Honors Summer Undergraduate Research Program

The Honors College cultivates a community of students and faculty focused on collaborative research that goes beyond the typical undergraduate experience. To that end, the Honors Summer Undergraduate Research Program is an opportunity for you to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor and participate in professional development workshops throughout the summer, as well as engage in research projects for independent study.

The summer research program addresses a number of research concepts, including seminars and workshops that focus on

  • Research and writing skills
  • Cultural and educational activities
  • Strategies for increasing success when applying to graduate school
  • Strategies for increasing success in participating in undergraduate research conferences and publishing research

Research projects cover a broad range of disciplines and students may apply to a maximum of three projects. Please review all project titles and their descriptions before beginning the application. All participants are expected to be available for nine weeks and to attend all program-related activities, including weekly workshops, seminars and social events. On-campus housing is included. 

HSURP runs May 18-July 24, 2020. A $2,500 stipend is provided to each student in three installments over the ten-week program; a small portion of the stipend will be withheld until the presentation requirement is fulfilled. The stipend helps with the cost of meals and incidental expenses. The Honors Summer Undergraduate Research Program is made possible through the generous support of the Virginia Commonwealth University Office of the Provost.

The priority application deadline is Friday, March 13, 2020. Starting February 1, students may access the application via the Honors application portal.  

2020 HSURP Projects

Projects may be added throughout the semester, so check back often. Recommenders will be notified via e-mail to submit a reference letter once an application is submitted.

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in the James River

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Franklin, Department of Biology

The heavy use of antibiotics in the medical, veterinary, and agricultural elds has led to increased natural selection of antibiotic resistant bacteria. While antibiotic resistance is most often studied in medical settings, there is growing concern about the spread of resistant organisms to the natural environment. This research examines the diversity and abundance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the James River to identity the anthropogenic sources and determine public health risk.


Assessing the Antidepressant-like Effects of the Ketamine Metabolite, (2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine (HNK), and Ketamine Isomers in C57BL/6 Mice

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Porter, Department of Psychology

This project will determine if the ketamine metabolite, (2R,6R)-hydroxynorketamine (HNK), and ketamine isomers display antidepressant-like activity (as has been shown with ketamine) in C57BL/6 mice. Several different behavioral assays will be used.


Enhanced Drug Design through Robust Quantum Chemistry Calculation and Machine Learning

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Lao, Department of Chemistry

In this project, the student will develop an efficient and accurate computational screening method for use in drug design via the combination of quantum chemistry and machine learning to pre-screen large numbers of potential drug molecules. The student will characterize the drug binding with HIV protease at the ordinary enzyme active site and two unexplored distal exosites which have the potential to advance understanding of novel HIV treatment strategies.


Identification of Elements Within the HIV Genome Responsible for Viral Persistence

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Cannon, Center for the Study of Biological Complexity

This project will entail the application of machine learning principles to publicly available HIV genomic datasets in order to characterize selective advantages imposed by the viral genome on its host cell.


Innate and Adaptive Immunological Response to Zirconia Implants

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Olivares-Navarrete, College of Engineering/Biomedical Engineering

Implant success has been historically defined by direct contact between the biomaterial and the surrounding tissue. The vast majority of research in biomaterial implantation on bone has focused on schemes that allow mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) and/or osteoblast colonization and increase their production of bone-formation-related proteins. However, immune cells are the first to interact with biomaterials after implantation and mediate inflammatory and healing processes. While the role of immune cells on the inflammatory response and wound healing is recognized, the effect of biomaterial chemical and physical properties on immune cells is less clear. Understanding the effects of biomaterial chemical and physical properties on immune cells will lead to better engineering design on biomaterials to increase the healing process and improve the biomaterial integration.


Isolation and Characterization of Phage That Infect Arsenophonus or Other Insect-Associated Bacteria

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Boyd, Center for the Study of Biological Complexity

Students will isolate phage from whole insects and the environment that can infect specialized bacteria that are engaged in symbioses with insects.


Knots and Links in Three-manifolds

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Moore, Department of Mathematics & Applied Mathematics

Knots and links are embeddings of closed loops in three-dimensional space. Knot and link invariants are mathematical objects that take the form of mathematical quantities that capture topological and geometric information about the link and its three-dimensional complement. In this research project we will both investigate the structure of certain polynomial link invariants from an analytical perspective and study knots and links via machine learning techniques.


Laser Processing Synthesis of Transition Metal Nanocatalysts

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Tibbetts, Department of Chemistry

The goal of this project is to synthesize transition metal (e.g., iron, nickel, cobalt) nanomaterials for energy-related catalysis applications. Synthesis will be carried out using one or more laser processing techniques to convert molecular precursors in solution to solid materials. The materials will be thoroughly characterized and tested for their catalytic activity towards  reactions that are used in clean energy technologies such as fuel cells, water-splitting devices, and carbon dioxide conversion reactors.


Latinx and African American College Student and Adolescent Health: Identifying Risk and Protective Factors

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Corona, Department of Psychology

We have a few projects in our lab that are focused on health promotion among Latinx and African American college students and adolescents. Students will contribute to the different studies and can choose one study for their own research experiences.


"Mamma Mia" Mobile App for Perinatal Health and Wellness

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Kinser, Department of Family and Community Health Nursing

In this NIH-funded study, our research team will be conducting a randomized controlled trial about the "Mamma Mia" mobile application which has been designed for use during pregnancy and the postpartum period to support women's health and illness. Specifically, we are interested in whether use of this app will help to prevent/ intervene with perinatal depression symptoms, as well as other symptoms such as stress and anxiety.


Nanoporous Chemical Sensors *CANCELLED*

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Collinson, Department of Chemistry

The student involved in this project will fabricate and evaluate bi- and tri-metallic alloyed and carbon-based nanoporous materials for electrochemical sensing in complex solutions.


Protein Production of HIV-protease for Enhanced Drug-design Using NMR Experimentation and Computation

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Fuglestad, Department of Chemistry

This project will establish recombinant protein production in the Fuglestad Lab for atomic resolution studies of HIV-protease using primarily protein NMR. These studies will ultimately contribute to enhancing inhibitors for HIV-protease through a computational collaboration with the Lao Lab (VCU Chemistry).


The Geometry of the Quantum Satisfiability Problem

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Aldi, Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics

The goal of this project is to use geometric and algebraic reasoning to better understand the connection between the classical and quantum computational complexity.


The Role of Epithelial Membrane Protein 3 in the Control of Hematopoietic Stem Cell (HSC) Development

Faculty Researcher | Dr. Damm, Department of Biology

This project will examine the role of epithelial membrane protein 3 in the control of hematopoietic (blood) stem cell development using the zebrafish embryo model system of hematopoietic development.

  • Students must be in good standing with the Honors College
  • Current students who have at least one semester remaining at VCU may apply
  • Students cannot be under any disciplinary action with VCU

Upon receiving an offer from HSURP, students sign an agreement to fulfill the following requirements:

  • To devote full effort to conducting the HSURP project; students must disclose plans to take summer courses, hold a job, or any involvement in activities that may conflict with HSURP before accepting the offer
  • To update digital time sheets, detailing work done on a day-to-day basis
  • To regularly update a blog outlining your experience with your research and your progress in the program
  • To submit two written assignments, one halfway through and one at the completion of the program
  • To participate in weekly workshops, group meetings, social activities, etc.
  • To give an oral presentation about your work during the final week of the program
  • To participate in VCU’s annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, or another conference of your choosing

A vital part of the application process is the interaction between student and mentor. This is the best time to find out more information about the project, mentor expectations and your role as a researcher. During the interview, you should discuss what you would like to gain from the research experience, including whether the project is suitable for you to meet your presentation requirement (undergraduate research conferences sponsored by VCU, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, the National Collegiate Honors Council, etc.), as well as any time commitments that will prohibit or limit your involvement in the project.