SURF’s Up: Undergrads Hone Research Skills in Summer Program

BioMed Student Uses TMC Facility for Parkinson’s Study

As an undergraduate student Jasmine Patel has excelled in her bio-medical engineering studies.  Like many of her classmates, she's studied hard and mastered the material.  What will make her stand out from peers is experience in a laboratory environment where she will pursue real research on real subjects under the guidance of a faculty mentor. 

Patel's participation in the University of Houston Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (UH-SURF) will provide that experience.  Offered by the UH Office of Undergraduate Research, the program is a full-time, 10-week intensive research initiative, intended to be a real-world guide to conducting research.  Students from all majors participate and receive a $3,500 stipend.  This summer there are more than 40 SURF projects planned. 

"The SURF program is valuable in what the experience provides for these outstanding students, particularly the intangibles that factor into the career of a good researcher," said Charles Layne, chair of the department of health and human performance and faculty mentor to Patel. "Mainly, how do you deal with subjects from a technical and personal point of view? It's really a skill learned by doing. The answers aren't in the manual."

Patel will pursue research related to patients with Parkinson's disease, specifically those who have undergone a procedure known as Deep Brain Stimulation.  The surgical procedure is used to control tremors when drug therapies have fallen short.  Patel will investigate whether the Deep Brain Stimulation prevents or encourages falling in Parkinson's patients, who already have locomotion challenges. 

"This is not like taking a lab with your coursework," Patel said.  "This experience is completely changing your undergraduate career."

Together with Layne and doctoral student Amir Pourmoghaddam, Patel will assess 30 patients-10 who received the Deep Brain Stimulation procedure on the right brain lobe, 10 who have received the procedure on the left and 10 who only are using drug therapies.  She anticipates her research will be completed in early fall. 

"I'm learning more than how to perform research," Patel said.  "I'm learning about problem solving-how to deal with patients, how to stay focused-because research isn't always a smooth road. And I know that I will have a great advantage when I pursue graduate work and enter the professional field."

Patel's study will collaborate with researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, the Veterans Administration Hospital and researchers from the HHP Center for Neuromotor and Biomechanics Research (CNBR).  Located in the Texas Medical Center, the CNBR is an interdisciplinary entity dedicated to investigating muscular and neurological strategies for locomotion challenges. 

"The results of Jasmine's research will be folded into other studies currently underway at the CNBR," Layne said.   

For more information about the UH Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, visit

For more information about the Center for Neuromotor and Biomechanics Research, visit