL 4720 - Molecular Biology Laboratory
  • BIOL 4730 - Cell and Developmental Biology Laboratory

Credit for Work in a Faculty Laboratory

  • BIOL 2900- Research in Biology
  • BIOL 4990 - Senior Research Thesis
  • BCBP 2900 - Research in Biochemistry/Biophysics
  • BCBP 4990 - Senior Research Thesis

Class in Cancer Cell Research

The Cancer Cell Biology Group is a multiple-semester training/research program where highly-motivated undergraduates learn the advanced cell biology and biochemistry techniques and undertake independent research projects that can last up to six semesters.

Admission is by application only during the second semester of the freshman year. Typically, four to six students are accepted into the group each year, with training beginning during the first semester of the sophomore year.

Applications are made by taking Introduction to Cell Biology (BIOL-2120) during the spring semester. This course is a prerequisite for admission to the Cancer Cell Biology Group.

New students are taught a variety of techniques that will be used during their research projects, including mammalian cell culture, immunofluorescence microscopy, SDS-PAGE, Western blots (immunoblotting), affinity chromatography, computer image analysis, and a variety of other protocols and methodologies.

During the second semester, students begin to develop the early phases of their research projects and conduct preliminary experiments by the end of the semester.

The Cancer Cell Biology Group is interested in the interactions between metastatic cancer cells and the normal tissue microenvironment. Using a simple co-culture model, each member is studying various aspects of cell signaling between normal and cancer cells in vitro.

In addition to individual research, group members meet weekly to discuss data, present seminars, and conduct roundtable discussions about topics of interest.

Research for Pay

During the semesters, and especially during the summer, you may wish to do research in faculty labs for pay. Such work begins with students contacting faculty members to identify a research project and faculty mentor. Individual faculty members often have external funding that can pay for students. Additionally, there are several sources of funding available on campus.

Undergraduate Research Program (URP and SURP)

During the academic year, funds are available for Undergraduate Research Projects (URP). Applications are due the third Friday of the fall and spring semester.

For summer research, the Office of Undergraduate Education offers funding for a limited number of Summer Undergraduate Research Projects (SURP). Rensselaer students in good standing and plan to enroll again in the fall are eligible to apply, and the application is due during mid-February and notification is sent out in mid-April. Funding is for 10 weeks full-time, with a stipend of $3000 (as of 2008).

School of Science

The School of Science funds undergraduate research in science faculty laboratories for the summer. Contact Dr. Samuel Wait, Associate Dean. Application materials are due sometime in February.

Campus Work Study

Students eligible for work-study assistance can often perform research in faculty labs for their work-study jobs. Interested students should contact Laurie Carlisle in the Biology office, x2853.

Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (C-STEP)

C-STEP is a program for New York state residents who are members of underrepresented minorities or are economically disadvantaged (Biology/BCBP/BFMB majors can be eligible for C-STEP on petition.). Applications can be found here.

The Office of Undergraduate Education

The Office of Undergraduate Education has occasional research opportunities for undergraduates listed on their webpage.

Undergraduate Research Accomplishments

Undergraduate Research Forum

Every spring Undergraduate Research Forum recognizes the significant research accomplishments of Rensselaer undergraduates in all departments. Undergraduates who have done research on campus submit abstracts and present posters for a panel of judges who award cash prizes (up to $500!). To enter, abstracts are due in March. 

Several Biology and BCBP undergraduates have won awards in recent years:

  • In 2008, James Rajotte won first place for his project, "Observation of Phosphoinositol Lipid-Septin Interactions Through GST Fusion Proteins"; and Megan Salt won third place for her project on “The Role of Rho Family GTPases in Microtubule Organization during Epithelial Polarization”. 
  • In 2007, Leanne Ahronian won second place for her project “Increased Invasive Phenotype in AU-565 Breast Adenocarcinoma Cells”; Elizabeth Louie won third place for her project “A Model of Cell Migration Mediated by a Chemoattractant in Single and Co-Culture Microenvironments”; and Jennifer O’Neal won third place for her project “Endophytic Quorum Quenching Bacteria for Use as a Biopesticide”.
  • In 2006, Caitlin Piette won first place for her project, “Determination of the Role of Mmp1 in Embryonic Tracheal Development in Drosophila melanogaster”; and Kristina Kapinas won third place for her project "A Mechanism of Early, Preinvasive Metastasis Mediated by Chemoattraction Using a Novel Segmented Co-Culture Microenvironment".

Professional Scientific Conferences

Undergraduates doing research in department labs have traveled out-of-state to represent their laboratories at professional scientific conferences, including the following:

  • American Chemical Society National Meeting
  • American Society for Cell Biology Annual Meeting
  • Annual Drosophila Research Conference
  • Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience
  • General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology
  • International Meeting on Zebrafish Development and Genetics
  • North America Pombe Meeting
  • Society for Developmental Biology Midatlantic Regional Meeting
  • Society for Developmental Biology Northeast Regional Meeting


Rensselaer undergraduates have co-authored articles for the international scientific community, including the following recent publications (undergraduate's names are bolded).

  • Doering JE, Hsiao Y-C, Kane K, Yao C, Shi B, Slowik A, Dhagat B, Scott D, Ault JG, Page-McCaw PS, Ferland RJ. Species differences in the expression of AHI1, a protein implicated in the neurodevelopmental disorder Joubert syndrome, with preferential accumulation to stigmoid bodies. J. Comp. Neurol, in press. (2008)
  • Synthesis of Floridoside, M. Weïwer, T. Sherwood, R. J. Linhardt, Journal of Carbohydrate Chemistry, in press, 2008.
  • Lund, A.W., Bush, J.A., Plopper, G.E. and Stegemann, J.P. Osteogenic Differentiation of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Defined Protein Beads. Journal of Biomedical Materials Research (part B), in press (2008)
  • Rodriguez, A.R., Batac, J., Killilea, A.N., Filopei, J., Simeonov, D.R., Lin, I. and J.L. Paluh. 2008. Protein complexes at the microtubule organizing center regulate bipolar spindle assembly. Cell Cycle. 7(9): 1841-1855.
  • Ward, D.F, Williams, W.A., Schapiro, N.E., Christy, S.R., Weber, G.L., Klees, R.F., Boskey, A., and Plopper, G.E. Focal adhesion kinase signaling controls cyclic tensile strain enhanced collagen I induced osteogenic differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells. Molecular and Cellular Biomechanics, 4(4):177-188, (2008)
  • Influence of charge state and sodium cationization on the electron detachment dissociation and infrared multiphoton dissociation of glycosaminoglycan oligosaccharides, J. J. Wolff, T. N. Laremore, A. M. Busch, R. J. Linhardt, I. J. Amster, Journal of the American Society Mass Spectrometry, 19, 790-798, 2008
  • Electron Detachment Dissociation of Dermatan Sulfate Oligosaccharides, J. J. Wolff, T. N. Laremore, A. M. Busch, R. J. Linhardt, I. Jonathan Amster, Journal of American Society of Mass Spectrometry, 19, 294-304, 2008.
  • Percent, S. F., M.E. Frischer, P.A. Vescio, E. B. Duffy, V. Milano, M. McLellan, B.M. Stevens, C.W. Boylen and S.A. Nierzwicki-Bauer. Bacterial community structure of acid impacted lakes: What controls diversity? Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 74: 1856-1868. (2008)
  • Ward, D.F., Salasznyk, R.M., Klees, R.F, Backiel, J., Boskey, A. and Plopper, G.E. Mechanical strain enhances ECM induced cell fate determination and promotes osteogenic differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells through the ERK MAPK pathway. Stem Cells & Development, Jun;16(3):467-80 (2007)
  • Investigation of the Binding Mechanism between Internalin B and Heparin using Surface Plasmon Resonance, S. Lang, M. M. Kemp, E. M. Muñoz, O. Azizad, M. Banerjee, J. Kumaran, P. Ghosh, R. J. Linhardt, Biochemistry, 46, 2697 -2706, 2007.
  • Binding Between the Integrin aXb2 (CD11c/CD18) and Heparin, T. Vorup-Jensen, L. Chi, L. C. Gjelstrup, U. B. Jensen, C. A. Jewett, C. Xie, M. Shimaoka, R. J. Linhardt, T. A. Springer, Journal of Biological Chemistry, 282, 30869-30877, 2007.
  • Heparin and Heparan Sulfate on Proteins of the Hedgehog Signaling Pathway, R. J Linhardt, F. Zhang, A. M. Ayala, J. S. McLellan, D. J. Leahy, Glycobiology 17, 1218, 2007.
  • Li YK, Schmitz KR, Salerno JC, Koretz JF.  The role of the conserved C-terminal triad in alphaA-crystallin aggregation and functionality.  Mol Vis 13:1758-1768. (2007)
  • D. L. Bedard, J. J. Bailey, G.V. S. Jerzak, and B. Reiss. Development and Characterization of Stable Sediment-Free Anaerobic Enrichment Cultures that Dechlorinate Aroclor 1260.  Applied and Environ­mental Microbiology 72:2460-2470 (2006).
  • Williams, W.A., Schapiro, N.E., Christy, S.R., Weber, G.L., Salasznyk, R.M., and Plopper, G.E.  Diminished Gene Expression in human Mesenchymal Stem Cells by Mutation of Focal Adhesion Kinase Signaling. Journal of Stem Cells, 1 (3): 173-182 (2006)
  • Klees, R.F., P.C. DeMarco, M. Hogg, D. Ahuja, Z.D. Lauria, L. Kamath, J.S. Dordick, and G.E. Plopper.  Apocynin derivatives interrupt intracellular signaling resulting in decreased migration in breast cancer cells. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Article ID 87246, 10 pages (2006)
  • D.L. Bedard, E.A. Pohl, J. J. Bailey, and A. Murphy. Characterization of the PCB Substrate Range of Microbial Dechlorination Process LP, Environmental Science and Technology. 39:6831-6838. (2005)
  • Increase in the Growth Inhibition of Bovine Pulmonary Artery Smooth Muscle Cells by an O-Hexanoyl Low Molecular Weight Heparin Derivative, H. G. Garg, N. Cindhuchao, C. A. Hales, M. Butler, T. Islam, R. J. Linhardt, Carbohydrate Research, 341, 2607–2612, 2006.
  • Batorsky, A., Liao, J., Lund, A.W., Plopper, G.E., and Stegemann, J.P. Encapsulation of Adult Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells within Collagen-Agarose Microenvironments. Biotechnology and Bioengineering, 92(4):492-500 (2005)
  • Poly(ethylene glycol)-Based Biosensor Chip to Study Heparin Protein Interactions, E.M. Muñoz, H. Yu, J. Hallock, R.E. Edens, R.J. Linhardt, Analytical Biochemistry, 343, 176-178, 2005.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Department of Biological Sciences