HSRA Research Experiences

HSRA participants work closely with undergraduate students and faculty in a research laboratory at the UT campus.

HSRA 2024

June  10 - July 17, 2024

*Participants will be off on June 19 and July 4th - 5th for holiday observance.


The summer High School Research Academy (HSRA) offers a range of research opportunities spanning many different branches of science, including biochemistry, biology, chemistry, computational chemistry or biology, environmental science, genomics, materials science, molecular biology, and physics.  

Apply for HSRA 2024

HSRA participants will: 

  • be matched to a research group based on their interests, availability, and space.  

  • work closely with undergraduate students and faculty in a research laboratory at the UT campus.

  • attend weekly seminars presented by UT faculty and researchers.

  • present their summer research in a printed poster at our closing HSRA Research Symposium.




HSRA researchers

All HSRA lab experiences offer exposure to both general & advanced lab techniques and research practices that may be transferable to future academic and professional activities.


Research Experiences by Discipline**


Investigate RNA tools that may be used to develop medical diagnostic tests.

Researchers isolate an RNA molecule (an aptamer) through the in vitro aptamer selection process, in essence, sieving a haystack for the few pieces of hay (aka aptamers) that bind a protein target. Through this sieving or selection process, researchers will learn technical skills like: micropipetting, amplification of DNA through the PCR reaction, generation of RNA through a transcription reaction, purification of DNA/RNA using a variety of techniques, visualization of DNA/RNA using gel electrophoresis, and more! Participants can expect to develop their own independent aptamer research project, collaborate with a small team, receive mentorship from undergraduates and faculty, analyze real data, develop strategies for overcoming obstacles found when conducting real research, and communicate the results of their research findings. 


Build with biological LEGOs of genetic information.

Participants will be introduced to laboratory skills including PCR, DNA mini prep, transformation, recombinant protein expression, recombinant protein purification, and western blot analysis, and how these techniques are applied to molecular and biochemical research. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a current research project with undergraduates, learn scientific communication and how to prepare a research poster. 

Gene Networks

Identify mutations found in tumors. 

Participants will investigate the relationship between alterations in gene expression and the development of cancer, specifically looking at genes with suspected but unconfirmed roles in carcinogenesis.  Projects involve using a variety of molecular biology techniques to construct DNA molecules to facilitate the study of specific mutations found in tumors.  Expressing mutated proteins can allow for detection of changes in gene expression and cell growth and behavior.

Microbe Hackers

Create DNA circuits to genetically engineer bacteria.

Students will work on one of our various projects, which include working with Cyanobacteria, bacteria found in bees, or E. coli.  We will design DNA sequences in silico and then conduct benchwork, including molecular biology techniques (such as PCR and genetically modifying bacteria) and microbiology techniques (such as culturing bacteria).  Students will also read scientific literature with guidance and present their work to undergraduate researchers and faculty. 

Virtual Drug Discovery

Discover new chemical compounds involved in infectious diseases. 

Participants will be involved with computational and wet-laboratory infectious disease drug discovery projects, such as tuberculosis, malaria, and SARS-CoV-2.  First, a molecular docking program is used to sift through libraries of chemical structures and predict which ones may bind to a protein that is a potential drug target. Results are visually analyzed with a molecular graphics program and ranked according to predicted binding affinity scores. Then, DNA cloning and protein expression protocols are implemented in the lab to test the top potential drugs in enzyme assays. HSRA students will primarily focus on developing wet lab skills to produce the target proteins in a lab strain of E. coli bacteria.  We will also focus on obtaining skills in molecular visualization software.


Behavioral Neuroscience

Probe the neurogenetic basis of alcohol addiction. 

Participants will be introduced to the Drosophila melanogaster system and research in fly behavior. They will be trained in various behaviors (e.g: courtship behavior, male aggression, learning and memory, alcohol sensitivity) as well as experimental procedures, data collection, analysis and interpretation, with the purpose of exploring gene function in behavior. Students will learn to read and interpret the literature connected to the behaviors and gene they are investigating in the laboratory, collaborate with undergraduates, and get exposure to data analysis using R statistical analysis software. 

Discovering Signals

Explore how cells communicate with each other in plants. 

The central question to our research will focus on is how extracellular ATP functions like a hormone-like signal in animal and plant cells. The experimental system used in their research is the model plant Arabidopsis. Specifically, students will learn the techniques needed to work independently in the lab and will then perform their own novel experiments aimed at discovering early signaling steps by which extracellular ATP regulates the opening and closing of stomatal pores in Arabidopsis leaves. In the process of doing research, students will practice methods of experimental design, data gathering, statistical analysis, data interpretation, and data presentation.

Plant Pathways

Genetic engineering of plants as biosensors and reporters of environmental toxins.

Our lab works on a mix of basic and applied research projects in plant biology. One example of an applied project students can work on we call the “diagnostic plants” project. This project seeks to couple a plant’s natural ability to produce colorful pigments with the plant’s ability to detect heavy metal toxins in the soil or water. Students will learn about and apply a variety of molecular cloning and plant genetic techniques towards the engineering of a plant that can “report” the presence of environmental toxins via the expression of pigments in the plant body. Besides molecular biology lab skills, students will also learn to document and analyze data, read scientific literature and communicate their work.


Uncover the utility of grasses as biofuels.

We have a plant model system of a C4 photosynthetic grass called panicum hallii. Our lab has radiated the seeds of this plant to introduce mutations. We use these mutations to better understand the biology of grasses. Why do this? Crops! Most of the the crops we eat are cereals (grasses)! Participants will have the opportunity to learn forward genetics, bioenergy and work with plants (pancigrass Fast Neutron Population) in the greenhouse.



Discover biotherapeutics.

Participants will move cutting-edge, synthetic biology research into commercially viable biomaterials and biotherapeutics. Our research focuses on optimizing a novel E. coli secretion system for small protein with the goal of developing a continuous production model for biotherapeutics. Specifically, we focus on optimizing a new secretion system for production of commercially important small peptides including those used in diagnostic imaging and type 2 diabetes treatments. By inserting the genes for these proteins into a novel E. coli genetic construct, we can turn the bacteria into continuously producing mini-factories that will reduce manufacturing costs and make these life-saving proteins more accessible.


Materials in Color

Use light to create the next generation soft materials.

Soft materials, such as plastics and other polymers, are ubiquitous in our everyday lives, however their production requires large amounts of energy, often in the form of heat. Light represents an abundant and renewable alternative energy source for soft materials fabrication, yet contemporary light-driven industrial chemistry relies on the use of high energy, intense ultraviolet (UV) rays. To overcome these hurdles, our research explores the use of organic dyes as efficient visible light-activated catalysts to generate next generation soft materials. As part of this research group, participants will learn how to characterize the optical properties and reactivity profiles of colorful molecules (dyes) to determine governing principles that improve the efficiency of soft material production using visible light.

Practical Sensors

Explore a new approach to selective molecular recognition.

Our lab seeks ways to implement existing organic chemistry techniques in the creation of novel sensing protocols using modern analytical devices. These protocols are designed to be effective, rapid, and readily usable in any academic lab or industrial setting. HSRA participants will learn the basics of organic synthesis and modern analytical chemistry techniques to help develop fast and cheap sensors that are easy to implement can provide very helpful solutions to real everyday problems!


Computational Materials

Develop better materials for fuel cells and batteries.

Participants will be introduced to computational material science, one of the most interdisciplinary fields! Research is specifically focused on developing better materials for fuel cells and batteries, and more importantly methodologies for material analysis and discovery, ideally automagically. Students will be exposed to all the required knowledge in physics, mathematics, chemistry, and computer science from a community of undergraduates and faculty. Specifically, students will learn how to: write python scripts for simple task automation, write python optimizers that produce relaxed molecular structures with Lennard-Jones potentials or perform non-linear fitting, use Density Functional Theory software (VASP) to simulate simple chemical reactions and surface catalytic reactions that take place in fuel-cells and model ion diffusions in Li-ion battery cathode materials, and much more.

Geometry of Space

Investigate the structure and motion of star clusters, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies. 

Students will learn to use powerful Data Science tools in Python like Jupyter Notebooks, NumPy, SciPy, MatPlotLib, and Pandas, and will apply these tools to datasets that professional astronomers use like SDSS (Sloan Digital Sky Survey), NED (NASA Extragalactic Database), and GAIA. The concepts in astronomy that students will be dealing with are simple and deep - and students will spend time developing the necessary programming and data analysis skills in order to deepen our understanding of the universe and our place in it.


Austin Water Quality

Investigate human impact on the quality of Austin watersheds.

Participants will focus on research related to understanding urban nature. We study the microbiology, macrobiology, molecular biology, chemistry, and ecology of urban ecosystems. The Water Quality project collects samples along Austin's creeks to understand how human activity impacts the organisms that we share our city with. We focus on general measures of water quality and habitat quality as well as looking for contaminants. Experiments include measuring tree canopy; identifying aquatic insects; quantifying aquatic microbes; measuring basic water chemistry such as pH, conductivity, nitrates, and phosphates; and assessing riparian habitats. Students will be embedded with ongoing research projects working in both the field and the lab and will perform experiments alongside experienced undergraduate researchers and faculty. 

DIY Diagnostics

Develop the latest at-home diagnostics.

Researchers will be working on developing and applying state-of-the-art diagnostic technologies to water sources around Austin. Specifically, we will be attempting to perform "creek-side" diagnostic tests. These tests are well established but are normally performed in a full laboratory setting. By attempting them out of the lab, we will better understand the limitations/strengths of diagnostics in both environmental and low resource healthcare settings.

**Availability of Research Experiences is subject to change. 

Apply for HSRA 2024