Monday, July 31, 2017

AMRI Summer Research Program Gives High School Students and Undergraduates Paid, Hands-on Research Opportunities

Amaris Lewis knows she wants to pursue a career in the sciences after she graduates from high school. Until this summer, however, she wasn’t sure whether laboratory research was for her.

As one of 10 participants in the Advanced Materials Research Institute (AMRI) Summer Program at the University of New Orleans, Lewis had the chance to find out. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Academy of Applied Sciences and the Louisiana Board of Regents through the U.S. Department of Energy's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, the program partners undergraduates and high school students with UNO faculty sponsors who help them conduct research in chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, mechanical engineering and materials science.

“I loved it,” said Lewis, a rising junior at Lusher Charter School as she stood in front of her a poster explaining the research, which she titled, “Auto-regulation of the Ume6 Transcription Factor and its Regulation of Cat8.”

Lewis’ work entailed studying the behavior of yeast cells to gather information that could be useful in genetic engineering. An aspiring biochemist, she said the experience gave her hands-on insight into the realities of life in a lab, especially what it’s like to conduct the same experiments over and over looking for different results.

“Just being around the graduate students and seeing how they attack everything with precision every day is amazing,” Lewis said. “I love being part of a team in a lab that shares the same purposes and goals.”

John Wiley, director of AMRI and the President’s Research Professor of Chemistry at UNO, said the program seeks participants who are clearly motivated. Each year, the University receives eight to 10 times more applicants than the program can admit.

Students stood beside their posters on the first floor of the Chemical Sciences Building Friday, sharing their work and findings with faculty, students and visitors who came to listen. Wiley said the finale event reveals a great deal about the impact the program has had on its participants.

“There’s always a level of satisfaction when you go and talk with them and find out how much they learned,” he said.

One key to the program’s success, Wiley said, is dependent upon the thoughtful pairing of participants with the faculty and graduate students who are best-suited to a participant’s work and interests.

The high school program started in 2002 and brings five local high school students to work in UNO research labs for eight weeks, receiving a stipend of $2,000. The program for undergraduates, formally known as Research Experiences for Undergraduates, began a year later in 2003. This year, it enlisted four undergraduate students to work in the labs for nine weeks, receiving $5,000 stipends plus allowances for on-campus housing and transportation, when needed.

Besides having the opportunity to work alongside experienced scientists in state-of-the-art laboratories, the participants attend weekly seminars that allow for discussion of current scientific issues, general research concepts and scientific ethics.

“The impact on the students is pretty life-changing,” Wiley said. “For many of these students, this is a first job, a first research opportunity.”

This year’s participants were as follows:



Faculty Sponsor


Zhivon Johnson

Dr. Weilie Zhou

Jackson State University

Dana Karkoutli

Dr. Viktor Poltavets

University of New Orleans

M. Kylene Pickett

Dr. Damon Smith

Louisiana Tech University

Anthony Ross II

Dr. Matthew Tarr

Georgia Southern University

Katy Wong

Dr. Steven Rick

Tulane University

High School


Faculty Sponsor


Amaris Lewis

Dr. Zhengchang Liu

Lusher Charter School

Julia McDow

Dr. John Wiley

Mount Carmel Academy

Ashley Presley

Dr. Elliot Beaton

Riverdale High School

Vigneer Reyes

Dr. Viktor Poltavets

Riverdale High School

Wenwen Tang

Dr. Steven Rick

Benjamin Franklin High School

Read More

Research Experiences for High School Students & Teachers
Research Experiences for Undergraduates Programs
Advanced Materials Research Institute (AMRI)
University of New Orleans College of Sciences