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REU Award for Modeling SARS-CoV-2 Proteins

BioE Affiliated Faculty Mary Jo Ondrechen, Assistant Professor Mona Minkara, and COS Assistant Professor Steven Lopez were awarded a $73K NSF RAPID grant for “Undergraduate Research in Modeling and Computation for Discovery of Molecular Probes for SARS-CoV-2 Proteins.”

Abstract Source: NSF

This REU Site award to Northeastern University, located in Boston, MA, will support the training of six students for 10 weeks during the summer of 2020. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the recommendation to maintain social distancing, students will virtually contribute to computational research projects focused on COVID-19. The Northeastern University REU Site will recruit a total of six students, primarily from colleges with limited research opportunities or who are from an under-represented group, to be trained in the program. Students will learn how research is conducted and many will present the results of their work at future scientific conferences. Assessment of the program will be done through the online SALG URSSA tool. Students will be tracked after the program in order to determine their career paths.

The primary focus of this undergraduate research program will be for the students to learn about and use computational techniques that will be applied to urgent research questions surrounding the functions and control mechanisms of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins. Each student will be trained in some of the following skills: molecular modeling, ligand docking, molecular dynamics simulations, biomolecular electrostatics, and quantum mechanical electronic structure calculations. Students will analyze SARS-CoV-2 proteins and screen libraries of small molecules that can bind to and control these proteins. They will be mentored by three faculty members and six graduate students from the departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Bioengineering at Northeastern University. They will contribute critical new knowledge about how the viral proteins function and how their function may be modulated. The students will also receive professional development training in areas such as research ethics, scientific writing, the graduate school application process, and resume writing. Participants will be selected by the PIs, based on applications consisting of college transcripts, personal statements, and letters of reference. Preference will be given to students who were accepted by another REU program that was subsequently cancelled because of the pandemic. More information about the program is available by contacting PI Dr. Mary Jo Ondrechen ( or co-PIs Dr. Steven Lopez ( and Dr. Mona Minkara (

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Related Departments:Bioengineering