The Application Process

Below you will find information on what documents and information you need when filling out the online application. Please read carefully so that you are prepared to upload the necessary documents.  Below you will also find descriptions of the research positions available this summer. You will be asked to select your first and second choice on the application.

The application process will open on January 17, 2018 and close on February 16, 2018. Applications will be reviewed by a selection committee and references will be contacted. If selected for an interview, you will be notified by mid-March. Interviews and final research position placement should be completed by the end of March.

To Apply

To apply for the IDEA Undergraduate Research Program, you will need:

  • Cover letter
  • Current resume
  • Transcript (please scan your transcript and save as pdf before uploading)
  • Completed responses to the following essay questions
    1. List any previous research experience, the location and the name of the researcher under whom you worked.
    2. Describe your career goals and the degree(s) you hope to pursue after this bachelors degree.
    3. Describe your research goals and what you hope to achieve as a participant of the IDEA Undergraduate Research Program.
    4. Add any information that will provide a better picture of your capabilities, motivations and interests.
    5. Once you have reached your career goal, how will underrepresented minority students benefit from your presence and position?
  • Names and contact information for two faculty references (IDEA will contact these faculty directly)

Once you have these items, please complete the online application. At the end of the application, you will be asked to upload your completed essay questions, cover letter, current resume and transcript. 


Position Descriptions

Project Number: 1 (Gifford)

Project Title: Kill or be killed: Bacterial competition in Marine Environments

Research Supervisor: Scott Gifford (primary, Marine Science)

Position Description: The goal of this project is to identify which microbes in the coastal environment are able to invade new habitats and kill off competitors, thus reshaping marine microbial communities and the biogeochemical cycles they mediate. The student will isolate novel bacterial strains from several different habitats in coastal North Carolina. Back in the lab, the student will conduct competition assays to identify which strains of bacteria are able to eliminate competitors, either through diffusion mechanisms such as antibiotics, or through direct contact mechanisms such as the TYPE VI secretion system.

Science skills desired: Good communication skills, organized, can work with others while also able to work independently. Student must be comfortable working outside, sometimes in suboptimal conditions. Student should be willing to travel with the lab team to the coast a few times over the course of the summer (transportation will be provided).

Technology and field skills desired: Familiar with Microsoft Office


Project Number: 2 (Liu)

Project Title:  Developing novel method of trace element analyses in various types of rock, soil and water samples

Research Supervisor: Xiao-Ming Liu (primary, Geological Sciences)

Position Description: Student will have opportunity to work in the geochemistry lab and use newly installed state-of-the-art instrument (ICP-MS) to perform elemental concentration analyses in rock and water samples.

Students are welcome to come up with their own ideas and continuation of the project as honor thesis student is encouraged. Feel free to contact me via email:xiaomliu@unc.edu to set up a meeting before applying.

Science skills desired: Curious, self-motivated, interested in reading and writing scientific papers.

Technology skills desired: Experience with wet chemistry, ICP-MS experience is preferred but not required.

Fieldwork skills desired: N/A


Project Number: 3 (Liu)

Project Title:  Surface-water quality in the Research Triangle Area of North Carolina

Research Supervisor: Xiao-Ming Liu (primary, Geological Sciences)

Position Description: Student will have opportunity to work in the geochemistry lab and use newly installed state-of-the-art instrument (ICP-MS) to perform elemental concentration analyses in rock and water samples.

Students are welcome to come up with their own ideas and continuation of the project as honor thesis student is encouraged. Feel free to contact me via email:xiaomliu@unc.edu to set up a meeting before applying.

Science skills desired: Curious, self-motivated, interested in reading and writing scientific papers.

Technology skills desired: Experience with wet chemistry, ICP-MS experience is preferred but not required.

Fieldwork skills desired: N/A


Project Number: 4 (Septer)

Project Title: Characterization of the Atlantic brief squid and its bioluminescent bacterial symbionts

Research supervisor: Alecia Septer (primary, Marine Sciences)

Position description: Our lab uses light organ symbioses as a model to study how bacteria in the water column compete with one another for access to colonization sites in an animal host. Light organs are specialized structures found broadly in fish and squid that house bioluminescent bacterial symbionts, which they acquire from the surrounding seawater.  The light from these symbiotic bacteria provide several possible benefits to the animal including camouflage, predator deterrence, or prey attraction. Our lab currently studies the light organ symbiosis of sepiolid squid from Hawaii. We recently caught loliginid squid in Bogue Sound (Lolliguncula brevis, Atlantic brief squid) and have cultured bioluminescent bacteria from a structure resembling a light organ.  This interaction between the Atlantic brief squid and its bioluminescent symbionts has not been previously described and may represent a new light-organ symbiosis. An IDEA student would participate in planning and executing molecular and microbiological analyses of bioluminescent bacterial squid isolates in the lab, as well as take at least one trip to the coast to obtain squid to bring back to our new saltwater tank for further studies.  Our lab would cover the cost of IDEA student travel to the coast.

Science skills desired: No previous molecular or microbiological techniques are required, however, attention to detail and excellent note-taking during lab and field work will be essential.

Technology skills desired: Familiar with Microsoft office, particular excel, for data analysis and graphing.

Fieldwork skills desired: No previous field experience is needed, however, the students should be willing to travel to the coast (with their project mentor) at least once during the summer.  Field work will involve time on a boat in the sound, so being at ease on the water is helpful.


Project Number: 5 (White)

Project Title: Mixing in ocean-scale turbulence

Research Supervisor: Brian White (primary, Marine Sciences), Pierre-Yves Passaggia (graduate student, secondary, Marine Sciences)

Position Description: In this project, we will conduct laboratory experiments in the UNC Fluids Lab wave tank to study the mixing of stratified fluids, i.e. those of different density, which is an important process that influences the physics of the ocean circulation. This work is part of our recently-funded NSF LabMOST (Laboratory for Mixing in Ocean-scale Stratified Turbulence) project. Activities will include some sensor design and setup, data collection using sensors and digital imaging methods, and data-processing using Matlab.

Science skills desired: Some experience in a laboratory (could be in classes), good attention to detail, intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm to learn

Technology skills desired: Matlab, programming, image processing (not all are necessary, but would help)

Fieldwork skills desired: none


Project Number: 6 (White)

Project Title:  Horizontal Convection, a model for the ocean conveyor belt circulation

Research Supervisor: Brian White (primary, Marine Sciences), Pierre-Yves Passaggia (graduate student, secondary, Marine Sciences)

Position Description:  We are looking for a student interested in fluid dynamics and oceanography to work on a laboratory model of the ocean conveyor belt, aka the Meridional Overturning Circulation. The student would set up our “ocean in a box” flow tank, assist with data collection using high-resolution cameras and image processing software, and help with data-processing using Matlab. This is a very visual project with applications both in fundamental fluid physics and our understanding of ocean circulation.

Science skills desired: Some experience in a laboratory (could be in classes), good attention to detail, intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm to learn

Technology skills desired: Matlab, programming, image processing (not all are necessary, but would help)

Fieldwork skills desired: none


Project Number: 7 (Paerl)

Project Title: The missing link? The role dissolved organic nitrogen plays in controlling phytoplankton and eutrophication dynamics in the Neuse River Estuary, NC

Research supervisor: Hans Paerl (primary, Institute of Marine Sciences) Alex Hounshell (graduate student, secondary, Institute of Marine Sciences)

Project Description: The Paerl lab at the UNC-CH Institute of Marine Sciences, located in Morehead City, NC is seeking an undergraduate student to assist with a study looking at dissolved organic nitrogen in the local Neuse River Estuary and whether this form of nitrogen can be used by phytoplankton for growth. The summer work will be part of a larger two year study that will use experimental techniques to directly assess whether natural phytoplankton and microbial communities collected from the Neuse River Estuary can use different sources of organic nitrogen (i.e., poultry litter leachate, septic outflow, wetlands runoff) as a nutrient source for growth. Additionally, environmental surveys will be conducted twice-monthly in the Neuse River Estuary to assess the background concentration and composition of dissolved organic nitrogen in this system.

Summer work will be a mix of field, experimental, and lab work and will include assisting with environmental assessments, helping to conduct field experiments, bench chemistry analyses to measure dissolved organic nitrogen in experimental and field collected samples, as well as microscopy work to identify and count phytoplankton cells.

The UNC-CH Institute of Marine Sciences is located in Morehead City, NC and therefore, students will need to be willing to move to Morehead City for the duration of the program. The Institute does have rustic dorms that are available to students for about $10 per night. During the summer months, there are also ample opportunities for affordable housing in the area.

Science skills desired: Applicants should have an interest in chemistry and biology and have taken at least one science courses with a lab.

Technology skills desired: Familiarity with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Ability to analyze data and make graphs using Microsoft Excel.

Fieldwork skills desired: Students should be willing and able to assist with sample collection on boats (ability to swim; comfortable around the water) and comfortable working outside during the summer.


Project Number: 8 (Seim)

Project Title: Processes of Exchange at Cape Hatteras (PEACH) – an NSF-funded project studying the ocean circulation off North Carolina, focusing on the convergent flows on the shelf and their interaction with the Gulf Stream.

Research supervisor: Harvey Seim (primary, Marine Sciences)

Project Description: Student will assist with processing and analysis of time series data of ocean properties (mostly ocean currents, temperature and salinity) being collected as part of the project and to also help organize historical data from the same area.

Science skills desired: basic knowledge of oceanography helpful but not necessary

Technology skills desired: familiarity with Matlab essential

Fieldwork skills desired: none needed


Project Number: 9 (Miller)

Project Title:  The Fate of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids in the Environment

Research Supervisor: Casey. Miller (primary, Environmental Sciences and Engineering), Christopher Bowers (secondary, PhD student, ESE)

Position Description: This student will participate in a research study in Dr Miller’s Groundwater Research Lab in the department of Environmental Sciences & Engineering. The purpose of this research is to better understand the fate of fracturing fluids injected into the subsurface.  The process of hydraulic fracturing has led to a new energy revolution in America; however, very little is known about the ultimate fate of toxic fracturing fluids that are injected into the ground. Additionally, fracturing operations often take place in regions with limited water supplies. This research focuses on discovering the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing fluids on the environment, with opportunities for an intern to contribute to lab work. Possible experiments include testing sorption of chemicals onto shales, tracer column tests, generation of characteristic fracturing fluids, and determination of physical properties of those fluids.

Science skills desired: Introductory college level chemistry lab experience required

Technology skills desired: None

Fieldwork skills desired: None


Project Number: 10 (Miller)

Project Title:  Understanding Fluid Flow Using “Lab on a Chip” Technology

Research Supervisor: Casey. Miller (primary, Environmental Sciences and Engineering), Kelsey Bruning (secondary, PhD student, ESE)

Position Description: This student will participate in a research study in Dr Miller’s Groundwater Research Lab in the department of Environmental Sciences & Engineering. This research uses small-scale micromodels (“Lab on a Chip”) to study the dynamics of fluid flow through environmental systems using high resolution pore-scale experiments in addition to theoretical and computational efforts. One important parameter that influences fluid flow in many environmental media (e.g., soil and sediment) is wettability.  In the next set of experiments, variations in wettability that are well known to exist in the subsurface are to be explored. The undergraduate student will perform lab work to investigate the reliability and longevity of various techniques to control wettability that will ultimately be incorporated into experimental designs for micromodels.

Science skills desired: Introductory college level chemistry lab experience required

Technology skills desired: None

Fieldwork skills desired: None


Project Number: 11 (Marchetti)

Project Title:  Phytoplankton responses to physical changes in their environment.

Research Supervisor: Adrian Marchetti (primary, Department of Marine Sciences)

Position Description:  We are interested in understanding how different marine phytoplankton, microscopic plant-like organisms, respond to physical changes in their environment. The student will assist in ongoing lab-based experiments to investigate these responses in specific scenarios (i.e. coastal upwelling situations, changes in mixing intensities, etc). Work will include growing phytoplankton in the lab, collecting samples, preparing samples for analysis, and data analysis. Types of samples and analysis include enumerating cells and measuring their chlorophyll, carbon, nitrogen, and silica. We are also sequencing the RNA and analyzing what genes these organisms are using.

Science skills desired:  Some background knowledge of molecular biology and genetics (e.g. BIOL 202) and general chemistry (e.g. CHEM 101 & CHEM 202) and physics (e.g. PHYS 101) would be an asset. A strong desire to learn about microbiology, ecology, and oceanography. Basic familiarity with pipetting and microscopy. Experience with cell culture and molecular techniques such as PCR and nucleic acid extraction is not necessary but very welcome.

Technology skills desired: Basic knowledge of MS Excel and computer usage. An interest in bioinformatics and experience with Linux and programming (Python, shell script, R) is not required but also welcome.

Fieldwork skills desired: None.


Project Number: 12 (Castillo)

Project Title: Assessing differences in coral skeletal growth and physiological response across reef environments on the Belize Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System

Research Supervisor(s): Karl D. Castillo (primary, Marine Sciences Department), Justin H. Baumann (secondary, Ph.D. Student, Marine Science Department)

Position Description: Research efforts in Castillo lab are designed to improve our understanding of the response of Caribbean coral reefs to climate change. A critical aspect of this research aim is understanding the dynamics of coral skeletal growth and associated eco-physiological response. We seek an undergraduate researcher to work with data collected as part of an ongoing field-based research project. The student will work directly with Ph.D. student Justin Baumann to quantify coral growth and colony usage of energy reserves in response to environmental variation. The student will utilize biogeochemical techniques to quantify coral calcification rates, symbiont density, and protein, lipid, and carbohydrate levels in several species of corals. These corals are part of an ongoing reciprocal transplant experiment designed to investigate coral reef response across reef environments on the Belize Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.

Further information about the focus of our research is available on our lab website: http://www.unc.edu/~kdcastil/.

Science Skills Desired: We are seeking a student who can work both independently and as part of a team. The student should demonstrate a keen interest in learning new laboratory and statistical skills. A basic understanding of geology, ecology, and chemistry including carbonate formation and the biology of marine invertebrates would be advantageous. Previous experience with basic lab techniques including microscope use and pipetting are preferred.

Technology Skills Desired: General competence in Excel and data management is essential, as well as a willingness to learn and master new and more specialized software programs. Programming experience in R would be considered an asset.

Fieldwork Skills Desired: SCUBA certification would be a plus but is not required. There may be an opportunity for this student to accompany the research team during fieldwork in Belize in the summer 2018 (involvement is not contingent on ability to dive).


Project Number: 13 (Riveros-Iregui)

Project Title: Assessing nutrient loading along a rural to urban gradient and inform watershed management

Research Supervisor: Diego Riveros-Iregui (primary, Geography)

Position Description: Field and laboratory assistant to help with research on non-point source nutrient loading to local drinking water reservoir in the Chapel Hill-Durham-Raleigh area. Core tasks will include weekly field sampling, storm sampling, routine maintenance of field-deployed sensors, processing of water samples, data management and upkeep of laboratory space and materials.

Science skills desired: Candidates with expertise in laboratory and field experiments, good quantitative abilities, attention to detail, academic backgrounds in geosciences, engineering, environmental sciences, biological sciences, or related field

Technology and field skills desired: Field or lab experience in any of the following areas not required but will be valuable: surface hydrology, biogeochemistry, soil physics, data analysis, datalogger and computer programming (MATLAB, R, C++), and/or familiarity with geographic information systems (GIS). Interest and willingness in learning new technologies. Tolerant of outdoor summer conditions in North Carolina. Ability to transverse difficult terrain and maintain attention to detail during challenging field conditions. Water sampling and field deployment skills are a plus.


Project Number: 14 (Riveros-Iregui)

Project Title: Monitoring air quality along North Carolina’s Coastal Plain

Research Supervisor: Dr. Diego Riveros-Iregui (Geography)

Position Description: Field and laboratory assistant to help with a new project monitoring air quality along North Carolina’s Coastal Plain. Core tasks will include sensor deployment and weekly monitoring of air CO2 and CH4 concentrations, sample collection, routine maintenance of sensors, processing of air samples, data management and upkeep of laboratory space and materials.

Science skills desired: Candidates with expertise and interest in field experiments, good quantitative abilities, attention to detail, academic backgrounds in environmental sciences, geosciences, engineering, biological sciences, or related field

Technology and field skills desired: Field or lab experience in any of the following areas not required but will be valuable: surface hydrology, biogeochemistry, soil physics, data analysis, datalogger and computer programming (MATLAB, R, C++), and/or familiarity with geographic information systems (GIS). Interest and willingness in learning new technologies. Tolerant of outdoor summer conditions in tropical regions. Ability to transverse difficult terrains during all field conditions, including heat and rain. Water sampling and field deployment skills will be valuable.


Project Number: 15 (Surge and Moss)

Project Title: Examining lifespans and growth rates of the bivalve Astarte spp. off the Atlantic Coast of the U.S.

Research Supervisors: Drs. Donna Surge and David Moss (Geological Sciences)

Position Description: The student will be trained in techniques to examine lifespans and growth rates in shells of marine clam species along a latitudinal gradient from New York to North Carolina. To view growth patterns preserved in the shells, the student will embed, cross-section, and polish samples to be photographed with a microscope with digital camera attachment. In addition, the student will be trained to use a micromilling system to collect carbonate powder for oxygen isotope analyses. This project is part of a larger, ongoing project to understand the biological consequences of environmental change in modern and fossil Astarte clam shells.

Science skills desired: Experience with lab safety, careful collection of data, attention to detail, desire to learn about isotope geochemistry and paleontology.

Technology skills desired: Basic computer skills, experience with R is a plus but not necessary. Willing to train.

Fieldwork skills desired: N/A