Summer STEM research projects
Do you want to develop your independent, critical thinking, and practical lab-based skills? Do you want to undertake an innovative project as part of a research group at a world-leading institution? If so, this six-week summer school is for you.
|Programme dates||21 July to 28 August 2021|
|Application deadline||Applications for 2021 are now closed.|
We offer a £400 discount for mobility partner students (please contact us if you are unsure about your status) and for early-bird applicants who apply by 1 April 2021.
|Credits||Upon successful completion of the programme students will receive 20 academic credits, suggested as equivalent to 10 ECTS or 5-6 US semester credits.|
About this programme
Is it for me?
A wide variety summer of research projects is offered across our STEM faculties, suiting students from a range of disciplines. This is a unique and exciting opportunity if you have ambitious postgraduate or career aspirations.
What will I learn?
This is a summer school with a difference – you will build your own research pathway under the supportive supervision of our world-class researchers while gaining academic credit. You will develop your teamwork, clinical and scientific inquiry, scientific referencing, and presentation skills.
Research projects available
If you do not see a research project that fits your current academic interests, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about when such a project might become available.
Cellular & Molecular Medicine projects
Project 1: Fighting fungal AMR with soil bacteria
Lead Supervisor: Dr Stephanie Diezmann
Tuberculosis, plague, transplant rejection, and cancer have one thing in common. They are all being treated with compounds produced by bacteria of the genus Streptomyces. These filamentous bacteria live in soil and sediments across the world and their genomes are enriched for biosynthetic pathways producing numerous compounds1, including streptomycin for the treatment of tuberculosis and rapamycin, a powerful immunosuppressant. Although natural compounds produced by Streptomycetes have extensively been exploited in the clinical setting, their role in the treatment of fungal diseases is limited. Only one drug, Amphotericin B, which is produced by Streptomyces nodosus, has so far been shown to have antifungal activity. It is currently used in the treatment of life-threatening fungal infections, such as systemic candidiasis and cryptococcal meningitis.
Each year, the leading fungal pathogens of humans, Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans cause invasive, life-threatening diseases in ~1,000,000 patients2. With up to 70%, mortality rates are unacceptably high. This already dire situation is exacerbated by the emergence of the multi-drug resistant (MDR) species Candida auris3. Even non-MDR fungal infections are difficult to treat as the available armamentarium of antifungal drugs is limited to four classes, some of which are only fungi-static rather than cidal and the identification of novel drug targets is challenging due to shared evolutionary ancestry. In a preliminary screen, we showed that Streptomyces strains from Bavarian soil successfully killed fungi.
To address the lack of suitable antifungal drugs and to identify novel treatment strategies for fungal infections, this MSc research project aims to:
1. Screen a collection of soil Streptomyces isolates for their ability to kill clinical isolates of C. albicans, C. neoformans, and C. auris and
2. Characterize the active compound.
~20 Streptomyces isolates will be screened using a zone-of-clearing assay against 10 – 20 clinical isolates per yeast species. Any antifungal activity will be further characterized to elucidate the nature of the compound. To this end, bacterial culture supernatant will be added to yeast cultures naively, after heat inactivation and following Proteinase K digest. If time permits, the mode of action will further be elucidated by fungal RNAseq and microscopy to detect morphogenetic changes and aberrations of the cell wall and membrane.
Project 2: Roles of Rho GTPases in cancer cell migration
Lead Supervisor: Professor Anne Ridley
Most cancers are derived from epithelial tissues such as the cells lining the lung, gut, and breast and prostate glands. Initially these cancers grow within the epithelium, but over time some of them spread to other tissues, in a multi-step process called metastasis. Cancer metastasis is associated with poor patient prognosis and is difficult to treat. Metastasis involves invasion of the cancer cells into surrounding tissues, entry into and subsequent exit from the bloodstream in a different tissue, and cancer growth in this tissue. Each step of metastasis involves cell migration, which is coordinated by intracellular signalling proteins known as Rho GTPases. These Rho GTPases drive cell migration by binding to and activating a variety of enzymes and actin cytoskeletal regulators. Their expression is frequently altered in cancers.
In our laboratory we are testing the roles of several different Rho GTPases in the migration of prostate cancer cells by increasing or decreasing their expression.
The aims of the project are to:
1. Make movies of prostate cancer cells with altered expression of one selected Rho GTPase
2. Use cell tracking software to analyse movies to determine how fast the prostate cancer cells move.
The project will involve the following methods: cancer cell culture, time-lapse microscopy, use of cell migration analysis software (ImageJ). The project could provide new information on how cancer cell migration is regulated by Rho GTPases.
Project 3: 3Dtissue culture models: tumor-mediated suppression of cytotoxic Tcell function
Lead Supervisor: Professor Christoph Wuelfing
Cytotoxic T cells (CTL) are critical anti-tumour effectors of the immune system. They commonly infiltrate solid tumours but lose their ability to kill tumour target cells within the tumour microenvironment. Understanding mechanisms of such tumour-mediated suppression CTL function is important for the development of therapies to overcome it. We use three-dimensional tissue culture of murine and human tumour cells as an in vitro model of CTL suppression (Sci. Signal. 2020 13:eaau4518).
In these defined in vitro models of the interaction of CTLs with tumour cells we can investigate mechanisms of action of molecular mediators of CTL suppression. You will contribute to these efforts.
Faculty of Health Sciences projects
Project 1: Nanotopographical modulation of bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation
Lead supervisor: Professor Bo Su
Surface topography has been shown to alter bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation. It has become evident that surface hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity and effective contact area are the two main factors that are responsible for the different bacterial adhesive behaviour on surfaces. However, topographical effects on bacterial viability and biofilm formation have been less well studied, until recently. Recent studies ,, have shown that nano-patterned or nano-structured surfaces can induce the lysis of bacterial cells through unique physicomechanical mechanisms.
This project aligns with the Biomaterials Engineering Group programme of research to produce novel biomimetic antimicrobial surfaces based on nanotopography for medical devices and implants. Nature has provided some excellent examples of such surfaces with shark skin and insect wings. Different nano-patterning techniques have been developed to generate anti-fouling and bactericidal surfaces on clinically relevant materials such as titanium metals and polymers. These include anodisation, controlled oxidation, hydrothermal synthesis and nanolithography. The correlation between nano-feature size and bactericidal performance will be established to rationally design new antimicrobial materials, independent of antibiotics, to provide an alternative approach to combat antimicrobial resistant (AMR) infections.
Project 2: Photocatalytic antibacterial and antiviral coatings
Lead supervisor: Professor Bo Su
Contamination of surfaces plays an important role in the transmission of healthcare-associated pathogens. Traditional cleaning and disinfection methods are proven largely ineffective for complete decontamination of surfaces by microbes, particularly multidrug-resistant ‘superbugs’. Recent studies have shown that light-based approaches e.g. photocatlysis, can kill multidrug-resistant bacteria and coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2).
Anatase titanium oxide (TiO2) is well known to possess a photocatalytic effect under UV illumination. This effect has been used in applications such as medical device disinfection and sterilisation. The reactive-oxygen species generated under UV illumination can decompose organic compounds and damage bacterial cell membranes, making them useful for killing bacteria.Moreover, some antibiotic-resistant pathogens, e.g. methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, seem more susceptible to TiO2 photocatalysis. However, the wide bandgap of TiO2 makes it difficult to use under visible light. It is necessary to modify TiO2 to make it photocatalytic under visible light.
This project aligns with the Biomaterials Engineering Group programme of research to produce new antimicrobial and antiviral surfaces based on photocatalysis for touch surfaces such as door handles in hospitals and public places. The project involves the formulation of material composition combined with microstructural and photocatalytic characterisation using a range of analytic and microscopy techniques.
Project 3: Deciphering the mechanisms of Streptococcus colonisation and pathogenesis
Lead supervisor: Dr Angela Nobbs
Streptococcus bacteria are opportunistic pathogens and ubiquitous colonisers of the human oral cavity and mucosae. They are often prominent members of the resident microbiota at these sites, reflecting their evolutionary adaptation to successful colonisation of their ecological niche. Despite facing often hostile environmental conditions, Streptococcus bacteria are able to associate with host tissues and with other microorganisms to form microbial communities (biofilms), the precise nature of which can have significant implications for both health and disease. Streptococcus bacteria are also able to survive upon entry into the blood stream and are associated with severe cardiovascular disease. Nonetheless, the underpinning mechanisms utilised by streptococci for community development and systemic disease are not fully understood.
This project forms part of an exciting programme of research within the Oral Microbiology group to decipher the molecular basis of Streptococcus colonisation and pathogenesis, utilising and range of genetic- and biochemical-based techniques. Tools that can be used include bacterial knockout mutants, heterologous expression strains and recombinant proteins, combined with biofilm and viability assays and imaging techniques such as fluorescence and confocal microscopy. Identification of the molecular determinants that influence Streptococcus colonisation and pathogenesis could lead to the development of novel strategies to combat streptococcal disease.
- J.A. Haworth, H.F. Jenkinson, H.J. Petersen, C.R. Back, J.L. Brittan, S.W. Kerrigan & A.H. Nobbs (2017). Concerted functions of Streptococcus gordonii surface proteins PadA and Hsa mediate activation of human platelets and interactions with extracellular matrix. Cell Microbiol 19: 19: e12667.
- I.M. Cavalcanti, A.A. Del Bel Cury, H.F. Jenkinson & A.H. Nobbs (2017). Interactions between Streptococcus oralis, Actinomyces oris, and Candida albicans in the development of multispecies oral microbial biofilms on salivary pellicle. Mol Oral Microbiol 32: 60-73.
- A.H. Nobbs & H.F. Jenkinson (2015). Interkingdom networking within the oral microbiome. Microbes Infect 17: 484-492.
- A.H. Nobbs, H.F. Jenkinson & D.B. Everett (2015). Generic determinants of Streptococcus colonization and infection. Infect Genet Evol 33: 361-370.
Project 4: The role of microbial ‘cross-talk’ on the emergence of antimicrobial resistance
Lead supervisor: Dr Nihal Bandara
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that >80% of human infections are caused by structured microbial communities comprising various microbial species/kingdoms, known as polymicrobial biofilms. Among these, infections caused by fungal-bacterial polymicrobial biofilms are gaining significant attention due to their overwhelming impact on human health and the healthcare economy. Particularly, fungal-bacterial infections that occur on indwelling devices, within immunocompromised hosts, and in nosocomial settings are extremely resistant to routine antimicrobial therapy, leading to alarming rates of treatment failure. Fungal-bacterial polymicrobial infections often exhibit high mortality and morbidity due to their increased dissemination behaviour, ever-rising antimicrobial resistance profiles, and the lack of sensitive diagnostics.
The severity and outcome of fungal-bacterial infections can be predicted not only by the microbial composition of the biofilm but also by the specific interactions of the biofilm microbes. Quorum sensing (QS) is one chemical signal system used by microbes to ‘talk’ with each other. Recent studies suggest that some QS signals can modulate the antimicrobial sensitivity/resistance of neighbouring pathogens and are likely to be responsible for increasing incidence of treatment failures. Despite the fact that many QS interactions have been identified in polymicrobial communities, little is known regarding their role in antimicrobial therapy. The proposed project will therefore investigate the effect of bacterial QS signals on the antifungal sensitivity of common fungal pathogen Candida albicans, using a variety of microbiological and imaging approaches.
- Peleg, A.Y., D.A. Hogan, and E. Mylonakis, Medically important bacterial-fungal interactions. Nat Rev Microbiol, 2010. 8(5): p. 340-9.
- Dhamgaye, S., Y. Qu, and A.Y. Peleg, Polymicrobial infections involving clinically relevant Gram-negative bacteria and fungi. Cell Microbiol, 2016. 18(12): p. 1716-1722.
- Taff, H.T., et al., Mechanisms of Candida biofilm drug resistance. Future Microbiol, 2013. 8(10): p. 1325-37.
Project 5: Neuroinflammation and Parkinson’s disease
Lead Supervisor: Dr Liang-Fong Wong
The progressive loss of the neurons that lead to symptoms in Parkinson’s is still poorly understood; with aging, genetics, environmental factors and inflammation considered to be key contributors. There is also emerging evidence that inflammatory processes in the brain (neuroinflammation) that occur after environmental insults are also central to other neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and multiple sclerosis.
In this project, we will investigate how soluble factors released by the degenerating neurons can activate microglia, the immune surveillance cells of the brain. A major hallmark of the degenerating neurons is the abundant presence of a protein called a-synuclein, which triggers inflammation in the brain. The student will study if factors that can activate microglia are found in brain tissue from mouse models of Parkinson’s, using quantitative PCR and protein detection techniques to determine the quantities and presence of these factors. The results will give us an insight into the interplay between a-synuclein and neuroinflammation and help increase our understanding of why neurons die in Parkinson’s.
- Sanchez-Guajardo, V., Tentillier, N. & Romero-Ramos, M. The relation between alpha-synuclein and microglia in Parkinson's disease: Recent developments. Neuroscience 302, 47-58, doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.02.008 (2015).
Project 6: The molecular mechanisms of neuromodulation by ultrasound
Lead Supervisor: Dr Daniel Whitcomb
Ultrasound – high-frequency soundwaves inaudible to humans – is a ubiquitously employed tool with diverse applications. Recent research in humans and animal models has surprisingly revealed that when ultrasound is directed transcranially, it can profoundly modulate brain activity (Folloni et al., 2019; Yoon et al., 2019; Legon et al., 2014). This intriguing discovery opens the possibility of using ultrasound to non-invasively regulate brain function, with many experimental and therapeutic applications. However, there is currently very limited understanding of the consequences of ultrasound at the molecular level of neuronal function.
This project maps the consequences of ultrasound stimulation on rat cortical neurons and human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-derived cortical neurons in vitro. Using a range of protein identification and quantification approaches, we will examine what effects ultrasound has on key neuronal signalling molecules. Furthermore, we will investigate the effects of ultrasound at the genetic level, and define whether and how gene regulation may play an important role in neuromodulation. Findings from this study will address important questions regarding the potential utility of using ultrasound as a cutting-edge technique to regulate brain function.
- Folloni et al. (2019) Neuron, 101: 1-8
- Legon et al. (2014) Nature Neuroscience, 17: 322-239
- Yoon et al. (2019) PLoS One, 14: e0224311
Project 1: Low-dimensional representations of networks
Lead Supervisor: Dr David Hume, Heibronn Fellow
The problem of finding accurate representations of networks in low-dimensional spaces occurs naturally in several areas of mathematics, computer science, and many other fields, from modelling protein structures and complex chemical reactions, to developing efficient
applications of deep learning algorithms for financial forecasting, 3D image and speech recognition.
On the mathematical side, there are several invariants which quantify (in subtly different ways) the minimal possible inaccuracy of such a representation. The goal of this project is to calculate one of these new invariants for important families of networks. Your findings will help motivate questions and further research directions in a rapidly expanding and exciting area of mathematics.
Project 2: Modelling epidemics and countermeasures
Lead Supervisor: Dr Ayalvadi Ganesh
This project will study a mathematical model of an epidemic and countermeasures, and to quantify their effectiveness in controlling the spread of infection. The models used will be probabilistic, and the study will be carried out through computer simulation. The required background is knowledge of probability and random processes (commonly used discrete and continuous random variables, probability mass functions and density or distribution functions), and familiarity with some programming environment, e.g., C, Python or Matlab.
An epidemic spreading in a well-mixed population in which few people have immunity can be described, in its early or ‘outbreak’ phase, by a random process known as a branching process. The process starts with a fixed number of individuals who represent the initial infectives. Time can be modelled in days, i.e., it is discrete or takes whole number values. Each day, each individual gives birth to (infects) a random number of other individuals (possibly zero). After some number of days, the individual ‘dies’. This need not correspond to actual death, but may in fact correspond to recovery – the individual is no longer infective and plays no further role in the process.
Newborn individuals behave in the same way as the ones we started with; they live for a random number of days, giving birth to a random number of new individuals on each day, and then die. These random variables have the same distribution for each individual, and are mutually independent. The resulting model is called a branching process.
In order to fully specify the branching process we need to specify the distribution of the random number of days for which each individual lives, and the distribution of the random number of individuals to whom it gives birth on each day. (These distributions can be different on day 1 since birth, day 2, etc.) Given these distributions, it is straightforward to write a computer program to simulate the branching process.
The main question is whether the branching process becomes extinct, or whether it survives for ever. This depends on the mean number of children to whom each individual gives birth before it dies. If this mean number is smaller than 1, then the branching process becomes extinct. If it is bigger than 1, it can survive forever with positive probability. In epidemiology, this mean number is denoted R0.
The main countermeasure we will study is contact tracing. We assume that an infected individual is diagnosed after some number of days. When diagnosed, each of its ‘children’ in the branching process, which corresponds to a contact in the epidemic, is identified with some probability (maybe 1, if contact tracing were perfect). The identified individual is quarantined (immediately, or after a delay required for tracing). This changes the dynamics of the branching process.
In this project, you will explore through computer simulations how fast and how accurate contact tracing needs to be in order to reduce R0 below 1, and hence suppress the epidemic.
Psychological Science projects
Project 1: The role of working memory in controlling behaviour
Lead supervisor: Professor Chris Jarrold
Working memory is the ability to hold information in mind in order to guide behaviour. Adults’ working memory has been shown to relate to a range of other measures such as IQ, and in children early working memory capacity is a predictor of academic achievement. This is probably because our ability to keep information active in mind strengthens those mental representations, leading to learning, and counteracts the effects of external distraction. Understanding the factors that a) limit working memory capacity and its development, and b) link working memory capacity to behaviour, therefore has considerable real-world implications.
This project will link to existing work within our group that addresses these issues. Possible lines of research include i) testing the extent to which different individuals are able to hold information in mind in the face of different types of distraction, ii) measuring when individuals use different maintenance strategies to prevent forgetting from working memory, iii) linking individuals’ working memory capacity to their ability to learn through repeated exposure to information, and iv) exploring whether working memory capacity affects’ people’s ability to avoid thinking about irrelevant information. As a student on this project we would seek to match your experience and interest to the particular topic of study, and you would be integrated in a lively and supportive research group. At the time of writing the Covid-19 situation means that this work is likely to involve using online assessment tools with adult participants. However, if possible we can also explore options for working with children.
- Jarrold, C. (2017). The Mid-Career Award: Working out how working memory works: evidence from typical and atypical development. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70, 1747-1767. doi:10.1080/17470218.2016.1213869
Project 2: The Elusive Bilingual Advantage
Bilingualism is no longer the exception- it is the norm and it is becoming more so in this increasingly global world. Some researchers have found bilinguals inhibiting one language (e.g. Spanish) to speak another (e.g. Catalan) have improved executive function (EF); a bilingual advantage in executive function (BA). For 30 years now research has failed to find a robust answer as to whether BA exists; some researchers have found a clear and long-lasting BA (Prior & MacWhinney, 2010) that has been linked to prevention/delay of dementia (Alladi, et al., 2013). However, some researchers have found no difference in EF between monolinguals and bilinguals (e.g. Paap, Mason, Zimiga, Ayala-Silva, & Frost, 2020). The reason for inconclusive results is three-fold; sample size, type of bilingual (whether they regularly switch between languages in a dual language context) and type of task. Given recent advances in online testing of mouse-tracking (MT) these obstacles can be overcome. By conducting online testing large sample sizes of different types of bilinguals from all over the world (location and resources are no-longer an obstacle) using techniques that gain insight into real time cognitive processes (MT gives a visual representation of decision making unfold through time) we hope it is possible to finally solve the elusive BA debate.
This research project will investigate MT for numerous EF tasks (Flanker, Stroop, task switching, AXCPT) to perform a latent variable analysis to compare individual EF ability to a measure of bilingualism (dual-language context). There will be weekly lab discussion groups regarding the theory behind the BA and cognition (including one presentation of a journal article). Students will design and create online experiments and analyse the data (using R). Given the current Covid restrictions it is possible that the whole project can be conducted virtually. The student will be expected to write up the findings in a research report with the hope that collaboration can continue in the form of publishing any findings and future research projects.
- Prior, A., & MacWhinney, B. (2010). A bilingual advantage in task switching. Bilingualism, 13, 253-262.
- Alladi, S., Bak, T. H., Duggirala, V., Surampudi, B., Shailaja, M., Shukla, A. K., ... & Kaul, S. (2013). Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology, 81, 1938-1944.
- Paap, K. R., Mason, L., Zimiga, B., Ayala-Silva, Y., & Frost, M. (2020). The alchemy of confirmation bias transmutes expectations into bilingual advantages: A tale of two new meta-analyses. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 73, 1290-1299.
You must meet all of the below requirements to be eligible for this summer school.
|Study level||Currently studying at undergraduate level, with at least two years of a three-year degree or three years of a four-year degree completed by the start of the summer|
|Subject requirements||Studying a subject aligned to the chosen primary research project|
|Academic requirements||GPA equivalent to a mimimum of 60% on the UK scale, C on the ECTS scale, or 3.0 on a 4.0 GPA scale|
|English language requirements||If English is not your first language, you need to meet our English language Profile E. You can see the tests and levels we accept by clicking the 'English Language Proficiency Tests' tab. If you took the CET-4 or CET-6 tests please contact us directly in order to find out what scores we will accept.|
|Age||18 or over|
If you have any questions about your eligibility please contact us at email@example.com.
How to apply
You will need to complete our short application form and submit the following:
- A current university transcript
- Your first and second research project choices
- A short (maximum 250 words) statement explaining why you are applying to this summer school
- Evidence of your English language skills if relevant.
If you have any questions about this process you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more about your summer experience by viewing our STEM Summer Research Projects Programme Outline 2021 (PDF, 218kB).
You can read the course descriptions on our Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Dental School, Mathematics, Medical School and Psychological Science web pages. Please contact us at email@example.com for more information.
Get in touch
If you have any questions, please get in touch.
Tel +44 (0)117 4283070
We provide accommodation, meals, transfers and a programme of exciting social activities. Find out more about what your time in Bristol will be like.
Coronavirus and your application
The University of Bristol plans to deliver Bristol-based summer schools in 2021. However, the University continues the evolving covid-19 pandemic both at home and abroad. All applicants will be updated with a decision as to whether or not the University can move forward with in-Bristol programmes in early May.
Please be advised that the University of Bristol will adhere to UK government policy regarding travel restrictions and health and safety on campus. You can find out more about our current campus policies here. You can find out more about UK government travel advice and regulations here.
We strongly suggest that all applicants read the Terms and Conditions - Global Summer Schools 2021 (PDF, 130kB) document prior to accepting any offers they may receive.