RIT Undergraduate Research Symposium opens Thursday with virtual presentations

Keynote address by Professor Michael Johnson about therapeutic copper for biological systems launches annual showcase of student research projects

The 2021 Undergraduate Research Symposium will feature keynote speaker, Michael Johnson, assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Immunology.

RIT will showcase a variety of research projects undertaken by students and faculty-mentors over the 2020-21 academic year during the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

The symposium will be virtual, and project videos will be available for viewing online from July 29 through Aug. 4. Students will be monitoring sessions to interact with symposium participants. Students from RIT’s international colleges in Dubai and Croatia will be participating through the virtual environment.

Ryne Raffaelle, RIT’s vice president for research and associate provost, will open the symposium on Thursday morning and introduce this year’s keynote speaker, Michael Johnson, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Immunology, who will discuss “Lessons in being wrong and achieving comfort in chaos.” 

Johnson is an expert in ways the body fights and eliminates pathogens, specifically the ways metals serve as nutrients to biological systems. His laboratory work focuses on discovering the ways copper is toxic to bacteria and how this essential metal might be used for preventive therapies. As a longtime advocate for science outreach to young people, he is involved in national events such as DNA Day, and hosts a podcast for kids called Science Sound Bites and his Twitter page, @blacksciblog, has more than 12,000 followers.

Traditionally, research at the level RIT’s undergraduates are producing was the mainstay of graduate students. At RIT, it is not unusual for undergraduates to work alongside these more experienced peers as well as faculty-mentors.

“We have an extremely high density of undergraduates who are engaged in independent, scholarly research. Hands-on education through research continues to be a hallmark of an RIT undergraduate education,” said Raffaelle.

RIT’s undergraduate research initiatives are extensive and include not only this annual symposium but the Research Experience for Undergraduates, a summer intensive program where students from RIT and universities around the country participate in an onsite experience to contribute to research in fields such as STEM education, astrophysics, disaster resilience, imaging and sensing.

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