Swap summer holidays for research? SURE thing!

Undergraduate research program gives young students a taste of what research is really like
Chemical Engineering student Pooja Patel was one of the people who benefitted from the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience

For many, the lazy days of summer are replete with cottage getaways or camping under the stars. But for a number of enterprising Faculty of Engineering students, the four months of summer were much more industrious. Rather than taking selfies in front of tourist attractions, these students were delving into such topics as conductive biomaterial or graphene nanoflakes.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program is a chance for undergraduate students to get their feet wet in the world of pure research. During the school year, most undergraduate lab work results in a predetermined conclusion. But in the SURE program, they can get a taste of the uncertainty of real research. For some, it is an unforgettable experience.

“This gave me an insight into what research is really like,” said Pooja Patel (BEng ’20, and recipient of the Engineering Class of 1975 SURE Award) when describing the impact that SURE had on her. Her work on synthesizing hydrogels may eventually lead to new testing beds for a wide range of drug therapies. But in the meantime it has supplied the third-year Chemical Engineering student with a clearer sense of her future. “It’s definitely given me motivation to pursue my Masters and hopefully, a PhD,” she said.

Wide array of research topics

Now in its eleventh year, the SURE program runs for 16 weeks following the end of term in the spring and concluding before session resumes in September. Typically students are invited to apply for SURE in January of each year. The program culminated with a poster fair held in Trottier Building on August 20. In all 120 students were on hand to present their work.

The range of research was vast: Spherical Massive MIMO Antenna Arrays, Investigating the Effects of Microplastics on the Circadian Rhythm of fruit flies, 3D Scanning of Erosion; the list goes on. Clearly, there is no shortage of curiosity or discovery in the Faculty.

The poster fair was also an opportunity for students to practice their presentation skills, and thanks to the discerning opinions of 18 alumni volunteer judges, the top ten were awarded. The following students (with their respective subject areas) were honoured:

  • Victoria Meola
    Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology
  • Peter Wilk
    Aerospace 1
  • Noah Ferravotto
    Aerospace 2
  • Oliver Xie
    Bioengineering and Biotechnology 1
  • Ran Huo
    Bioengineering and Biotechnology 2
  • Chong Yang Du
  • Takiah Ebbs-Picken
    General & Multidisciplinary
  • Raymond Yang
    Information & Communication Technology
  • Yuanzhe Gong
    Society, Design & Technology
  • Jocelyn Blanchet
    Water & Environment

“I was impressed at the quality of the posters, both visually and content-wise,” said alumni judge Cecil Turgeon (BEng ’89). “The way they were able to synthesize their presentations spoke volumes of the evident knowledge that their authors possessed on the subject matter.”

Alumni support

But alumni play a much more significant role than judging the students’ abilities to present their research. Alumni donors make the entire program possible through their generous donations. This generosity is one of the main reasons why the program has been able to grow to its current size, with nearly 150 students per year taking part. The program, however, is oversubscribed, with many more applications received than positons available.

So while summer holidays will remain a time of year when many of us seek to disconnect from our respective realities, thanks to the SURE program it will also be a season where many undergraduate students will have the chance to connect with their futures.

Learn more about the SURE program