SURF Program an Invaluable Experience for Students
Dr. Joseph Leese and Dr. Austen Barnett both know from personal experience just how invaluable the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) can be.
“I actually did an experience like this when I was an undergrad,” says Leese. “I still remember what an impact it had on me—being in a lab all day every day, seeing the mistakes, seeing the challenges, and seeing the joys of working hard.”
“I didn’t know I wanted to be a scientist or go to grad school until I started doing research as an undergrad. These things are transformative.”
Barnett’s research interests center on the body plans of different animals and how those plans are laid out. Students in his lab studied the milkweed bug and gene duplication in insects.
“If you compare sponges to jellyfish and these to humans, they look very different,” says Barnett. “But the embryonic genes controlling the development of the body plan during embryogenesis are practically all the same. I’m interested in how these genes have changed their function throughout evolution to make the wide range of diversity that we see in all animals.”
Leese’s expertise is in animal behavior and his research seeks to understand why animals do what they do. His students studied steroid hormones in fish to see how competition, aggression, and choosing a mate affected testosterone levels.
“All animals have to find mates, they all have to raise their offspring, and they all have to compete for resources,” says Leese. “We look for patterns in the fish that we study that could be applied to many different types of animals.”
In addition to their research, the student fellows were also able to visit Lehigh University and The Nurture Nature Center in Easton. Barnett even took his students to Harvard University, where he completed his postdoctoral research. Not only was the group able to see different technologies and microscopes at Harvard, it even got to see specimens of Galapagos tortoises from the 1800s.
“They got to go behind the scenes and see a lot of cool stuff that not very many people get to see,” says Barnett.
Five of the six SURF student fellows will also be heading to Tampa, Florida in January to present their research at The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s annual meeting.