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Khanh Ha in a laboratory.

Ha Selected for Advanced Undergraduate Research Activity Program

The Advanced Undergraduate Research Activity (AURA) program was created to help promote research and related activities for undergraduate students at UT.

CBE senior Khanh Ha was recently selected for the award for the summer of 2022, which will allow him to further study and investigate his chosen field, modular cell engineering.

“This award represents my transition towards becoming more of a contributor to the Trinh Lab instead of just purely a student,” said Ha. “For me, it is representative of my growth in the lab, for which I credit Dr. Trinh and others in the lab for their investment in my growth as a student researcher in chemical engineering. I hope to make use of that investment by making real, substantial progress in his group’s research goals.”

The lab, led by Ferguson Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor Cong Trinh, which has three focuses related to gaining a better understanding of cells and cellular systems:

  • The development of modular cells that can be easily edited and rearranged in the production of biocatalysts;
  • Using technology to take on the challenge of ever-evolving pathogens at a molecular level;
  • Gaining a fundamental understanding of how cells behave and react to differing environments, with a goal of developing more vigorous cells.

The first of those three is the area where Ha’s work comes into play, through a concept called MODCELL.

By being able to develop modular cells, researches can achieve optimal outcomes for a given strain of biomaterial, impacting a wide range of industries, including for biofuels, solvents, fragrances, and even flavoring.

“I’m proud of Khanh for earning this very deserved recognition,” said Trinh, who is Ha’s faculty mentor for the AURA program. “He has been a key part of our team since he’s been here, and this award validates both his efforts and the research that we’re conducting.”

The AURA program provides students a $2,000 stipend to support their work, $250 for materials or transportation needs that arise, and $250 to the faculty mentor for any materials that they might need to help support their student.

Students selected for participation must also take part in UT’s Summer Research Scholars Program and the development opportunities and events that come with it, as well as the annual Discovery Day in the fall, where they are expected to present their results.

They are also required to meet with the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at least once over the summer to talk about their research plans.

“My experience at UT has been a great, because I have been able to be surrounded by wonderful mentors, great peers, and supportive friends,” said Ha. “The moments that I believe have had the most impact on me are our weekly subgroup meetings where we discuss the status of the work and the course of action. These moments allow me to learn from my mistakes and challenge me to make improvements.”

While the program officially runs from May 19–August 19, the specific schedule for each student is worked out between them and their mentor.