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2012 CUNY Summer Undergraduate Research Program

December 11, 2012

While many college undergraduates see summer as an opportunity to take a well-deserved break from their studies, the participants of the 2012 CUNY Summer Undergraduate Research Program had something else in mind. These 18 talented juniors and seniors spent 10 weeks of their summer vacations working closely with CUNY faculty mentors and immersing themselves in exciting, hands-on scientific research. The program, which just completed its third year, was made up primarily of CUNY undergraduates, but also included students from Aldephi University, Fordham University, Bard College, and SUNY Genesco. Participants and mentors came from a wide range of scientific disciplines, including neurobiology, chemical engineering and photonics. Each C-SURP participant received a $3,500 stipend for his or her commitment to the program and half of the students took advantage of free university housing in Midtown East.

2012 participants present their research at the third annual C-SURP Poster Session at Macaulay Honors College

To supplement the time spent in the labs, the students attended weekly seminars and activities. Seminar topics ranged from biodiversity patterns in Brazil’s coastal rainforests to NASA research, and were designed to expose the students to the wide range of research careers available to them, both within and outside of academia. The young scientists toured the biology and paleontology labs of the American Museumof Art History and the art restoration labs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They also participated in an Improvisation for Scientists workshop, run by Stony BrookUniversity’s Center for Communicating Science, which engaged them in improvisational theater games and exercises designed to teach them how to speak more effectively and directly about their research.

The program culminated in a poster session at the Macaulay Honors College, at which point the students put their new communication skills to use and presented the results of their research to University administrators, faculty and peers. The success of the CUNY Summer Undergraduate Research Program is due in large part to funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research looks forward to continuing and enhancing the program in the future. More information about C-SURP and the application process for the 2013 program can be found at

C-SURP Spotlight: Amana Hosten

Amana Hosten is an Environmental Earth System Science major entering her junior year at City College.  During the 10-week C-SURP she worked in Professor Charles Vörösmarty’s lab. Dr. Vörösmarty works with the NOAA-Cooperative Remote Sensing Science and Technology Center and is Director of the CUNY Environmental Crossroads Initiative at City College.

Amana built on a previous study conducted by graduate student, Lilybeth Colón, who is researching hydrologic extremes in the Caribbean region. Amana’s project sought to evaluate various socio-economic factors that can contribute to an island’s vulnerability to extreme rainfall events.  She compiled several socio-economic and biophysical indicators across eight islands in the Caribbean, and then plotted this data against Colón’s values of monthly average risk.  Amana’s project found that population density may be a significant factor influencing the vulnerability of islands in the Caribbean.

Amana plans to pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Science and to continue to study the effects that global warming and rising sea levels may have on the climate in the Caribbean. Amana is a native of the island of Grenada and witnessed first hand the devastating effects of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. She expressed an interest in helping her country and her region better predict the risk factors associated with extreme weather events and climate change.

C-SURP Spotlight: John Ruano-Salguero

John Ruano-Salguero worked with Lane Gilchrist in the Department of Chemical Engineering at CCNY.  John transferred to CCNY from La Guardia Community College in Fall 2011 and will be a second semester junior this year.  Before joining the Chemical Engineering department at City College he worked in the electrophysiology facility at LaGCC with Dr. Ivan Rivera-Torres.

Because of his outstanding performance in chemistry, Dr. Rivera-Torres asked John to become his research assistant and he quickly learned the techniques involved in electrophysiology. John attests that his decision to pursue chemical engineering was a direct result of the research he did with Dr. Rivera-Torres.  John said that he spent the first couple weeks of the C-SURP program shadowing a graduate student in order to learn how to use the confocal microscope equipment. After this training period, Dr. Gilchrist came into the lab one day and asked John if he wanted to develop his own project, and John said he already knew exactly what he wanted to do.

John’s research in Dr. Gilchrist’s lab focused on developing a novel method to replicate the asymmetry of lipids found in cell membranes using biochemical methods. Cell membranes are comprised of different types of lipids and these are often assembled in an asymmetric fashion in a lipid bilayer.  John developed scaffolds using silica microspheres (lipobeads) as a platform for constructing this asymmetric bilayer. John plans to continue working with Dr. Gilchrist during the upcoming academic year and expand his research with lipobeads. John found the C-SURP experience to be very rewarding and plans to pursue a doctorate in chemical engineering.

C-SURP Spotlight: May Poh Lai

Growing up in Malaysia, May Poh Lai did not engage in science education as a child. It was not until she moved to the U.S. at the age of 14 and took a high school biology course that she developed a fascination for the sciences. A rising senior at Lehman College and a student of the Macaulay Honors College, May Poh is working towards earning a B.A. in Biology and a B.S. in Biochemistry.

As a C-SURP participant, May Poh joined the Loayza Lab at Hunter College, where principal investigator Diego Loayza examines the functions of telomeres in human cells. Telomeres, located at the end of chromosomes, are essential for maintaining genome stability, regulating cell replication and preventing chromosomes from fusing together or degrading. May Poh’s project examined the role of certain proteins in the telomeres and how this role differs between normal human cells and tumor cells.

Although she was previously involved in biological research projects at Lehman, C-SURP provided May Poh with her first experience in molecular biology research. She enjoyed learning new experimental methods and gaining an understanding of the reasoning behind them.  As a result of her exciting summer research experience, May Poh is now interested in pursuing a graduate degree in molecular biology within the CUNY system. She is specifically interested in cancer research, and will be working in two cancer labs at Lehman during the fall semester.

C-SURP Spotlight: Igor Naydichev

Igor Naydichev, now just a year away from obtaining his B.S. in Psychology from Brooklyn College, did not always know that he was destined for a career in scientific research.  In fact, Igor worked for five years in the Information Technology industry before deciding to change career paths. His interest in the human mind was first sparked as a result of his experiences with family members suffering from neurological and psychological problems, and in 2011 he decided to return to school to pursue this interest.

Igor spent his summer working in the Memory and Metacognition Lab at Brooklyn College under Dr. Elizabeth Chua, where learned how to administer Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to test subjects. tDCS is a method of stimulating the brain with a constant, low electrical current delivered via small electrodes. In Igor’s research, this stimulation was administered to the parietal cortex to determine how the presence of the current affects a test subject’s word recognition. Test subjects who saw words while stimulated by the current later had greater rates of false recognition, or were more likely to “remember” a word that they had not actually seen.  These results indicate that the parietal cortex plays a role in false recognition.

Igor found that the most rewarding part of his C-SURP experience was working directly with his mentor and the other members of the research team. He enjoyed taking on a wide range of responsibilities within the lab, and appreciated having the opportunity to meet many interesting people through his research. After he graduates next May, Igor intends to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology.