The UQ Winter Research Program provides the chance to road-test research alongside UQ academics and researchers.

The program enables you to extend your knowledge of an area of interest, and to develop your analytical, critical thinking and communication skills.

Applications are open to undergraduate (including honours) and master's by coursework students who are enrolled at UQ at the time of submission.

All winter scholars receive a Winter Research Scholarship valued at $1500.

Find your project

Applications for 2019 projects are now open.

See the list of our available projects below.

Structural studies of proteins involved in infection and immunity

Description: The aim of this project is to use structural biology to understand the molecular basis of processes involved in infection and immunity. The work has implications for treating a range of infectious and inflammatory diseases and cancer, or for minimizing plant disease. We are focusing in particular on the proteins involved in cytoplasmic signalling by Toll-like receptors, bacterial pathogenesis, and effector-triggered immunity by plants. The main techniques will involve protein expression, purification, crystallization and structure determination, molecular interaction analyses and characterization of functional effects of site-directed mutants.

Expected outcomes: You will gain skills in various lab techniques mentioned above and  have an opportunity to contribute to publications from their research.  Students may also be asked to produce a report or oral presentation at the end of their project.

Primary supervisor: Professor Bostjan Kobe

Eligibility: Two positions are available for students with background in biochemistry, biophysics and other relevant areas is an advantage. We are looking for motivated students with interest in research in the areas the lab works in.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

The development and validation of the Automated Topology Builder (ATB)

Description: The ATB is a web based molecular topology builder and repository used by 1000's of researchers worldwide involved in materials research and computational drug design. The site currently contains parameters for over 265,000 compounds (see: You will be part of a team focused on further improving the reliability of the parameters generated.

Expected outcomes: You will assist by either a) testing the predictive power of the parameters for a range of compounds by calculating properties such as their free energy of solvation in different environments or b) by helping to further develop the algorithms and code underlying the ATB web site.

Primary supervisor: Professor Alan Mark

Eligibility: Two positions are available for students with a background in physical chemistry, medicinal chemistry, programming or (bio)informatics. Knowledge of python is an advantage.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor. 

Modelling membrane-peptide interactions

Description: The interactions of peptides with membranes is a key step in many cellular processes. Changes in the assembly of transmembrane helices is a key step in signalling by cytokine receptors (e.g. growth hormone receptor). Anti-microbial peptides, which bind to and destroy membranes, are a first line of defence against bacterial infection. The project will involve using molecular dynamics simulation techniques to model the interaction of different peptides and proteins with model membranes. It will shed light on how particular peptides assemble into functional complexes within cell membranes.

Expected outcomes: You will learn how molecular dynamics simulation techniques to model cellular systems at an atomic level. You will also examine how different membrane environments modulate the interactions between peptides.

Primary supervisor: Professor Alan Mark

Eligibility: Students should have an interest in applying computational approaches to understanding how cell work at an atomic level. Students should have a background in chemistry, biochemistry or biophysics. Experience with Linux based systems is an advantage but not essential.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

Understanding the morphology of organic semiconductors at an atomic level

Description: Multicomponent organic thin films are at the heart of modern display technologies, organic photovoltaics, and advances in flexible electronics. The mechanical and opto-electronic properties of these films critically depend on their structure and morphology at an atomic level. The aim of this project is to use computer simulation techniques to determine how different deposition procedures (vapour or solution processing) affect the packing and spatial arrangement of emitter and host molecules used in the production of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and other nanoscale devices.

Expected outcomes: You will assist by running simulations of different mixtures of components and analysing aspects such the spatial arrangement of the components.

Primary supervisor: Professor Alan Mark

Eligibility: The project is suitable for students with a background in physics, physical chemistry, computational sciences.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

The lasting legacy of obesity on anti-viral immunity

Description: A key research focus of our laboratory is the role of chronic medical conditions in severe influenza virus infections. Of particular interest in this regard is the relationship between obesity and severe influenza. Specifically, obesity significantly increases the risk of ICU admission and death following an influenza virus infection. Consistent with these clinical observations, we and others have shown that mice with diet-induced obesity develop much more severe influenza than their lean-fed counterparts. Historically, it has been assumed that this susceptibility can be reversed by weight loss. However, we have found the first evidence that obesity has a ‘legacy effect’ such that mice with a history of diet-induced obesity (but that are not obese at the time of infection) are more susceptible to a primary influenza virus infection than mice that have never been obese. This project will explore the immunological mechanisms that underlie this lasting susceptibility to severe influenza. It is only when we understand the mechanisms driving this long-term susceptibility that we will be able design novel clinical approaches to improve the health of the billions of people who are, or previously have been, obese.

Expected outcomes:  You will acquire skills in the following areas:

  • Flow cytometry
  • Data collection and recording
  • Data analysis
  • Gene expression
  • Molecular biology and bioinformatics analysis

Primary supervisor: Dr Kirsty Short

Eligibility: This project is open to  BAdvSc students from Year 2 onwards.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

The nature of the inflammasome complex

Description: Inflammasomes are large protein complexes that form in response to detection of infection or stress signals. They lead to caspase-1 activation which results in release of proteins promoting inflammation, as well as rapid lytic cell death. There has been a huge interest in this pathway, as it is relevant not only to combatting infections, but also to a whole host of medical conditions with an inflammatory component, such as Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis and diabetes. Central in inflammasome responses is an adapter protein termed ASC that forms long filaments and recruits caspase-1. This protein has sparked a lot of interest as it is normally distributed throughout the cell, but after initiation of the inflammasome cluster, all the ASC protein in the cell polymerises and condenses into a 1 µm "speck" in the cell. This project addresses the question of whether this massive polymerisation event is really necessary for the activation of caspase-1, or whether it is incidental. We will be using cellular fractionation, enzyme assays and live cell imaging to address this question.

Expected outcomes: You will gain skills in biochemistry, cell biology, data processing and presentation, and knowledge on the innate immune system. The project is likely to involve cell culture, sucrose density gradients for cell fractionation, and live cell imaging by fluorescence microsocopy. Examples of other techniques used in the lab, to which you may be exposed include flow cytometry, western blotting, electroporation.

Primary supervisor: Dr Kate Stacey

Eligibility: This project would suit UQ-enrolled students with a background in molecular biosciences and cell biology (minimum requirement of BIOC2000) and an interest in immunology or microbiology.

Duration: 4 weeks, with flexibility to be longer.

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

Novel anti-inflammatory compounds targeting the innate immune system

Description: Inflammasomes are part of the innate immune system responsible for processing and subsequent release of the potent pyrogenic cytokines, interleukin 1β and interleukin 18. Inhibiting inflammasomes (such as NLRP3, AIM2, NLRC4) using small molecules is an exciting strategy for future treatment of inflammatory diseases including asthma, type 2 diabetes and also disorders of the brain such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. In the Robertson group, there is more than one compound series and innate immune target under investigation in this area.

Expected outcomes: You will learn and develop synthetic, purification and analytical skills contributing to our series for future patent and/or publication.

Primary supervisor: Professor Avril Robertson

Eligibility: This project is open to applications from UQ enrolled students only with a background and interest in drug discovery/organic chemistry. Must have completed CHEM2054 as a minimum. Previous research experience, e.g., SCIE3260, an advantage.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

Bioinformatic analysis of uropathogenic E. coli fimbrial adhesins

Description: Uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC) cause ~80% of all urinary tract infections (UTIs), a disease that affects >150 million individuals globally per year. This problem is magnified by escalating rates of antibiotic resistance. In order to colonise the urinary tract and cause disease, UPEC must adhere to the urinary epithelium and avoid the flushing affects of urine. UPEC adherence is primarily mediated by fimbriae, long polymeric adhesive structures that bind specifically to receptors on epithelial cells. UPEC produce a diverse array of fimbrial adhesins, with individual strains containing genes encoding anywhere between 10-17 different types of fimbriae. This project will use a bioinformatic approach to assess the prevalence of fimbrial gene clusters in the major lineages of E. coli by analysing genome sequences available on Enterobase (a publicly available database comprising >80,000 E. coli genomes). 

Expected outcomes: You will gain knowledge in UPEC biology and fimbrial adhesins, and skills in bioinformatics, analysis of large datsets and methods for visualisation of bioinformatic data. This knowledge will provide a platform for future molecular biology investigation in this area. Students will be asked to give an oral presentation to the research group at the end of their project.

Primary supervisor: Professor Mark Schembri

Eligibility: This project is open to applications from 3rd year students with an interest in microbiology.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

New components for the synthesis of metal-organic frameworks

Description: Metal-Organic Frameworks are a class of polymeric material formed from organic and metallic components. This project explores new ways to form these materials following an innovative hierarchical self-assembly methodology.

Expected outcomes: You will design and prepare a new organic compound, then investigate its interactions with a variety of metal ions. This project requires some synthetic laboratory work.

Primary supervisor: Associate Professor Jack Clegg

Eligibility: Students who have completed CHEM2054 as a minimum.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

Characterisation of peptides encoded by short open reading frames

Description: Short peptides (sPEPs)that are encoded by short Open Reading Frames (sORFs) are surprisingly common in eukaryote genomes. Recently, a mutation in a sPEP has been associated with a genetic disorder. Recent bioinformatic and ribosomal footprinting studies have identified several thousand sORFs with coding potential and several sPEPs have been identified by mass spectrometry.  However, their role in cellular functions remains to be determined.

Expected outcomes: You will identify and characterize sPEPs using bioinformatic tools, proteomics (mass spec) and cell biology. You will help to determine the contribution of sPEPs to the human proteome, and  provide insights into their roles.  This project will involve analysing raw proteomic (mass spec) data.

Primary supervisor: Associate Professor Joe Rothnagel

Eligibility: Knowledge of molecular and cell biology methods.  Bioinformatics and computational skills would be an advantage.

Duration: 4 weeks

Before you apply: Contact the primary supervisor.

Application details

Find out more about the UQ Winter Research Program, including eligibility guidelines and application details.