Now in its third year, a faculty-run research course program continues to provide hands-on research opportunities for Yale first years and sophomores.

The program, called Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience or CURE, was established two years ago by ecology and evolutionary biology professor Paul Turner. He envisioned the courses as an opportunity for undergraduates to take classes that offer hands-on research opportunities with no prerequisites. The courses available this year span the departments of Biomedical Engineering; Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Anthropology and Computer Science.

“[CURE] students feel they are getting to do real science and make real contributions to research,” said Melanie Bauer, assistant director of Yale’s STEM Program Evaluation and Research Lab. “They appreciate the hands-on, accessible way the courses are taught.”

Since 2014, a $1.2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has funded this effort, along with several other grants designed to promote STEM education for Yale undergraduates. This year, six CURE courses are being offered. Three of these are courses that were also offered last year: “Discovery and Design in Biomedical Research,” “Virus Discovery and Evolution” and “Hormones and Behavior.”

According to Bauer, students have appreciated the one-on-one attention they get from the instructors, as well as a “foot in the door” into faculty members’ labs at Yale early in their academic careers.

For example, she said, three students who completed the “Virus Discovery and Evolution” class have joined the research lab of course instructor Alita Burmeister, a postdoctoral associate in Turner’s lab.

This fall, “Discovery and Design in Biomedical Research” and “Exploring the Microbial World” are the two CURE offerings. “Discovery and Design in Biomedical Research” explores the use of tissue engineering to surgically treat a congenital heart defect, while “Exploring the Microbial World” enables students to develop microbial laboratory skills in a real-world research project investigating a bacterial species.

“The idea behind these courses is that it should be real research,” said Iain Dawson, MCDB lecturer and instructor of “Exploring the Microbial World.” “You’re going to be working on a project across the entire semester — unlike in other labs where you’re just demonstrating a technique to go along with the course.”

He added that the students will learn to take ownership of their research projects, since their results and hypotheses will dictate the path of the course.

Students typically learn in a discipline-based curriculum, said Jay Humphrey, chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department and instructor of “Discovery and Design in Biomedical Research.” Most science classes may focus solely on biology, chemistry or physics.

CURE courses, however, present students with a single medical dilemma in which ideas and tools from different disciplines are brought together to solve the problem.

“I think the students [who took the course last year] appreciated seeing this earlier,” Humphrey said. “Usually, it’s in senior projects or maybe not until graduate school that you really appreciate how you can — in the biomedical sciences — bring biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and engineering all together to solve a single problem.”

Cindy Yang ’19, a student in “Discovery and Design in Biomedical Research,” said she appreciates the mix of majors in the course and its team-based dynamic.

In the spring, four courses are designated under CURE: “Virus Discovery and Evolution,” “Hormones and Behavior,” “Introduction to Experimental Archaeology” and “Self-Driving Cars: Theory and Practice.”

In “Virus Discovery and Evolution,” students will work to discover new viruses this semester and conduct research on evolution using those viruses, Burmeister said.

“Hormones and Behavior” investigates the interaction between hormones and behavior from an evolutionary and developmental perspective, and “Introduction to Experimental Archaeology” recreates technologies of ancient societies to understand the past of humans.

And in “Self-Driving Cars: Theory and Practice,” students learn about and build self-driving cars using advanced computing technologies — ultimately entering their cars in a racing competition.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant runs through August 2019, after which course instructors will collaborate with their departments to make plans to sustain the program. One possible route is through funding from the First-Year Seminar program at Yale, Bauer said.

In addition to funding CURE, Yale’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute Campus Grant helps finance First-Year Scholars at Yale, the Foundations Biology sequence, summer research programing and introductory math support.

Amy Xiong |

Correction, Sep. 11: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated Melanie Bauer’s job title. She is the assistant director of Yale’s STEM Program Evaluation and Research Lab, rather than the program manager for the Center for Teaching and Learning.