Health Research Program

Dr. David Martinelli and Rohit Makol '20 (ENG).
HRP student researcher Rohit Makol ’20 (ENG), seated, works with David Martinelli, assistant professor of neuroscience at UConn Health, during summer 2017.

Program Overview
Application Deadline
How to Apply
Financial Support
Summer 2019 Research Opportunities

Program Overview

The Health Research Program offers a pathway into undergraduate research for students with interests in health and the biomedical sciences. By facilitating connections between UConn Health researchers and UConn undergraduates, this program will involve more students in the cutting-edge research at the Farmington campus. The Health Research Program includes a combination of academic year and summer research opportunities, offering undergraduates and their faculty mentors a structure for sustained engagement in research projects, maximizing student learning and preparation for graduate study and/or careers in the health professions.


To be eligible for the Summer 2019 phase of the Health Research Program, a student applicant must:

  • Currently be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at UConn, and plan to graduate with that bachelor’s degree no earlier than May 2020. This includes students pursuing Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of General Studies, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Science in Engineering degrees.
  • Be a full-time student in good standing at a UConn campus during the Spring 2019 semester.
  • Be willing to continue their research involvement for Fall 2019 and Spring 2020.

Beyond these general eligibility criteria, each individual opportunity description specifies the desired qualifications for that position.

Application Deadline

The deadline to apply for Summer 2019 Health Research Program opportunities is 11:59pm on Monday, February 4, 2019.

We expect that faculty will interview their leading candidates between February 5 and February 20, and offers will be made in late February 2019.

How to Apply

Research opportunity descriptions and application links are accessible in the Summer 2019 Research Opportunities section of this page. Each opportunity has its own description and application link. If you wish to apply for more than one opportunity, you must tailor your application materials to each opportunity’s requirements and submit an application to each opportunity that interests you. Please note that if you apply to more than one opportunity, OUR will send you a follow-up form in which you will rank those opportunities in order of preference. For guidance on how to use the application management system, please review the Quest Portal User Tips.

Financial Support

Stipend Support to Students

  • Students participating in the summer 2019 program will receive a $4,000 stipend for a commitment of 360 hours of summer research (10 full-time weeks).
  • Students may receive a maximum of one summer stipend over the course of their participation in the Health Research Program.
  • Academic year student researchers (continuing research for fall & spring) may be eligible to apply for a $1,000 winter research stipend if they commit to completing 90 hours of winter break research.


Summer 2019 Research Opportunities

A time commitment of 360 hours (typically 10 full-time weeks) is expected for student researchers during the summer. Summer researchers will receive a stipend of $4,000 to cover the expenses associated with participating in this program (e.g., summer rent, meals, parking, etc.).

The names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they are sponsoring are listed in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity and access its application.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Paola Bargagna-Mohan
The cornea is the transparent tissue in the front of the eye, and its main function is to refract light. Injury/insult and diseases compromise corneal clarity, cause fibrosis and scarring, and ultimately blindness (4th leading cause of worldwide blindness).
The corneal myofibroblasts are a differentiated mesenchymal cells known to cause fibrosis, and they are well studied. Now, we have discovered another type of corneal cells that actively contribute to corneal fibrosis: the corneal Schwann cells. This is the first time these cells are studied/explored in mouse corneas. The student researcher will contribute to characterizing these cells during wound healing and/or pathological fibrosis.
Dr. Margaret Briggs-Gowan
We are studying the effects of domestic violence on threat-reactivity and symptoms in young children, ages 4-6 years at our lab in West Hartford. Mothers and children are being evaluated in our laboratory with interviews, developmental testing, observation of mother-child interactions, computerized “games” and puppet interviews. We are also collecting psycho-physiologic measures, such as heart rate reactivity, skin conductance, and event-related brain potentials. Internship activities will include helping with study recruitment (e.g., distributing flyers to childcare centers), assisting with study visits, data preparation, and conducting a literature review on a related topic of their choosing. SU19-2
Dr. Jennifer Cavallari
Community Medicine and Healthcare
We are seeking a student to join the WorkTime research team studying the relationship between work hours and schedules and worker and family health. You will learn many aspects of field data collection among human participants, including consenting, survey administration, and data management and analysis, as we survey workers at their workplaces. You will also gain knowledge in Public Health, community-based-participatory research, and occupational health and skills in survey research methods, and data management and analysis. SU19-3
Dr. Bojun Chen
This project is to identify genes that play important roles in controlling the reproductive lifespan in the nematode C. elegans. We have a C. elegans strain with a doubled reproductive lifespan. Using this strain, we plan to perform a genetic screen to isolate mutants that restore the normal reproductive lifespan. SU19-4
Dr. Alix Deymier
Biomedical Engineering
The study focuses on the effects of acidosis on the structure and mechanics of bones. Over the course of the spring semester, a number of mice will be given a diet that puts them into an acidodic state, meaning that their body pH will drop. After a few weeks of acidosis, the mice will be sacrificed. Students will learned how to collect and characterize the bones of these mice. This includes learning to dissect mice, perform mechanical tests, use Raman microscopy, analyze CT data, and perform histology. SU19-5
Dr. Mallika Ghosh
Center for Vascular Biology
Tunneling Nanotubes (TNTs) are specialized actin or microtubule-based membrane encased cell protrusions that hovering above the substratum, connecting two distant cells via one continuous structure for efficient cell-cell communication, transport of signaling molecules and cell organelles. Recent studies have reported TNT formation in a wide array of cells including neuronal, endothelial, as well as stem cells and immune cells. CD13, an adhesion molecule mediating cell-cell and cell-ECM adhesion, has been shown to regulate internalization of receptors to control downstream signaling. Studies from our laboratory have implicated a critical role for CD13 in regulating actin cytoskeletal organization and receptor recycling as well. Given CD13’s function in endocytosis and actin cytoskeletal organization, we chose to explore CD13’s role in the formation and function of TNTs. SU19-6
Dr. Carolyn Greene
I am seeking an undergraduate student intern to assist with a research study investigating emotion regulation among parents and children who have experienced trauma. The intern will assist with parent and child visits to our laboratory, where families will be completing questionnaires and engaging in dyadic tasks during which we will collect physiological and observational data. The intern will also assist with recruitment activities and data entry, and have the opportunity to utilize data from a prior study to develop a poster or paper on emotion regulation and children’s functioning. SU19-7
Dr. Arthur Gunzl
Genetics & Genome Sciences

Our research is on gene expression factors and mechanisms in the lethal human parasite and unicellular eukaryote Trypanosoma brucei (we work with a strain that is not infectious for humans). We investigate transcription and RNA splicing of pre-mRNA, processes that deviate substantially between trypanosomes and the human system. Current projects that are open for participation focus on a cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) complex that is essential for protein coding gene expression and parasite viability as well as on the basal function of only two introns the parasite has retained for hundreds of million years of evolutionary time. Participation in either project will comprise learning of cell culture techniques, molecular cloning and a variety of biochemical, genetic and imaging techniques. While the focus will be on wet lab experience, there may be an opportunity for the application of next generation sequencing. On the theory side, there will be opportunities to understand the intricacy of the host-pathogen interaction. SU19-8
Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The student project is part of a larger program to develop a collection of algorithms for mathematical modeling and data analysis in biomedicine. The collection of algorithms is intended to be “crowd sourced,” in the sense that algorithm developers from around the world can upload their own algorithms and link them with already posted algorithms into workflow pipelines. For this purpose, we are developing two tools that facilitate the packaging of algorithms and their computational environment into Docker containers, and connect them together through a drag-and-drop tool.The role of the student in the project is to contribute to the further development of these two tools. SU19-9
Dr. James Li
Genetics and Genomics
We study how the brain develops and how abnormal development contributes to brain disorders. We are currently using a number of approaches, including single-cell RNA sequencing, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and experiments in stem cells or animal models (mouse and chick), to study the generation of various cell types in the cerebellum. SU19-10
Dr. Changchun Liu 
Biomedical Engineering
Rapid and sensitive molecular diagnosis of diseases, including pathogens and cancer biomarkers, at the point-of-care is critical for prompt and appropriate therapeutic intervention. In this summer project, we will focus on developing microfluidic chip and biosensor for point of care molecular detection. The device will be fabricated by either 3D printing technology or wax printing technology. SU19-11
Dr. Kevin Manning 
We are seeking students to assist in ongoing treatment studies of major depression in older adults. We have two ongoing studies: 1) a naturalistic study (where patients are taking standard antidepressants and are followed over time) and 2) a study that uses cognitive remediation (brain games) to improve cognitive functioning and change underlying neural activity (measured with fMRI) in patients. Interested students would help administer tasks and score/enter data into research databases. There are opportunities to use collected data for scientific conference presentations and papers (e.g., the naturalistic study has been ongoing for 5 years and has a sample of 140 older adults with major depression). SU19-12
Dr. David Martinelli
Two different projects are underway in the lab, and the student could potentially choose either. The first regards the biochemistry of synaptic adhesion proteins, and is described well on the lab website . The second project is not described on the lab website, but involves the same set of proteins/genes, which happen to also be expressed in oligodendrocytes, the cells that make brain myelin. The project centers on understanding how myelin gets made, with the long term goal of developing a new treatment for multiple sclerosis. SU19-13
Dr. Royce Mohan
The Mohan lab is interested in the study of retinal pathology using mouse models of experimental and genetically-induced neurodegenerative diseases. The student will be taught techniques such as, isolation of mouse eyes from sacrificed mice, cryosectioning of eyes, tissue staining using antibodies, and image acquisition by epifluorescence microscopy and western blot analysis. In certain cases, students may also advance to using live mice, where they will be taught mouse handling, perform injections to deliver anesthesia and drugs and terminal euthanasia. Some students do continue on the project in fall semester and may learn retinal injury. SU19-14
Dr. Lakshmi Nair
Orthopedic Surgery
The goal of the project is to develop bioactive polymeric biomaterials to decrease tissue inflammation and enhance healing. The work involves incorporating bioactive molecules to existing hydrogels, physico-chemical characterization of the hydrogels and in vitro cell culture studies to under the broader biological activity of the hydrogels. SU19-15
Dr. Douglas Oliver
We are developing an electrophysiological test to demonstrate the presence or absence of tinnitus in animals and human subjects. During summer and fall 2019, a number of different projects are possible. 1) Use an active avoidance task and the inhibition of acoustic startle to test whether mice have tinnitus that is induced by exposure to a loud sound. Animals will be trained and tested before and after exposure to loud sound. 2) Use multichannel electrophysiological recordings from neurons in the midbrain auditory system of mice to study the changes in sound-evoked activity. 3) Develop the electrophysiological test for tinnitus using scalp recordings of sound-evoked responses in mice and eventually in human subjects. SU19-16
Dr. Carla Rash
We have multiple NIH-funded R01s of clinical trials for addictions. All of these projects involve behavioral interventions, and most involve a specific intervention called contingency management. The specific project the student would be assigned would depend on the patch between their individual preferences and study needs at the time. Opportunities may include data entry, assisting with study auditing procedures, as well as direct contact with participants, conducting research interviews, and screening participants. SU19-17
Dr. Archana Sanjay
Orthopaedic Surgery
The overall objective of the project aims to identify and characterize novel regenerative adult stem/progenitor cells in the periosteum. Periosteum is a connective tissue that covers long bones as well as bones of the cranium, maxilla, and mandible, and it is required for efficient skeletal repair. Compromised, non-healing fractures pose a significant public health problem; understanding the molecular drivers of periosteum-mediated regeneration will help to develop new therapies to reduce the incidence of delayed union and nonunion in fracture healing of both long bones and the craniofacial region. Our laboratory has a longstanding interest in the periosteal response to fracture, as the periosteum is a critical reservoir for skeletal progenitors following injury7,8. We explored the possible presence of Lgr family members in the periosteal layer. Preliminary data show that Lgr6 is expressed in periosteal cells that proliferate at a bone fracture site, while there is undetectable expression of Lgr6 in periosteum of uninjured bones. SU19-18
Dr. Tannin Schmidt
Biomedical Engineering
Biomechanical characterization of cartilage tissue in synovial joints & the role lubricin/PRG4 plays in joint homestasis. Lubricin is a lubricating molecule originally discovered in the knee joint that is necessary for joint health. Intra-articular injections of recombinant human lubricin, which is also being developed to treat dry eye disease, have been shown to be effective preventing/delaying osteoarthritis disease progression. This project will cartilage integrity in synovial joints, via mechanical indentation, and the role lubricin plays in synovial joint integrity using various models. Biochemical analysis will also be employed to examine tissue composition of lubricin. SU19-19
Dr. Henry Smilowitz
Cell Biology
Our lab is studying heavy atom nanoparticles to enhance radiation therapy of tumors with an emphasis on brain tumor therapy. We also study the synergy of the combination of heavy atom nanoparticle radiation enhancement with other therapies such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy. We also study radiation therapy induced tumor dormancy. The student will take part in a project related to these lab interests. Topics of interest will include the relationship between the distribution of the nanoparticles and the efficacy of radiation enhancement, radiation enhancement and the efficacy of chemo- and immunotherapies, the effect of radiation dose and tumor dormancy. SU19-20
Dr. Rajkumar Verma
Project 1: In this project we will investigate a novel drug target “Purinergic receptor P2X4” for therapeutic exploitation in stroke. The overall goal of this project is to determine if modulation of P2X4R signaling in myeloid cells is a viable therapy for stroke, working towards our long-term goal of developing and identifying target-based therapies for stroke.
Project 2: Vascular dementia (VaD) is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Although it is the most rapidly increasing disorder in the aging population, VaD remains under diagnosed, studied and treated. At the molecular level, VaD is characterized by key neuronal and dendro-synaptic changes resulting in dysfunction and cognitive deficits. Therefore, greater understanding of the pathophysiology at the molecular level is needed to identify novel vascular substrates of dementia. Our goal here is to identify key proteins involved in modification of brain pathology during progression of VaD.
Dr. Penghua Wang
To study the innate immune system, detection of viruses and initiation of innate antiviral immune responses, pathogenesis of viral arthritis. 2. To understand the mechanisms of immune evasion and modulation of cellular functions by flaviviral/alphaviral proteins. 3. To elucidate the impact of intestinal microbiome dynamics during early life on cell intrinsic antiviral immunity in intestinal epithelium. SU19-22
Dr. Yanlin Wang
The summer research project is to examine the molecular signaling pathway that regulates fibroblast activation and monocyte-to-fibroblast transition. The student will utilize molecular, pharmacological and genetic approaches such as cell culture, Western blot, histology, gene knockout. SU19-23
Dr. Zhao-Wen Wang 
We recently discovered that C. elegans AIPR-1, a homolog of human aryl hydrocarbon receptor-interacting protein, is a strong regulator of neurotransmitter release, and functions through stabilizing the calcium releasing channel ryanodine receptor in the endoplasmic reticulum membrane (Chen et al., Nat Commun 2017). We would like to identify proteins that are important to AIPR-1 function in vivo using a forward genetic approach. Specifically, the student will screen for mutant worms that suppress a behavioral phenotype caused by AIPR-1 deficiency. SU19-24
Dr. Zhao-Wen Wang 
We need to add a dark-field tracking feature to an existing Matlab-based bright-field worm-tracking system so that a moving worm with selected neurons labeled by a red or green fluorescent protein may be tracked. In addition, we need to figure out approaches to quantify fluorescent signal intensity over time. SU19-25
Dr. Yi Wu
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
We are seeking a motivated undergraduate intern to join our research team and to help unravel the remaining mysteries in regulated secretion. The available projects involve using cutting-edge imaging technologies to observe individual secretory granules and their associated proteins in several model systems include neurons, pituitary cells and pancreatic beta cells. The student are expected to learn how to interrogate different cellular and signaling dynamics involved in secretion and hopefully gain new insights into the regulatory mechanisms. In addition to these biological projects, we are also welcome students who are interested in developing imaging tools in optogenetics and synthetic biology. SU19-26
Dr. Ming Xu
Center on Aging
My lab is trying to find novel interventions to slow down the aging process, and alleviate a number of diseases as a group. My recent work has shown several drugs can extend lifespan and maintain physical function in aged mice. The project here is to find new drugs for delaying aging using primary human cells and mice. Student(s) will gain extensive experience on cell culture, mouse studies, and overall aging research. SU19-27
Dr. Ping Yan
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
There is a research opportunity on developing new voltage sensitive dyes, which are used for imaging membrane potentials. The student will have broad hands-on experience on the synthesis of organic compounds, and test the newly developed voltage sensitive dyes using spectroscopic and microscopic methods, on model cell membrane, and even on real cells (in collaboration with Dr. Loew). SU19-28
Dr. Ji Yu
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Two projects are available for summer students:
1. To design, synthesize and evaluate new fluorescent molecular probes that specifically label phosphotyrosines in cells. Perform various imaging assays using the fluorescent probes on model systems, and compare their relative performance.
2. To perform computational analyses of super-resolution imaging data using novel software developed in the lab. Evaluate the performance of the algorithm.
Dr. Kristyn Zajac
Calhoun Cardiology Center, Medicine
I conduct research studies on behavioral interventions for promoting health outcomes, particularly related to addictive behaviors. I currently have three ongoing clinical trials testing: 1) a family-based therapy for Internet gaming disorder (aka Video Game Addiction); 2) a counseling intervention for young adults with substance use disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder and 3) a reinforcement intervention to promote HIV testing among at-risk women. Students will have the opportunity to be involved in one or more of these projects based on their interests. Student involvement can include: data entry and database management, assisting with ongoing trainings for our community partners (for the HIV study), assisting with advertising and recruitment of participants, participation in research team meetings, and use of existing databases to develop and answer research questions in the field of addictions. Direct contact with research participants may be available based on interest and student skill level. SU19-30
Dr. Yanjiao Zhou
My lab is a computational biology lab. We are interested in understanding how the gut microbiome modulates local gut immunity and neuro-inflammation in multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting central nervous system. The technique we use includes both anaerobic culture, molecular biology, and multi-OMICS technology. The students will have the opportunity to learn big data analysis and wet bench techniques, depending on their interests. SU19-31



What time commitment is expected of a summer researcher in this program?

A time commitment of 360 hours (typically 10 full-time weeks) is expected for student researchers during the summer. The standard research dates for the program are May 28-August 2, 2019, but you may elect to extend your involvement in research in consultation with your faculty mentor. All weeks of summer research must be completed between May 13 and August 23, 2019.

What time commitment is expected of an academic year researcher in this program?

A time commitment of 3-9 hours/week is expected for student researchers during the academic year; this varies across research opportunities and is a key factor to consider as you are reviewing the different opportunities and considering which might be a good fit for you. The standard formula for academic credit is 1 credit for each 3 hours of weekly research, and you will register for the appropriate number of credits given the time commitment you are making to research. Note: In the absence of extenuating circumstances (e.g., leave of absence, study abroad), a student cannot discontinue participation in the HRP during one semester and resume participation in the HRP in the subsequent semester.

How do I earn academic credit for my participation in this program during the academic year?

You will likely earn Undergraduate Research, Independent Study, or a similar kind of course credit in the department associated with your major. The most common arrangement is for a Storrs faculty member to be the instructor of record for the course and to coordinate with the UConn Health faculty member supervising your research in order to approve a learning agreement and enter the appropriate grade at the end of the semester. OUR staff will work with you individually to provide guidance on how to proceed in your specific situation.

What transportation options are available for students?

Shuttle service between Storrs and Farmington is available at no cost to students Monday through Friday. We expect that the summer shuttle schedule would allow you to work in Farmington 9am-4pm (taking the 8am shuttle from Storrs and returning on the 4pm shuttle from Farmington); please note that using this mode of transportation will limit your flexibility. During the academic year, a mid-day shuttle provides some additional research schedule options; transportation via the shuttle during the semester allows Storrs students to conduct research at UConn Health 9am-12pm, 12pm-4pm, or 9am-4pm. Please note that those time windows do not include the time you will spend on the shuttle. With travel time included, the time commitment is 8am-1pm, 11am-5pm, or 8am-5pm, respectively. We encourage you to take your class schedule and the shuttle schedule into consideration when reviewing the possible work schedule associated with each opportunity. You may also elect to use another form of transportation. Please be aware that this program does not offer support for mileage or parking costs as the free shuttle option is available.

Do I need to be pre-med to participate in this program? Do I need to be in Honors?

You do not need to be pre-med or be a member of the Honors Program in order to participate in this program. The program is open to all undergraduate students interested in health research. However, bear in mind that this is a demanding program that requires you to coordinate weekly travel to UConn Health. We encourage you to take a realistic look at your schedule, the demands of your other courses, and your past academic achievement in order to assess whether this program is a good fit for you.

OUR advisors would be happy to discuss your specific situation and the most appropriate research opportunities with you at any time. Review our Meet with an OUR Advisor page for more information on how to make an appointment.

How do these opportunities continue into the academic year?

Sustained engagement in a research project maximizes learning, so we want to make it possible for students to stay engaged in undergraduate research at UConn Health over longer periods of time. The Health Research Program is focused on developing new research opportunities and involving more undergraduate students in research at UConn Health. The program offers a structure for the new student-faculty pairs that are formed in the summer to continue into the academic year. Students selected for summer 2019 opportunities will complete a mid-summer assessment process along with their faculty mentors, which will gauge whether adequate research progress is being made and will ask both student and faculty to indicate their interest in continuing the research placement beyond the summer. Continuing placements will be contingent upon satisfactory student research progress and continued interest by both student and faculty (in addition to the student’s full-time enrollment and good standing at the university). If a student continues his/her research in academic year 2019-20, s/he may be eligible to apply for a $1,000 winter research stipend if s/he commits to completing 90 hours of winter break research (and graduates no earlier than May 2020).

While student may continue research in this program across multiple academic years and/or summers, students are eligible for a maximum of one HRP summer stipend. In the absence of extenuating circumstances (e.g., leave of absence, study abroad), a student cannot discontinue participation in the HRP during one semester and resume participation in the HRP in the subsequent semester.

This application asks for a Science GPA. What is that? How do I figure out my Science GPA?

Unlike your cumulative GPA, your Science GPA is not automatically calculated and reported on your transcript. You will need to calculate this by entering the number of credits and your earned grade from each of your science classes into a GPA calculator (like this GPA calculator from UConn ACES). We recommend that you move through your transcript methodically, using your best judgment to decide whether a given course is a “science course,” and entering the relevant information into the calculator for each science course. Once all information is entered, click the Calculate button, and report the GPA output in your Health Research Program application.