Curiosity is the beginning. “The ability of organic systems, especially the human body, to efficiently control so many reactions with vast dependencies has always intrigued me,” says Ebenezer Nkwate ’17. He spent his senior year working to understand such systems—and to learn how to influence them in their disease state, in order to restore optimal function—through the intensive research program SuperUROP. His aim: to build synthetic genetic circuits that could stimulate the proliferation of cardiac muscle cells, to help in heart disease treatment. Advised by professor of electric engineering and biological engineering Timothy Lu ’03, MEng ’03, PhD ’08, Nkwate’s project combined elements of human physiology, analog circuit design, and algorithmic thinking.
Since 1969, MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) has offered undergraduates a chance to partner with faculty on cutting-edge research. For undergraduates who want a deeper research experience, SuperUROP was launched in 2012 by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). The program has since expanded to include students from across the School of Engineering. SuperUROP enables juniors and seniors to tackle complex problems and affords them the time, training, resources, and guidance necessary for deep scientific and engineering inquiry. In addition to their participation in a yearlong research experience, SuperUROP students enroll in a course titled Preparation for Undergraduate Research and are given access to facilities otherwise open only to graduate students.
SuperUROP can provide students with a valuable jump-start for graduate school, a position in industry, or founding a company. In Nkwate’s case, his drive to address challenges in human health continues after graduation: “I’m working on a liquid medication dispenser to prevent overdose in children while applying to med schools,” he says.