Over the summer, Bennett College students Carmen Acosta and Aaleah Lancaster completed the Math-Bio Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). The highly selective program, funded by the National Science Foundation, provides students with hands-on research experience and the opportunity to make a real impact in solving scientific problems at the intersection between biology and mathematics.
This year, over 120 students across the country applied to be one of ten UNCG Math-Bio REU summer participants. After a brief training period, the chosen undergraduates were divided into groups of two to three students that conducted their own research projects with guidance from faculty mentors, including Dr. Hyunju Oh, an associate professor of mathematics at Bennett College.
“The students’ projects focused on diseases in humans and honey bees, both highly social species where interactions in complex organizations can lead to disease transmission,” says UNCG Biology Professor Olav Rueppell, one of the program directors. “Game theoretical and epidemiological modeling was supplemented by practical experiments to study diseases, ranging from Ebola to Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus.”
Acosta’s and Lancaster’s project explored optimal vaccination strategies against typhoid fever.
In addition to conducting research, participants also strengthened their science communication skills by presenting and writing about their findings. Students involved in the program have written their results in preparation for scientific publication.
The Math-Bio REU aims to enrich undergraduates’ experience by encouraging them to look beyond their individual disciplines.
“It’s a challenging and rewarding program,” says Rueppell. “We immerse students in a stimulating, interdisciplinary environment.”
In addition to Rueppell, this year’s program mentors included associate professors Igor Erovenko, Xiaoli Gao, and Filip Saidak of the UNCG Department of Mathematics and Statistics and Oh of Bennett College. UNCG mathematics professor Jan Rychtář served as the project’s lead principal investigator.
Faculty involved with the effort hope students will go on to act as ambassadors for both the program and undergraduate research in general.
Reprinted with permission from the UNCG Office of Research and Engagement