Northern Michigan University ecology and mathematics major Erin Estes completed the Math-Bio Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). The highly selective program, funded by the National Science Foundation, provides students with hands-on research experience and the opportunity to make a real impact solving scientific problems at the intersection between biology and mathematics. Estes’ project investigated the effect of Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) on the social behaviors of honey bees.
"This was done by placing honey bees in plexiglass arenas and comparing the number and type of social interactions of healthy bees to the social interactions of infected bees," Estes said. "I have gained experience in how a research project is conducted, the everyday operations of a laboratory, and the collaboration needed to run an experiment."
More than 120 students across the country applied to be one of 10 UNCG Math-Bio REU summer participants. After a brief training period, the chosen undergraduates were divided into groups of two or three who conducted their own research projects with guidance from faculty mentors.
“The students’ projects focused on diseases in humans and honey bees, both highly social species where interactions in complex organizations can lead to disease transmission,” says biology professor Olav Rueppell, one of the program directors. “Game theoretical and epidemiological modeling was supplemented by practical experiments to study diseases, ranging from Ebola to Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus.”
In addition to conducting research, participants also strengthened their science communication skills by presenting and writing about their findings. Students involved in the program have written up their results in preparation for scientific publication.
The Math-Bio REU aims to enrich undergraduates’ experience by encouraging them to look beyond their individual disciplines.
“It’s a challenging and rewarding program,” says Rueppell. “We immerse students in a stimulating, interdisciplinary environment.”
Faculty involved with the effort hope that students will go on to act as ambassadors for both the program and for undergraduate research in general.