Gov. Raimondo inspires students at URI’s annual summer research conference

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KINGSTON, R.I. – July 31, 2015 –Governor Gina Raimondo inspired the 137 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows attending a conference at the University of Rhode Island Friday by highlighting the significance of the research they were conducting.


“From neuro-engineering to cancer biology to the impacts of climate change on life in Narragansett Bay, the breadth of research and findings presented today show me that Rhode Island has the research and the capability to make life-changing discoveries,” she said. “We just need to keep it growing. And those of us in government need to help.”


The conference was the culmination of a 10-week research experience for undergraduate students at nine colleges and universities in the state. Based at URI since 2007, the research program and conference provide undergraduate students with a deeper involvement in scientific research and advances their technical skills to help them refine their career development.


The fellowship program is supported by two major federal grants awarded to URI. One, called the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, is funded by the National Institutes of Health, which has granted URI $61 million since 2001 to expand biomedical research capacity in Rhode Island. The complementary program is the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, funded through a total of $26.75 million in grants from the National Science Foundation.


Calling science and technology “the fundamental component of our next wave of economic development in Rhode Island,” Raimondo noted that she is working toward building a new economy in the state with an underpinning of science, technology, engineering and design.


“Science is cool, it’s innovative, it’s the future,” she said. “Everything around us has elements of innovation and engineering and design and science. And I feel excited about Rhode Island’s future, and excited for you.”


The students participating in the fellowship program work in labs and in the field under the guidance of faculty mentors and alongside their peers. The process emphasizes communication and analytic skills, and it exposes students to the many career opportunities available for scientists, from the ground floor of new research to the production of biodiesel and pharmaceuticals.


“It’s a very competitive program,” said Brenton DeBoef, URI associate professor of chemistry, who coordinates the program. “These are some of the best young minds in our state, and they are working with excellent faculty mentors, not just at URI, but at the primarily undergraduate schools, too.”


This year’s projects include biomedical research, like the synthesis of new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and the development of nanoparticles for the treatment of lung cancer, as well as environmental science, such as investigations into how climate change and human-generated pollutants affect the marine life and ecosystems of the Narragansett Bay watershed.


With this summer’s class, more than 650 students have become engaged in scientific research projects since the program began in 2001.


Photo by Nora Lewis