NSF Undergraduate Research Program

Experience a transformative ten-week summer undergraduate research program in synthetic biology funded by the NSF, combining laboratory skills training and hands-on research in Northwestern University’s cutting-edge laboratories.


Synthetic Biology Research Experience for Undergraduates

SynBREU is an NSF-funded program that supports ten students for a ten-week summer program of mentored, research-intensive activities in the rapidly growing field of synthetic biology. In this program, students carry out independent laboratory and/or computational synthetic biology projects such as the development of new biosensors for contaminants in water, self-healing materials, new gene therapy delivery mechanisms, and more. This research is done under the guidance of one or more of the program’s faculty mentors from departments including Molecular Biosciences, Chemical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Pharmacology, Chemistry, Engineering Science and Applied Mathematics, and Civil and Environmental Engineering.

During the program, students will participate in a carefully designed curriculum to expose them to a variety of laboratory techniques as well as the skills necessary for success in their future STEM careers, including ethics, responsible conduct of research, communication, and networking.

Specific curricular activities include:

  • Laboratory skills training and introduction to synthetic biology techniques
  • Workshops, seminars, and activities to strengthen related skillsets including communication, design, ethics, teamwork, and entrepreneurship
  • Tea time with faculty
  • Field trips to local synthetic biology companies.

At the end of the program, students will present their projects and results at a research symposium. A stipend will be provided, along with housing, funds to cover some meals, and a travel allowance. Applications will be accepted at the REU website each year, and reviewed by participating faculty and an admissions committee.

Program Duration

This year the program will take place from June 17th – August 23rd, 2024.

  • Participants must be available for 9 of the 10 weeks of the program starting June 17th.

Application Deadlines

The deadline for the receipt of applications: January 19th, 2024

Decisions expected: Thank you for your interest! We have formed our cohort for summer 2024. We encourage you to check the NSF ETAP site for information on other REUs that are still recruiting.


This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Participants will receive partial or full room and board, paid travel expenses for those not in the Chicagoland area, meal plan, and a $6,500 stipend.


In order to participate in the program, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident and/or U.S. national
  • Be an undergraduate. If you have not graduated by the program end date, you are eligible
    All majors are eligible given your your academic and career interests in related subject matter. We prioritize diversity of majors and interests
  • Be available for at least 9 weeks during the summer of 2024

No prior research experience is required.

  • We look for students with and without experience

Students from universities without a PhD program in a synthetic biology-related area (such as biology, bioengineering, or chemistry) are especially encouraged to apply.

How to Apply

Complete and submit the required online application. In the application, you will be asked to upload the following documents as PDFs:

  • CV/Resume
  • Transcripts (unofficial transcripts are accepted)
  • One reference
  • Questionnaire and Supplemental Essays


Have Questions?

Q: When will applications open?

A: The application site becomes available November 6th, 2023.

Q: My major is ____, will I be considered for this if I apply?

A: Yes! We ask about your field of study only to ensure that each cohort includes a diverse set of backgrounds, and no application will be declined simply because of major.

Q: I don’t have previous research experience. Should I wait to apply until my resume is stronger?

A: No! Apply every year that you are eligible, if it is in line with your interests. We consider candidates with and without research experience, and at least half of our cohort will not have research opportunities at their home institution. This does not count against you, and conversely, those with experience are not favored or biased against either. We are looking for diverse backgrounds and training for each summer cohort.

Q: If I am only able to participate for 8 weeks, could I still attend?

A: Unfortunately, no. You must be available to work on projects full-time for at least 9 weeks of Summer 2024, starting June 17th.

Q: Will this be a remote, hybrid, or on-campus opportunity?

A: This is an on-campus opportunity but recognize that with the changing circumstances this may become either hybrid (on-campus for some and remote for others) or fully remote. We will update the website with the latest information as we have it. If you have extenuating circumstances that would permit only your remote participation, please still apply but note this in your application.

Q: Who should write my letter of recommendation?

A: We encourage you to seek a letter from someone who can speak to your academic and/or professional work ethic and engagement. This can be a professor or supervisor. Please do not solicit recommendations from friends and relatives.

Q: What are some projects previous students have worked on?

A: Some titles of previous SynBREU student projects include, “Investigating PduM’s role in Pdu Microcompartment Assembly“, Utilizing Synthetic Biology for Infectious Disease Applications”, and Time-lapse fluorescence microscopy screening for genetic determinants of secondary gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) uptake in Bacillus subtilis biofilms”.

Contact Us

Please contact us with any question about the program at synbreu@northwestern.edu.


SynBREU Leadership Team


Danielle Tullman-Ercek

SynBREU Director


Gabe Rocklin

SynBREU Co-Director

Wildcard photo

Christine Akdeniz

SynBREU Coordinator