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VIIBRE - The Teaching of Innovation

Undergraduate Research

At VIIBRE we are deeply engaged in innovative education by combining undergraduate students’ natural thirst for practical knowledge with opportunities to participate in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research as part of the Systems Biology and Bioengineering Undergraduate Research Experience (SyBBURE) , a year-round, multiyear program funded by Vanderbilt alumnus Gideon Searle. Through SyBBURE, a select group of Vanderbilt undergraduates has the distinctive opportunity to explore science at one of its most promising and exciting frontiers – the intersection of systems biology and bioengineering – where the traditional lines of disciplines and fields blur and the work of transinstitutional, interdisciplinary collaboration and discovery takes place. The Searle gift was made with the aim of providing undergraduate students with mentored experiences in advanced scientific investigation with some of the University’s leading research and teaching faculty, an objective that dovetails with the teaching mission of VIIBRE: to enhance the role of the biophysical and biochemical sciences and bioengineering in educational programs in biology and medicine at all levels.


SyB BURE students become adept at  a wide assortment of skills important for systems biology, including methods of making BioMEMS devices; computational modeling of flow, diffusion, and heat transfer with MATLAB and COMSOL; the basics of cell culture; microscopy and image processing; and most important, effective communication of their results to the broader scientific community. Much of the technical training has been incorporated at the request of the students, who realize as they approach their research projects that certain quantitative tools are needed, so while some aspects of the training are dictated by the mentors, the students have an active say in what things are important to learn and know. The students are also active participants in scientific meetings, including BMES, EMBS, microTAS, and q-bio, and have helped to organize and run workshops at many meetings. To date, twelve papers published in peer-reviewed journals and four patents and patent applications include SyBBURE students as co-authors and co-inventors.  

In its broadest sense, SyBBURE gives students a larger view of the needs and consequences of interdisciplinary science and the thrill of innovation. The program involves the students in the immediacy and relevance of systems biology and bioengineering – highly quantitative, analytical fields that together are enabled by tools, techniques, and theories from across the biological, medical, mathematical, engineering, and physical science disciplines – and it gives them the experience of working in teams and mentoring each other, of formulating problem-driven questions, and of developing new technology.