DENTON (UNT), Texas — As soon as he received his acceptance letter to the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas, David Hao began searching for a UNT faculty member who would allow him to work in his or her research laboratory for the summer, before he even began classes as a TAMS student. TAMS is a two-year residential program at UNT that allows talented students to complete their freshman and sophomore years of college by taking UNT classes, and earn their high school diplomas at the same time.
Hao, from Plano, became interested in Jannon Fuchs’ neuroscience research on the function of primary cilia in brain cells. He contacted Fuchs and began working in the Fundamental Neuroscience Laboratories, which is co-directed by Fuchs, during the summer of 2011.
After almost two years of research, Hao will present his research on astrocytes, an important type of brain cell that usually has primary cilia, April 26 (Friday) at the 2013 Texas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol. The event showcases the research projects of undergraduate students at Texas colleges and universities to legislators, with up to 60 students giving poster presentations. While most of the colleges and universities are requested to send one student, those that have been classified as emerging research universities, including UNT, will send two students.
The other student who will represent UNT is Daniel Munro, a senior biology major and UNT Honors College student from Lake Quivira, Kan. Munro uses computational methods to study microbiomes — communities of bacteria and other single-cell life forms — and understand human microbiomes in relation to HIV infection, gum disease, diabetes and other medical conditions. He has worked on the research since the 2011 spring semester with Qunfeng Dong, UNT assistant professor of biology, in the Bioinformatics Research Laboratory that Dong directs.
Munro was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship last month. He will receive $30,000 each year for three years to continue his research this fall at Princeton University, where he will earn a doctoral degree in quantitative and computational biology.
“My experience in Dr. Dong’s laboratory and the opportunities that have resulted have been indispensable to my graduate school preparation,” Munro said. “He quickly assigned me to several existing projects, and over time I learned new computational techniques and contributed in more ways than I had anticipated.”
He said he is honored to be presenting his research as one of UNT’s representatives.
“I think it is fitting that I will be presenting bioinformatics research, since it is a relatively new and growing area of science. Microbiome studies have only been feasible due to advances in DNA sequencing technology over the last decade. To me, our research represents the exciting future for the UNT research community, as well as the impact research can have on our society,” he said.
Hao plans to attend Columbia University or the California Institute of Technology this fall, after he graduates from TAMS next month. He said his research combines his passion for math, chemistry and physics.
“Astrocytes are the first brain cells to regrow after severe injury, so they’re vitally important,” said Hao, who has worked on the research with another TAMS student from Plano, William Huang. The two were the first to discover that the majority of astrocytes have primary cilia. Their research resulted in their being named semifinalists in both the 2011 and 2012 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, one of the most prestigious high school-level competitions in the nation.
During Texas Undergraduate Research Day, Munro and Hao will answer legislators’ questions about their research posters and will have opportunities to tour the capitol and attend committee hearings and the daily meeting of the Texas Senate and House of Representatives.