SURF gives students invaluable lab experience

By Lin Lofley

Hiba Ibad (right), a Southern Methodist University junior, stands with Dr. Dwight German at the SURF poster session, the closing event of the 2012 SURF program. Ms. Ibad worked in the laboratory of Dr. German for 10 weeks in the summer.

Working in an advanced medical imaging laboratory at UT Southwestern Medical Center this summer gave Southern Methodist University senior Jacob Fleming experience impossible to replicate in the classroom.

“My research this summer was unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” said Mr. Fleming, a biology major who worked with Dr. Ananth Madhuranthakam, Assistant Professor of Radiology in the Advanced Imaging Research Center (AIRC). “Working in the AIRC gave me the opportunity to learn the process of developing new technology in medical imaging.”

Mr. Fleming was among more than 85 college undergraduates from 57 institutions who took part in the 2012 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and Quantitative and Physical Science-Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (QP-SURF) programs. The 10-week programs provide an intensive hands-on research experience for students pursuing biomedical research careers.

In addition to the traditional program-ending poster sessions, the students heard lectures from a number of UT Southwestern’s most acclaimed scientists.

Hiba Ibad, an SMU junior majoring in biochemistry and human rights, worked in the lab of Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry.

“The hardest part was taking all the information I’ve learned in organic chemistry, and seeing how it applies to something completely different,” Ms. Ibad said. “I wanted a neuroscience lab this summer, and I got it.”

Dr. German said the SURF programs teach students several lessons.

“It gives them the opportunity to take a research path and see where it leads. Students often think that every hypothesis we scientists test gives the predicted results, but that’s often not the case. Most of the students know that now, and it’s an important lesson to learn. This observation makes one appreciate the work that goes into making an important discovery.”

David Giles, a senior at the University of Houston majoring in chemistry, said he was impressed by a lecture of Dr. Bruce Beutler, Director of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense, and winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

“He definitely reinforced the need for hard work,” Mr. Giles said. “Mostly, he helped me to realize that no one wins the Nobel Prize overnight.”

Mr. Giles spent the summer working in the lab of Dr. D. Gomika Udugamasooriya, Assistant Professor in the Advanced Imaging Research Center and Biochemistry.

“These are extremely bright young undergraduates,” said Dr. Nancy Street, Associate Dean of the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and SURF Director since 1999. “This group was selected from more than 1,200 applicants, so they competed hard to get into the programs, and their performance in the research labs this summer was outstanding and earned high praise from their primary investigators.”


Dr. Beutler holds the Raymond and Ellen Willie Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research in Honor of Laverne and Raymond Willie, Sr., and is a Regental Professor.