Education and Outreach

One of the basic goals of the CTBP is the training of a new generation of young physicists who can lead the field over the next decade. This training must be cognizant of the fact that scientists working on living systems must be comfortable with biology and biologists even while bringing new physical science based techniques to bear on the most critical problems. The basic features of our program include:

  • Encouraging students and postdocs to talk to and work directly with experimentalists to better be able to understand how theory can contribute to the field.
  • Creating weekly seminars, multiple weekly group meetings, and running conferences and workshop. All of these serve to expose our trainees to the breadth of the field and to different approaches, both experimental and theoretical.
  • Participation in the physics of the living systems student research network; Rice is the lead node of this network. This network uses real and virtual meetings of students from a range of participating institutions to help create a world wide community of young researchers who can provide needed mutual guidance as to how to make progress in this highly interdisciplinary field.
  • Finally we regularly host visitors with varying residency periods as yet another path to expose trainees to new ideas in the field.

The second part of our education/outreach program is devoted to outreach. This effort consists of two distinct parts. On the one hand we employ multiple strategies to spread the concepts of physics of living systems as a frontier topic to the broad scientific community. We regularly run specialized meetings for the NSF to help focus the physics community on newly emerging opportunities. And through our individual PI efforts we bring the excitement of the living systems frontier to such organizations as the APS DBIO division, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Chemical Society, the Biomedical Engineering Society and most recently, the American Association for Cancer Research.Our final effort concerns using the draw of working at a physics frontier to bring in undergraduate students from underrepresented groups.

Frontiers In Science (FIS), directed by Greg Morrison, is intended to introduce students from all disciplines and academic levels to the beauty and fun of scholarly pursuits in the natural and physical science disciplines, and to engage faculty in interdisciplinary and multi-institutional research activities. This program is available to the undergraduates at the University of Houston (UH), including the main and satellite campuses; Texas Southern University (TSU); Prairie View A&M (PVAM); Sam Houston State University (SHSU); and community colleges in the Houston and Boston areas. The selected students will participate in cutting-edge science research in the field of biological physics during a 10-week program at the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics at Rice University or Northeastern University. For more information or to apply, please visit University of Houston's Frontiers in Science Summer Research Internship announcement, and read about the current program here.

The FIS program works with local minority serving institutions to identify promising science majors who then spend summers at the CTBP to learn about life as a scientific researcher. This program has been successful in convincing some of these students to go on to graduate school in the sciences, bringing into our community a more diverse population. Some of the students who have participated include: Katlin Knapp (PhD Rice Univ.), Khoa Ngo (PhD Univ. of California at Davis), Dat Nguyen (Texas A&M), Jonathan Picket (PhD Baylor College of Medicine), Brian St. Hillaire (PhD Baylor College of Medicine), Luis H. Victor (PhD Rice Univ.), Brett Velasquez (Univ. of Houston).

Opportunities for Research in Biophysics, Informatics, and Theoretical Science (ORBITS) has been created as an undergraduate research program that covers Frontiers in Science and research opportunities for Rice and other participating students.

The ORBITS Internship Program at Aiden Lab, Baylor College of Medicine is looking for great scientists to join the team, especially molecular biologists, computer scientists, and biophysicists. You will have the opportunity to work on a broad array of projects with an interdisciplinary approach. Applied and theoretical aspects of computer science, mathematics, physics, biology, engineering, and economics are used to make landmark discoveries in our lab.

2022 CTBP ORBITS summer research program best poster winners
The ORBITS program encompasses multiple undergraduate research programs at CTBP, including the Frontiers in Science Program at Rice, UH, or Northeastern, mentorship from TSU under the PERM program, efforts in the Aiden lab at BCM, and other individual efforts by CTBP faculty. The ORBITS program culminated in a poster session that included 17 posters, developed by undergraduate mentees over a 10 week period under the direction of their mentor. There was a best poster competition, and the best posters from the three main ORBITS sites (Rice, Northeastern, and BCM) are below.

Samirina Acharya - Best Poster Rice University (Houston TX), Overall Best Poster, Mentor, Ananya Mondal - Buckling of Active Semi-flexible Polymer Chains
This project was focused on assessing the mechanical properties of actin filaments in the presence of active myosin motors. We used an existing coarse-grained model of asingle buckled semi flexible polymer and tested the effect of activity on the polymer using molecular dynamics simulations. Our findings suggest that activity reduces the buckling transition, increases the flexibility of the polymer chain, and creates complex local statistics.
Britney Cid - Best Poster Northeastern (Boston, MA), Mentor, Alex Moffett - Adding Correlations to Gene Regulatory Network Models
RACIPE is a method for generating ensemble models of gene regulatory networks with randomly sampled parameters. Our goal was to extend RACIPE to allow for correlations in random parameters, which we achieved using copulas. Applying our method to a synthetic gene regulatory network, we found that we could shift the ensemble of models towards different levels of multi-stability by introducing correlations between parameters in a principled manner.
Ayesha Saved - Best Poster Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX), Mentor, Ruqayya Khan - Jumping Through Hoops for Mammalian Loops
Hi-C is an experimental technique for studying the structure of the chromosome in cells. A new method of Hi-C, known as intact Hi-C, allows for more precise DNA loop mapping. To aid the DNA Zoo Project in studying the evolution of functional elements in mammals, I completed intact Hi-C experiments on one representative species from five different mammalian orders.