Students explore diseases in humans and honeybees in summer research program

This summer, ten students from across the country came to UNCG to participate in the Math-Bio Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.

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 the UNCG Math-Bio REU summer participants. After a brief training period, the chosen undergraduates were divided into groups of 2-3 students to conduct their own research projects with guidance from faculty mentors.

“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,” explains 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.”

In addition to conducting research, participants also strengthen their science communication skills by presenting and writing about their findings. The program has been taking place at UNCG for about a decade, and students involved have won numerous awards and co-authored many peer-reviewed papers.

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 associate professor Hyunju Oh of Bennett College. UNCG mathematics professor Jan Rychtář serves as lead principal investigator on the project.

Faculty involved with the REU hope that students will go on to act as ambassadors for both the program and for undergraduate research in general.

Article author Hope Voorhees is a Media and Communication Intern with UNCG’s Office of Research and Engagement. She is a junior at UNCG, majoring in Psychology and Sociology with a concentration in Criminology.