The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute's summer student research opportunities help train the scientists of tomorrow

Students participating in one of the Virginia Bioinformatic Institute's summer programs.

Students work together on a project for the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute's "Ethics of Scientific Publications" summer program for high school students and undergraduates.

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 27, 2010 – More than 70 students spent their summer working with faculty members from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and various departments across the Virginia Tech campus. The wide ranging educational programs are designed to help students from across the nation and around the world develop research skills, find and comprehend the latest scientific research, present and publish results, as well as understand the methods for translating research to practice.

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute develops and implements various programs aimed at encouraging students’ interests in scientific research at all levels, affording them the opportunity to work side-by-side with accomplished scientists, assisting with cutting-edge research projects. The institute hosted several formal summer education and training programs at its location on the Virginia Tech campus. With support from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), these programs help expose students to research areas such as microbiology, mathematical systems biology, genomics, and bioinformatics.

By participating in specially-designed research activities, faculty-led seminars, and informal discussion sessions, undergraduate and high school students are being introduced to the latest scientific techniques and technologies being used in innovative research projects such as the modeling and simulation of the spread of epidemics in social networks, detecting potential plagiarism in scientific publications using computational tools, designing and building an engineered biological system using standard DNA parts, and developing diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics through the use of applied microbiology. One professor partnered with a faculty member at the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering for a 10-week bioengineering summer program, while another led a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, coordinating efforts with faculty from 13 other departments and centers at Virginia Tech who serve as program mentors. Several faculty members from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute also hosted informal groups of students to assist with various research projects.

“Genuine research experiences play a tremendously important role in getting undergraduate students interested in the sciences and preparing them for graduate programs,” said Reinhard Laubenbacher, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute professor and director of the institute’s education and outreach program. “These summer programs represent a major effort on the part of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering, and many mentors on the Virginia Tech campus to strengthen and expand the reach of interdisciplinary training. I can see every day what a powerful effect these kinds of experience have on the students, and e-mails and letters from past participants make it clear that such programs have a lasting impact on the students and their career choices.”

See a detailed listing of the institute's summer research programs.

A university-level Research Institute of Virginia Tech, the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute was established in 2000 with an emphasis on informatics of complex interacting systems scaling the microbiome to the entire globe. It helps solve challenges posed to human health, security, and sustainability. Headquartered at the Blacksburg campus, the institute occupies 154,600 square feet in research facilities, including state-of-the-art core laboratory and high-performance computing facilities, as well as research offices in the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Virginia.