Mentor Sites

The YSSS staff is still recruiting mentorship sites for the virtual YSSS 2021 program. The YSSS program strives to provide mentorship experiences that emphasize hands-on research and creative productivity. Mentorship sites may involve virtual workshops, labs, simulations, and/or portfolios to provide opportunities similar to in-person laboratories with a focus on hands-on learning in a virtual environment. Scholars’ time will be a balance of developing background knowledge and engaging in inquiry and experiences around new questions. At the end of the program, the scholars will participate in an Academic Showcase, at which they will give presentations on the work they have completed and the expertise they have gained by participating in the program.

The following list is the mentorship sites that were going to be offering during the 2020 program. An updated list is available under the 2021 mentorship sites.

** Please note that most sites host a small group of scholars, but there may be some that host only one.

Click on the department tabs below to see the available sites!



Title: Exploring Ways Technology Can Help People Live Healthier Lives

Mentors: Dr. Sherry Pagoto, Director of UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media and Professor, Allied Health Sciences, and UConn Institute for Collaborations in Health, Interventions, and Policy Research Staff and Faculty

Description: The UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media is devoted to exploring ways technology can be leveraged to help people live healthier lives. Students will work with researchers who are developing and testing mobile apps and online social communities to prevent heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In research funded by the NIH, we have developed 3 mobile apps focused on weight management and are currently conducting studies in which we counsel patients on health behavior change using online social network platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In addition, they will also assist investigators as they tackle skin cancer prevention by developing social media campaigns that educate young people about the harms of tanning beds.

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.



Title: Tell Me a Story: Stop-Motion Animation as a Storytelling Tool

Mentors: Alison Paul, Associate Professor, Illustration/Animation

Description: What’s your story? Real or imagined I want to hear it, and I want to help you tell it.


Around the world animation is used as a tool to tell a wide range of stories, from the fictional and
fantastic to the personal and tragic. With animation, anything is possible. Are you someone who fills
sketchbooks with drawings of characters, or fills journals with writings? Those interested in the
infinite possibilities of storytelling through animation should choose this site. Drawing skills are a
plus, but not necessary as we will be working with cut-paper techniques in stop-motion.
If you select this mentorship site, you will complete a short stop-motion animation from storyboard to
final cut. Through a series of exercises, you will develop not only your animation skills, but also your
storytelling skills. Exercises will include flipbooks, animatics, and paper-puppet building, and a series
of animation screenings will help provide context for the material covered. There is also a creative
writing component to this mentorship as you will be writing your own scripts, designing your
characters and building your worlds. This site features individual animation shooting stations each
equipped with a Canon DSLR camera, a LED lighting kit and an iMac. Animation assets will be
created by hand, shot on digital film, and sequenced using the latest DragonFrame software. (The
same software that professional stop-motion movie studios use.) You are the next generation of
storytellers and content creators, let’s hear what you have to say.

Note: Minimum of 2 scholars; maximum of 4 scholars.



Title: How and Why Organisms Evolve So Many Beautiful Forms and Color Patterns

Mentors: Amy LaFountain (graduate student) and Yaowu Yuan (PI), Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Description: The Yuan lab is primarily interested in how and why organisms evolve into so many beautiful forms in nature. We study flower diversification as a representation of the general problem of phenotypic evolution. The specific questions we ask include: What are the genes underlying the dazzling variation of flower color and shape? How do these gene products (e.g., transcription factors, enzymes, signaling proteins) regulate the production, transportation, modification, and degradation of pigments to generate floral color patterns? How do they regulate the division, elongation, and polarization of cells to make flower shapes? How does evolution tinker with these genes to generate different phenotypes among species? What is the adaptive significance of the diverse floral forms? How do flowers with different color patterns and shapes interact with different pollinators? What role do these interactions play in adaptation, reproductive isolation, and speciation? Scholars will work with researchers as they use a highly integrative approach to address these questions, including computational analysis of genomic and transcriptomic data, molecular biology experiments in the wet lab, genetic crosses and mutagenesis in the greenhouse, and ecological interrogations in the field. For more details please see our website:

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.



Title: Entrepreneurship and Innovation: An Exploration into Emerging Technologies

Mentors: Jonathan Moore, MIS Academic Director, Operations and Information Management and students in the lab

Description: Are you interested in pursuing your own research question around emerging technology? OPIM Innovate is an initiative started by the Operations and Information Management (OPIM) Department in the UConn School of Business.  The goal of this initiative is to give scholars hands on experience with emerging technologies in business. OPIM Innovate is a great opportunity for scholars to be able to walk in and learn from other students about how they can use new technology to solve complex problems. 

Our initiative hosts a number of services in our Innovation Space and Gladstein Research Lab located in the OPIM department on the Storrs, CT campus. We have equipped our space with various emerging technologies: 

  • Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality
  • 3D Modeling / 3D Printing
  • Internet of Things / Artificial Intelligence
  • Microcontrollers / Wearable Tech

Please note: Participation in this site requires self-guided research projects utilizing the equipment and technology in our lab. Projects will be supported by site mentor and scholars. 

Note: Minimum of 5 scholars; maximum of 10 scholars.



Title: Chemistry 100 - NanoScience: Cutting-Edge Chemistry for Saving the Corals

Mentors: Challa Kumar, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and senior students in lab

Description: At this site you will receive the state-of-the-art training in NanoScience for making Green and Sustainable Nanomaterials derived from proteins, lipids or carbohydrates. Our environment is changing in ways that biology can't 'adapt to' on this planet. For example, there is strong evidence to conclude that global warming is at unprecedented rate, carbon dioxide levels are rising rapidly, and the corals are vanishing. How do we remediate such harmful effects and restore the corals? To address this important problem our research team is making nanomaterials from edible proteins that sequester carbon dioxide at high efficiencies and low cost. For example, our protein-based nanoparticles ‘eat’ large quantities of CO2 and convert it into low-cost biopolymers to make biodegradable plastics. These plastics degrade quickly, once released into the environment while sequestering the carbon dioxide. Our research team will provide you with hands-on training in the preparation and characterization of these protein-based nano materials for carbon capture and storage.  You will be working on projects at the cutting edge of nanoscience. If you love chemistry and curious about these advanced environmentally-friendly projects, we invite you to our high-tech laboratories to assist our research team in these exciting nanoscience discoveries.

Note: Maximum of 3 scholars.


Title: Sustainable Approach to Carbon Dioxide Reduction

Mentor: Dr. Alfredo Angeles-Boza, Assistant Professor, Inorganic Chemistry

Description: The increasing emission of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide, has received considerable attention due to its serious environmental consequences. An obvious solution is the capture and storage of the CO2 produced in the industrial processes. A more attractive approach is to combine the capture of CO2 with its use as a renewable and environmentally friendly resource. For example, CO2 can be converted to liquid fuels. With this objective in mind, we have recently begun to seek for catalysts that can be used in the transformation of CO2 to methane. The YSSS scholar working on this project will synthesize and characterize heterocyclic ligands and metal complexes. The scholar will also explore the catalytic activity of the synthesized molecules.

For additional information about the research at the Angeles-Boza lab, please visit the website at:

 Note: Maximum of 1 scholar.


Title: Hunting for New Antibiotics

Mentor: Prof. Alfredo Angeles-Boza, Associate Professor, Inorganic Chemistry

Description: Decades of antibiotic misuse and overuse have resulted in the appearance of superbugs, mutated pathogens that have developed resistance or immunity to most, if not all, of the antibiotics in use today. Our group is interested in studying the mechanisms by which host defense peptides use metal ions to enhance their antimicrobial activities. By learning how these important effectors of the immune system interact will lead us to the design of new classes of antibiotics. The scholar will have the opportunity to synthesize peptides or peptide mimics and perform biochemical and biophysical assays to determine their antimicrobial activities.  For additional information about the research at the Angeles-Boza lab, please visit the website at:

Note: Maximum of 1 scholar.


Title: Functional Stimuli Responsive Adaptive Polymer Materials Research in the Kasi Group

Mentor: Prof. Rajeswari Kasi, Polymer Program, Institute of Materials Science

Description: Liquid crystals (LC) are states of matter with properties between those of conventional liquids and conventional crystalline solids. These small molecules have flow properties similar to liquids, but are arranged with some molecular order similar to crystalline solids. These molecules show "phase" and "temperature-dependent" properties which yields optical materials. Furthermore, LCs respond to electrical and magnetic fields that are important for technological developments including optoelectronic devices, liquid crystal displays and lasers.  Liquid crystals are essential in biology including formation of the all-important lipid layers which hold cells together. 

Research in the Kasi group is focused on synthesis of small molecule LC and liquid crystalline polymers (LCP), wherein the liquid crystal is covalently attached within a polymer matrix.  These new materials also respond to electrical and magnetic fields and show an optical response. We use this "responsive" feature in the creation of new adaptive materials including soft actuators, soft robotic materials, drug delivery devices and sensors. 

In collaboration with graduate students and the professor, the YSSS scholars will be trained to synthesize simple LCs  by traditional organic and polymer chemical methods and explore their properties with focus on thermochromic and piezochromic features. Using these studies as the background, the scholars(s) will develop a simple sensing platform to produce a visible readout. 

 Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.



Title: Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

Mentors: Dr. Fei Miao, Assistant Professor, Computer Science & Engineering, and PhD students in the lab

Description: Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) draw on Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications for basic safety messages and other information to support their functioning. The development of Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) and 5G technologies enables increased opportunity and effectiveness for these communication pathways, including going beyond basic safety messages to focus on planning and computer-vision-related information.

In this mentorship site, we focus on designing novel behavior planning methodologies to support CAVs in the decision of whether to change lanes or remain in their current lane, based on information received from neighbors and rules learned through reinforcement. The behavior planning method should increase traffic flow and driving comfort compared with a traditional model-based control method. Scholars at the site will join a team of UConn doctoral and undergraduate students researching how AI technology will change future CAVs. They will engage with the basics of machine learning, especially reinforcement learning algorithms. Scholars will also learn how to run simulators and demonstrate CAV-related research results on a testbed using a 1/10 scale racing car. Participants in the site will have opportunities to engage with all research projects in this lab. Our current research involves conducting simulations and experiments, collecting data from simulations, and designing learning algorithms and theorems based on data and a state-of-the-art autonomous vehicle dynamic model.

This is an ideal experience for those interested in careers in Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or control of autonomous systems.

Note: Maximum of 3 scholars.


Title: Self, group and assisted study of cybersecurity and cryptography

Mentor: Dr. Amir Herzberg, Professor, Computer Science & Engineering

Description: Cybersecurity and cryptography are important, exciting and challenging areas. Usually, these areas are studied in an advanced phase of undergraduate, or even graduate, studies in computer science, with classical classroom lectures. Is this really the best (or only) way? In this project, we will experiment with alternatives: self-study, group-study and assisted study, by talented high-school senior students, without requiring previous studies in computer science or mathematics (beyond high-school algebra). The participating scholars will use and compare these different learning approaches, provide feedback on the provided textbook (being developed), and potentially help improve the material in different ways. 

Note: Maximum of 5 scholars.




Title: Creating Through Imaginative Writing

Mentors: Victoria Nordlund, Creative Writing Educator and published poet; and Barbara Greenbaum, Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University

Description: Every moment of our waking day we are surrounded by words, by stories and the drama of narrative. We watch, we talk, we participate and we imagine. Words, stories shape our world and how we come of think of it. Poetry fashions our connection to that world through feelings hopes and desires. Drama plays out in every aspect of our lives, real and fictional. Fiction narratives deliver all the possibilities of imaginings. All forms shape how we as a human community connect with one another, how we communicate.

In this mentorship site, you will work with two stellar teaching artists who will guide you through writing projects of your choosing. Always wanted to try poetry? Or fiction? Or dramatic writing? This is your opportunity to work with professional writers who teach. You will be encouraged to write, read, share and expand. This experience is ideal for those interested in creative writing, or how language shapes thinking and communication.

Note: Maximum of 6 scholars.



Title: Discoidal Lipid-Chitosan based nanocarrier for oral delivery of lipophilic compounds 

Mentors: Mu-Ping Nieh, Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Ms. Sanyukta Patil 

Description: The biomaterial-based delivery systems are extensively studied to fabricate nanoscale oral delivery systems. Lipids have amphiphilic (both hydrophobic and hydrophilic) properties make them a good candidate for drug delivery. Uniform lipid-based nanodiscs (with a diameter of 30 nm and thickness of 5 nm; 1 nm = 10-9 m) will be synthesized to carry hydrophobic drugs for oral delivery. We will use chitosan to protect these lipid nanoparticles from degradation in stomach. This research site aims to improve the stability of lipid-chitosan nanoscale platform in response to the variation of temperature, pH and in presence of digestive enzymes in the condition mimicking gastrointestinal tract. The scholars associated with the project will receive the training to perform advanced experimental techniques (e.g., Dynamic light scattering, UV-Visible Spectroscopy) in order to characterize the structural stability. Furthermore, they will learn about nanoencapsulation, and drug release profiles. 

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.


Title: Location of nanoparticles in the organelles based on their shapes

Mentors: Mu-Ping Nieh, Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Ms. Farnoosh Saeedinejad

Description: Cancer drug delivery carriers are designed to transport the therapeutics to the tumor tissues and cancer cells. The therapeutic efficacy of drugs is expected to be strongly affected by the location (e.g., organelles) of the drug after their cellular endocytosis. In the past, our research team has synthesized efficacious nanoparticles (from 20 to 100 nm; 1 nm = 10-9 m) with great enhancement in cellular uptake through the discoidal shape of the particles. However, a more interesting question to be answered is “where do these nanoparticles go after endocytosis?”.  This research site aims to discover the destination organelles of the lipid-based nanoparticles in the cell. The high school scholars will be provided with the hands-on experience of preparing nanocarriers. They will also gain the basic knowledge of how to do cell-based studies; i.e. cell culture. Furthermore, they will learn about advanced imaging techniques to trace the fate of nanocarriers inside the cells.

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.


Title: Characterization of micelles in the aqueous solutions

Mentors: Mu-Ping Nieh, Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Mr. Behrad Kangarlou

Description: Particles with nanometer dimensions (1 nm = 10-9 m), so-called nanoparticles, have great potential for biomedical applications such as drug delivery to treat cancer, owing to their ability to accommodate drugs. Amphiphilic molecules are defined as molecules containing both water-like (hydrophilic) and water-dislike (hydrophobic) functional groups and therefore can self-assemble into a variety of uniform structures such as micelles and vesicles. In our research group, specific amphiphilic molecules have been synthesized and they self-assemble into well-defined aggregates. This research site aims to characterize the nanoscale structure of the self-assemblies using dynamic light scattering and fluorescence spectrometer. The high school scholars will learn the theory of micellation and how to identify the critical micellation concentration.

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.


Title: Location of Nile Red in Lipid-Based Aggregates

Mentors: Mu-Ping Nieh, Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Ms. Ibtihal Alahmadi

Description: Nile Red is a hydrophobic fluorescence dye and commonly used for staining cells. Our research team has shown the emission fluorescence spectra of Nile Red are environment-sensitive. We are able to use phospholipids, which self-assembled into spherical, discoidal micelles and vesicles, to entrap Nile Red in the hydrophobic region of the bilayer. Because the Nile Red shows drastic different emission corresponding to fluidity of the bilayer, we are able to probe this property using Nile Red. YSSS scholars will be provided with the hands-on experience of making different shapes of micelles and vesicles and characterize their structures. In addition, they will perform advanced experimental techniques, e.g., dynamic light scattering, fluorescence spectrometer, and differential scanning calorimetry. Finally, they are expected to learn about emission behavior of Nile Red under different environments. 

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.


Title: Creation of New Materials

Mentors: Luyi Sun, Associate Professor and Castleman Professor in Engineering Innovation

Description: We are a group of materials scientists/engineers who are interested in creating new materials for various applications (and having fun...). Our research covers a wide range of materials, including polymeric materials, ceramics and glasses, and composites. One of our main goals is to design materials with unique structure (down to nano- and molecular-scale) for specific applications, such as packaging, energy, catalysis, etc. In most cases, the structural design and control are the keys to the high performance of these materials. For additional information about the research at this lab, please visit

Note: Maximum of 6 scholars.



Title: Electronics: Sensors and Optical Audio Links 

Mentors: Dr. Ali Gokirmak, Associate Professor, and Dr. Helena Silva, Associate Professor, Nanoelectronics Laboratory, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (PIs); Hasan Talukder (Graduate student Mentor) 

Description: Electronics are everywhere—from lighting to energy generation, distribution, and storage, to transportation, communications, medical devices, and computing. It is difficult to imagine our lives today without electronics. In this laboratory, you will design and build sensor circuits and an optical audio link, fun electronic systems that sense and transmit audio signals through optical signals. At this site you will learn about acoustic, optical and electrical signals. You will get hands-on experience in different aspects of electronics, including an electrical circuit, a semiconductor laser, a photodetector, and a speaker. 

Note: Maximum of 6 scholars.



Title: The Influence of the Past on the Present: The Underground Railroad

Mentors: Ashlyn Markosky, Graduate Student; and Dr. Manisha Sinha, Professor of History and Draper Chair. 

Description: History matters because it influences how we think about everything else. If we do not understand how things came to happen in the past, how can we understand what is going on today? Those who choose this mentorship site will join in graduate student research on topics of Slavery and Abolition, the Freedman’s Bureau archives, and an in depth look at the Underground Railroad and some of its major figures. Participants will learn important skills relating to historical inquiry such as: research methods and skills, creative and analytic writing strategies, how to analyze the role of artifacts (or lack of artifacts) and data, and multiple perspective taking. In addition, participants will partake on a field trip to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford and ultimately get the opportunity to create their own portfolio demonstrating the work they have created and the skills they have learned while at the mentor site. This experience would be ideal for those who are interested in writing (e.g.,journalist or novelist), history, or politics."     

Note: Minimum of 2 scholars; maximum of 5 scholars.


Title: Up in Smoke: The History, Memory, and Erasure of Connecticut’s Tobacco Workers.

Mentor: Jason Oliver Chang, Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies

Description: Connecticut has a long history of growing tobacco. Tracing this history will bring you behind the myth of a romantic pastoral New England agriculture to see the lives of the workers who make these fields productive. Since Connecticut tobacco growers have focused on a specific variety of tobacco, the demands for agricultural work are seasonal. For this reason, growers have relied upon imported labor from regional and international sources. When growers depend upon disposable labor, they justify the political and cultural erasure of the hundreds of thousands of workers who have come to plant and pick this crop. These workers hailed from the Hartford youth to the African Americans in the U.S. South as well as from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to Lituania and Italy to Mexico and Jamaica. If you choose this site, you will work with faculty and staff to research primary source material, documenting the lives of these workers; you will visit tobacco fields and see this agricultural landscape up close; you will work with the Connecticut Historical Society to think about historical work as a vital public service; and you will visit the Connecticut Valley Tobacco Museum to see the importance of historical research in shaping the stories we tell about the place in which we live. Don’t let this past go up in smoke, be a part of recovering the history of Connecticut’s invisible workers.

Note: Maximum of 5 scholars.



Title: Speak Up, Stand Up: How to Help Stop Bullying and Discrimination.

Mentors: Dr. Alaina Brenick, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies; Samantha E. Lawrence, M.A., and senior students in the lab.

Description: Have you or your friends ever been bullied or been treated unfairly because of who you are? How did you feel? Maybe you wondered why it was happening or wished that you knew how to make it stop. These are the kinds of things we research in our lab.

We scientifically analyze individuals’ experiences of being bullied, discriminated against, or excluded because they are different. Working in our lab, you’ll learn skills like searching for scholarly literature, helping prepare grant applications, and analyzing data. Over the summer, you’ll be a part of our exciting research projects exploring:

  • The ways immigrant youth experience bullying and how others perceive bullying that targets immigrant students in their schools,
  • Effective ways to reduce prejudice and discrimination among youth growing up in political conflict, and
  • The range of negative experiences that LGBT youth face in schools and how communities can work to reduce LGBT mistreatment.

This is your opportunity to be a part of our research team and help make schools and communities safer and more welcoming for youth of all backgrounds.


Note: Maximum of 3 scholars. CITI training is required for participation in this site.



Title: Research and Action in Human Rights at the Dodd Center

Mentors: Dr. Glenn Mitoma, Director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center and Assistant Professor of Human Rights and Education

Dodd Center scholars in the Young Scholars Senior Summit Program will identify a human rights issue of concern to them, research the topic and design an outreach strategy to address, or educate/bring awareness to the problem.  The mentorship site is designed into three week modules with the first week serving as an introduction to human rights. Broad topics in the first week include Foundations & Key Concepts to International Human Rights, International Human Rights Institutions and Mechanisms, Civil and Political Rights, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Vulnerable Populations.  

During the second week, using archival materials available in the Dodd Center (e.g., Nuremberg papers, Romano collection, Children’s book collection, Central America) scholars will be trained on ways to use historical documents for their research, as they begin to develop/hone a research topic of choice.   

During the third week, using various mediums (e.g., visual, written, spoken, a website, PowerPoint/workshop presentation) scholars will construct an outreach strategy to educate/address said human rights issue, to realize or build a culture of human rights in general, but specifically for primary or secondary schools.  

For more information on the Dodd Center, please visit

Note: Maximum of 4 scholars.



Korey Stringer Institute (KSI)

Title: Cooling Therapy Following a Warm Weather Road Race

Title: Advocacy Within the Athletic Training Profession for Health and Safety Policies

Mentors: Rebecca Stearns, Assistant Professor in Residence, Department of Kinesiology, Chief Operating Officer, Korey Stringer Institute; Doug Casa, Professor, Kinesiology, Korey Stringer Institute 

These mentorship sites are devoted to providing scholars exposure to high-level research, advocacy and education initiatives related to the mission of the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI). The mission of the Korey Stringer Institute is to provide research, education, advocacy and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death for the athlete, warfighter and laborer. Individuals will be provided full immersion into the daily operations of an active research lab; assisting with field studies, epidemiological investigations, surveys and laboratory protocols focused on preventing sudden death in sport and enhancing sport safety.

Research Experience Description:

Scholars in these sites will assist faculty in research efforts within the laboratory or other research-specific environment. Research activities may include:

- Attend training sessions (CITI, bloodborne pathogens training, CPR/AED etc)

- Assist collection of biological samples (e.g. urine, sweat, saliva, blood)

- Prepare and maintain research materials and environment

- Operate and maintain basic lab equipment

- Take accurate measurements

- Code/plot and analyze data within guidelines

- Keep detailed records

- Organize, analyze, and communicate data

- Perform miscellaneous duties as directed

Scholars Must:

- Be able to operate a computer and other basic research equipment (e.g., timer, weight scale etc)

- Have excellent communication skills

- Be able to collect data in a hot environment (~100°F - 105°F with 40% relative humidity)

Description: Scholars will work with researchers to examine the validity of a heat tolerance test to determine its ability to identify runners at risk for a heat illness at the Falmouth Road Race. Scholars will also work with researchers to determine the accuracy of a wearable hydration status monitor that is worn during exercise in the heat.

Note: Maximum of 1-2 scholars.


Title:  Real-life Superheroes: How Do Animals Become Resilient to Stress

Mentors: Dr. Elaine C. Lee and senior students

Description: In the world of Marvel and DC Comics, there are hundreds of different superheroes with the power to withstand great stress, live forever, and survive exposure to toxins. Athletes are real-life super heroes and they adapt to stress of exercise training and competition, but we are still curious about how we can help them recover faster and perform better. In our lab, one way we study this is to study how animals that are unusually resistant to stressors like heat, toxins, and oxidative stress possess these unique abilities. At our mentorship site, you will work with our super-stress-resilient strains of Caenorhabditis elegans to figure out genetically and molecularly, how these animals are able to survive stress so well. Participants will be responsible for doing simple experiments on our microscopic worms and using advanced techniques in gene knockout to see what genes control stress responses. We will also have a short experience during which you can test sport performance of human subjects and introduce you to how our animal and human work are directly related. This experience is ideal for anyone interested in molecular/cell biology, genetics and genomics, stress physiology, and sport performance.

Note: Maximum of 10 scholars.



Title: Language Learning: Let's Talk About It

Mentors: Jeannie Slayton, Associate Director of UCAELI; Harry van der Hulst, Professor of Linguistics; and Stacy Kluczwski, UCAELI Teacher

Description: Have you considered a career in teaching English as a Second Language? Are you fascinated by the language-learning process both in first language acquisition by children and second languages learning by adults? Do you think you would enjoy working with people from other countries and cultures? UConn’s American English Language Institute (UCAELI) offers intensive English classes to undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world. As a participant in this site, you will assist an instructor in classes like Communication Skills, Focus on Writing, Reading Discussion, and more. Take on a creative approach to teaching English while you become part of a “global family” as you get to know people from China, Turkey, and many other countries around the globe. Learn how to develop innovative activities and assist students in conversation, listening skills, and reading, and writing. You will also have an opportunity to become a “Conversation Partner,” which is an important part of the learning experience at UCAELI. Conversation partner time, which is built into UCAELI classes, encourages the sharing of languages and cultures among students and conversation volunteers from the UConn community. It is a time where everyone learns from one another.  Learning more about English as a Second Language can open the door to careers as bilingual teachers, ESL teachers in the U.S. and abroad, interpreters, and translators! 

Note: Maximum of 1-2 scholars.




Title: Visualization of the behavior of Padé approximants and continued fractions

Mentors: Dr. Maxim Derevyagin; Anastasiia Minenkova, graduate student

Description: A mathematical model is a description of a system using mathematical concepts and language. Most mathematical models deal with functions in one way or another and, to make some predictions for the system, it is necessary to understand the behavior of those functions. As a rule, the functions that come from modeling are extremely complicated or it is only possible to get some partial information about them. To overcome this obstacle, an efficient approximation method needs to be picked and this helps to see the properties of the functions based on the partial information that comes from an experiment or an observation. The chosen approximation method depends on many things. For instance, it could be that the precision is of extreme importance. Or, it could be the fact that an experiment gives an enormous amount of data and a clever way to deal with that has to be found. Choosing the appropriate approximation method is crucial and could drastically simplify the model.

One of the interests of this mentorship site is the study of a specific approximation scheme in relation to a few models that are concerned with extraction information from highly noisy data. Such models appear in gravitational wave detection, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy as applied to nuclear waste, brain/breast cancer detection, oil detection, and other similar areas of application. The approximation scheme in question is called Padé approximation and its essence is that it approximates complicated functions by rational functions, which are easier to deal with.

If you join this mentorship site, we’ll teach you some basics of computing environments such as Maple and Mathematica. Then, you’ll be helping us to visualize the behavior of Padé approximants for some specific functions. It’s worth noting here that some of Padé approximants are convergents to continued fractions.

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.




Title: Comparative Genomics: Gene Transfer Between Microbes

Mentors: J. Peter Gogarten, Distinguished Professor of Molecular & Cell Biology, Artemis Dyanna Louyakis, Postdoctoral fellow, and the Research Team 

Please note: Background experience or coursework in biology and computer programming is recommended for participation in this site.

Description: In recent years, our understanding of microbial evolution has undergone a major revision. Genomes are no longer seen as slowly changing information repositories, but have been revealed to be changing rapidly through gene duplications, deletions, rearrangements, and the acquisition of genes from unrelated organisms. Over 30,000 sequenced bacterial genomes are publicly available and many more are being sequenced at accelerating speed thanks to major advancements in sequencing technology. Comparison of genomes from closely related organisms allows us to detect recently acquired genes; databank searches often allow us to determine the likely donors of these genes; and compositional statistics and inspection of the genes' neighborhood may provide clues regarding the transfer mechanism. Participants in this site will learn how to compare and analyze genomes and metagenomes with the aim of detecting transferred genes and molecular parasites. This work will involve analyzing genomes and gene families using analytical tools that are already established and available as web-based applications, along with simple scripts and programs. For more information on the Gogarten-Lab see

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.


Title: Exploring Deep Sea Genomes

Mentors: PI: Dr. Rachel O'Neill, Professor, Molecular & Cell Biology, Lead Mentor: Michelle Neitzey, Ph.D. student

Description: Oceanic environments are extremely diverse and include habitats such as polar waters around Antarctica and canyons bigger than Grand Canyon, but thousands of meters undersea. Humans have been exploring these worlds for decades, but emerging technologies in genomics now allow us to identify and study species that are adapting to rapidly changing ocean environments as well as explore the genomes of medically relevant species from deep sea habitats. In some cases, environmental adaptations are proving detrimental to the food web as successful species are displacing critical species at the base of the web. In our lab, we use genomics techniques to unravel the information coded in the genomes of many different ocean-dwelling species. In this summer project, we will be working on the genomes of the tunicate salp, deep sea corals, and the Atlantic horseshoe crab. You will use many different techniques, such as extraction of nucleic acids from different species, isolating important genomic regions using PCR, as well as gene cloning and next generation sequencing. After completing this project, you will have learned basic and advanced molecular biology techniques using an exciting and nontraditional model system.

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.


Title: Microbiome Research and Genome Sequencing in the Graf Lab

Mentors: Faculty: Dr. Joerg Graf, Professor, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology. Lead Mentors: Dr. Jeremiah Marden, Postdoctoral Fellow, and other members of the Graf lab.

Description: The term “microbiome” is used to describe the community of microbes (such a bacteria) within a specific environment, for example the mouth or intestine. In our lab, we are interested in understanding how the composition of the microbiome influences the health of animals. In this project, the scholars will help to characterize the community of bacteria inside the North American leech and isolate members of the bacterial genus Aeromonas from them. Afterwards, the scholars will sequence the genomes of the Aeromonas isolates and determine if they can attack and kill other bacteria using a type 6 secretion system (T6SS), which some bacteria use to kill other bacteria by injecting toxins into them. The results from these experiments will help us to better understand the diversity of bacteria present in wild animals.  

The scholars will learn a wide range of technique, including aseptic technique, spread plating, media preparation, killing assays, PCR, Sanger and Ilumina sequencing, microbiome characterization and genome sequencing. 

Note: Maximum of 3 scholars.



Title: Making the "Ouch" Go Away... Pain Processing and the Brain

Mentors: Dr. Angela Starkweather, Professor, Nursing, and senior students in the lab

Description: Everyone feels pain at some point in their lives, and typically the pain serves a useful purpose by making people aware of an injury and driving instinctive behavior to protect the injured area from further harm. However, in some people, the pain becomes chronic and serves no useful purpose. In our laboratory, we study the transition from acute to chronic pain and how individuals can use knowledge and skills to cope with, or recover from, chronic pain. If you decide to join this mentorship team, you will gain experience in studying pain processing by applying experimental pain protocols in the laboratory environment along with other doctoral and undergraduate students. You will be encouraged to participate in screening potential research subjects, performing data collection, and providing input on the development of interventions to manage pain. This is an ideal experience for those interested in careers in nursing, medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, biology, or psychology.  

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars. Participation in this site requires human subjects research training (CITI training).



Title: Molecular Nutrition and Cholesterol Metabolism

Mentors: Dr. Christopher Blesso, Assistant Professor, Nutritional Sciences, and Sarah Wen Warykas, Graduate Assistant, Nutritional Sciences,

Description: The research in our lab focuses on the prevention and treatment of obesity and obesity-related chronic disease. More specifically, we seek to understand the mechanisms of health and disease and study the molecular actions of various compounds naturally occurring in foods. For example, one class of naturally occurring compounds that we study are sphingolipids. We currently have research projects investigating the effects of sphingolipid supplementation in mice on cholesterol metabolism, with a special interest in atherosclerosis. Previous research has shown that sphingolipids influence lipid absorption and it is thought that one type of dietary sphingolipid, sphingomyelin, may potentially offer protection from the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We mainly work with cell and mouse models; however, we hope to incorporate human trials in future years. The scholar in our lab could potentially gain experience in cell culture, working with mice (after receiving animal training), biochemical assays, gene expression analysis using real-time qRT-PCR, and more. A general interest in nutrition or biochemistry is recommended.

Note: Maximum of 1 scholar.



Title: Why is Having a Healthy Liver Important For Sustaining Life?

Mentors: Ajay Donepudi (postdoctoral fellow) and José E. Manautou (Professor and Interim Department Head, Pharmaceutical Sciences)

Description: Our laboratory work focuses on understanding how the interaction of chemicals alters the functioning of the human liver, with an emphasis on how a damaged liver can repair itself. The liver is interesting in comparison to other organs. You can damage the liver, and if the damage is not overwhelming, with time it repairs itself and it appears normal. Our laboratory is trying to study aspects of this repair process. Our research work has been built over the years studying the drug acetaminophen, known commercially as Tylenol, which is safe when taken in recommended doses, but can produce toxic byproducts in the liver when consumed in higher quantities. Abuse of the drug can occur when patients take the suggested dosage and then use another over-the-counter medications that also includes acetaminophen, unknowingly raising the potential for toxicity. 

The use of acetaminophen at doses above therapeutic values can lead to the development of tolerance against acetaminophen poisoning. To better understand the factors that drive this adaptive response, we have employed genomics approaches, allowing us to identify genes associated with this adaptation acetaminophen toxicity. We have also investigated whether changes in the expression and function of specialized proteins in the liver known as drug transporters contribute to the development of tolerance to APAP hepatotoxicity. We are currently studying the transport protein multi-drug resistant protein 4 (Mrp4) and its contribution to: a). drug toxicity tolerance, b). liver tissue regeneration, and c). a pathological condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 

*This line of research is ideal for scholars interested in pharmacy, toxicology, medicine, organ physiology and pathology.

Note: Maximum of 1 scholar.


Title: Working with Nanoparticles 

Mentors: Dr. Xiuling Lu and graduate students, Andre Beringhs and Wei-Chung Luo

Description: Dr. Lu’s research involves the use of nanoparticle-based formulations to deliver therapeutic and diagnostic agents. These are primarily applied in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Scholars have the opportunity to take part in important research, and will learn how to prepare different kinds of nanoparticles for drug delivery. The focus of the period is to prepare and characterize drug loaded nanoparticles. If time allows, scholars will proceed to freeze dry nanoparticles for better storage. For more information on the work Dr. Lu and her team are doing, please visit Lu Research Lab

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.



Title: Risky Business: How Pharmacy Practice Research is Addressing Urgent Public Health Epidemics

Mentors: Dr. Nate Rickles, Associate Professor, Pharmacy Practice, and pharmacy students working in Dr. Rickles’ research group. 


  • How do we address the nationwide opioid crisis and the misuse of prescription drugs? How do we identify individuals at risk for opioid misuse?
  • How do we help low-income women get the health care services they need?
  • How could a pharmacist help you if you were forgetting or refusing to take life-saving medication?
  • How do we train pharmacists to help patients and themselves through a mental health crisis?

In the Rickles lab, researchers seek to answer these critical questions through projects related to improving medication safety and public health. Scholars will have the opportunity to assist with one or more of the research projects while joining a multi-disciplinary team including health professionals, researchers, and other stakeholders.  Scholars will attend lab meetings and may contribute to a range of collaborative research activities, including assisting with the initiation of projects, data collection, data entry, analysis, and some professional writing. This experience is ideal for those interested in a career in pharmacy, public health, or medicine.

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars.



Title: Ovarian Cancer and Human Ovulation Research with the Help of Fruit Flies 

Mentors: Jianjun Sun, Assistant Professor, Physiology and Neurobiology, Wei Li, PhD student (Lead Mentor) 

Description: Research in the laboratory focuses on reproductive physiology. Our lab is interested in understanding the mechanisms regulating ovulation, mostly because when this process dysfunctions it can result in a range of problems from female infertility to ovarian cancer. Instead of using mammals to research our questions concerning ovulation we turn to a simpler model system: the fruit fly. Our lab has shown that fruit flies surprisingly have a fairly similar process of ovulation to mammals, yet they are much easier and quicker to manipulate genetically. For more information about our exciting research, please visit our lab’s website at

Note: Maximum of 1 scholar.



Title: Memories Make the Person…But How Do We Make the Memory? —Memory Formation & the Brain

Mentors: Dr. Etan Markus, Professor, Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) and senior students in the lab

Description: We go through life experiencing many different things: happy and sad events, people, places, food, and smells, just to name a few. Days or even years later, we can bring these experiences back to life as memories. In our laboratory, we study how experiences are preserved in the brain. We focus on a brain structure (the hippocampus) that, when damaged, prevents the formation of new memories and disrupts navigation. If you select this mentorship site, you will join a team of UConn doctoral and undergraduate students researching how the hippocampus is involved in changing brain circuitry. You will learn to train rats on mazes. Participants will also be encouraged to ask questions and sit in on any ongoing research, regardless of the specific mentorship project they will be working on. We are currently conducting experiments examining social learning; the activity of hippocampal neurons during behavior and how these cells respond to new information. This is an ideal experience for those interested in careers in medicine, biology, or psychology.  

Note: Maximum of 2 scholars. Participation in this site requires handling of live laboratory animals. Instruction in proper handling techniques will be provided.



Title: You Perceive What You Speak 

Mentors: Dr. Adrian Garcia-Sierra, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences and students in Garcia-Sierra lab

Description: Infants are able to distinguish most of the speech sounds used in the world’s languages regardless of the language they receive at home. However, around eight months, infants lose that ability and become better at distinguishing the speech sound of their mother tongue. This phenomenon is called “perceptual reorganization” of speech or in other words, a transition from a language-general to a language-specific perception of speech sounds. In my lab, you will learn about your perceptual re-organization of speech by testing your ability to distinguish speech sounds that you are familiar with in different linguistic contexts. My lab will offer you the opportunity to receive hands on experience with how your brain is perceptually organized based on the language or languages you speak. You will have access to equipment that records brain activity and to software that will analyze your brain responses to different types of speech sound in different linguistic context.

Note: Maximum of 3 scholars.


Title: Clinical Experiences in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences

Mentors: Christine Njuki, Au.D. and Nancy McMahon, Au.D., UConn Speech and Hearing Clinic

Description: The mission of the Speech, Language and Hearing Science Department is to educate students on the processes of hearing, speech, language, cognition, and swallowing, to engage in the scientific study of human communication and its disorders, and to serve the community of individuals with communication disorders or differences. In all endeavors the department strives to foster a culture of inclusiveness and respect. 

During the YSSS program, a scholar will have the opportunity to participate in research in the areas of speech, language, and hearing science.  The experience will include observation and assistance with patients, as well as, an introduction to the assistive technology integral in the care of individuals with speech, language and/or hearing disorders.  

Note: Maximum of 1 scholar.