RISE: Summer Bioenergy Internships

Research Program for Underrepresented Undergrads!

RISE is a summer internship program offering bioenergy research opportunities for undergraduates from groups currently underrepresented in STEM!

During the 10-week program, students gain experience in plant biology, agronomy, synthetic biology, genetics, environmental sciences, chemical engineering, and civil & environmental engineering. Successful applicants will be given a $5,000 stipend; housing and travel are provided.

Check out the 2022 flier (2023 coming soon)! >>>

Read about the impact the program had with our 2022 interns! >>>

Read testimonials from our inaugural 2021 interns! >>>

FAQ about RISE

Want to learn more? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions that have come up from students via email or in our two info sessions in January and February:


Who should I put as my academic or professional reference?

Your reference can be a professor, work-study advisor, research mentor – anyone who knows you professionally. Don’t forget to inform them that you have listed them as a reference!


Can I select less than 4 projects?

Yes. Use the “N/A” option in the dropdown.


Will applicants only be conducting one project, or will it be the four choices like in the application?

Each RISE intern will conduct one research project and have one mentor. We ask for multiple project choices in case your first option isn’t available.


Are there any required courses that we must have taken to apply into the research program?

There are no requirements to apply for RISE. This includes coursework or prior research experience. Some projects have indicated coursework or knowledge that might be helpful, but they are not required.


My background is more focused on chemistry rather than biology. Would I be a good fit to apply for RISE?

Yes, the projects span multiple disciplines from the social sciences to engineering to plant biology.


How often would I be interacting with other students doing research?

Depending on the project, you will likely be interacting with other students on a daily basis. You’ll connect with the RISE interns (and other REU students on campus) on a weekly basis for professional development workshops and social activities. RISE interns will also have opportunities to connect with the whole CABBI community, including attendance at the retreat.


Is RISE intended for students who want to go to graduate school?

One of the benefits of RISE is for you to explore various career options related to the bioenergy field. While we hope to increase the pipeline to graduate school for students from underrepresented groups, there are many careers that don’t require a Masters or PhD.

More details

Eligibility: U.S. citizen or permanent resident enrolled in degree-granting college/university with at least one semester of course work remaining before obtaining bachelor’s degree.

Program Dates: May 31-Aug. 5, 2022

Application Deadline: Feb. 24, 2022 (deadline has passed)

References: CABBI plans to contact references the week of Feb. 28, 2022, to complete a short recommendation form

Stipend: $5,000

Housing & Travel Provided!

About RISE: This is a 10-week summer research opportunity targeting underrepresented students interested in bioenergy research. Students seeking experience in plant biology, agronomy, synthetic biology, genetics, environmental sciences, chemical engineering, and civil & environmental engineering are welcome to apply! Project descriptions in the toggle below. View the 2022 RISE flier (2023 coming soon) >>>

The Plan: Students will be paired with a CABBI mentor, conduct research, attend career development seminars, learn about the graduate school application practice, and practice STEM communication by presenting research at a summer symposium. 

Questions: Email cabbi-bio@illinois.edu

2022 RISE Project Descriptions

Download a PDF of all project descriptions >>>


Project: Effects of periodic flooding on Miscanthus x giganteus soil priming

Mentor: Chuck Hyde | Faculty member: Wendy Yang 

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Miscanthus x giganteus is a large perennial grass and a prime culprit for biofuel production. There is recent evidence that soil moisture is a possible control on the magnitude of the rhizosphere priming effect, and thus this project aims to assess the effects of seasonal floods on carbon cycling in these soils. The student will assist in taking soil cores at field sites near campus. The student will flood these soil cores in the laboratory and collect greenhouse gas emission data to determine the changes in C cycling throughout the season. There are no requirements for the mentee, but experience with laboratory techniques, programming in R, or completed of an introductory ecology course will be helpful.


Project: Water use efficiency and stomatal density

Mentor: Daniel Tejeda-Lunn | Faculty member: Andrew Leakey  

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


This project focuses on increasing water use efficiency by reducing stomatal density. More specifically, the project involves identifying and genetic characterization of stomatal density in transgenic or naturally varying Sorghum populations. The student will use optical tomography to image Sorghum populations and determine the number of stomata per unit area using machine learning. The student will also characterize the genetic makeup of these lines through genotyping a transcription abundance. The results of this project will help identify exciting lines for further analysis.


Project: Quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from bioenergy crops

Mentor: Christy Gibson | Faculty member: Carl Bernacchi  

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

In this project, laser spectrometers will be used to measure greenhouse gas emissions over bioenergy maize and bioenergy sorghum plots at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Energy Farm. We will use the emissions data gathered from the spectrometers and convert them to fluxes (think of fluxes as the measure of something leaving/flowing into or out of a room or box; our box is the bioenergy plot) which we can then use to generate a clear picture of the greenhouse gas budgets of our bioenergy crops. The student will learn how to use and monitor laser spectrometers, perform daily checks while gaining basic knowledge of IR spectroscopy. The student will also learn how to determine quality data output, identify basic problems with data, and process data. There are no prerequisites for the mentee, but basic chemistry and biology coursework will be helpful.


Project: Effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) on nitrous oxide emissions from soils

Mentor: Kevin Ziliang Zhang | Faculty member: Wendy Yang 

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), which form associations with roots of more than 80% of terrestrial plant species, have been demonstrated to reduce soil nitrous oxide (N2O, an important greenhouse gas having threat to climate warming, food production and human health) emissions. However, the conclusion on whether AMF have a N2O reduction effect remains inconsistent, which may be largely attributed to the confounding effectiveness and function of AMF in different soil types. Thus, this project will investigate how AMF influences N2O emission from soils with different textures. The student will help set up the experiment in the greenhouse, take necessary measurements, and be involved in processing data. There are no prerequisites for the mentee, but basic knowledge of soil science or plant science will be helpful.


Project: Investigating the role of Sorghum Rca-a in heat stress

Mentor: Nikita Bhatnagar | Faculty member: Donald Ort

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Heat-induced inhibition of photosynthesis results in crop yield reductions as the global climate warms. Impairment usually occurs due to inhibition of the enzyme Rubisco activase (Rca), however, in energy grasses a unique form of Rca with unknown function is expressed only under high temperatures (Rca-α) and is proposed to be important for thermo-tolerance. This project will study the function of this heat induced Rca in Sorghum. The student will participate in genotyping Sorghum Rca-a CRISPR knockout plants, followed assessment of photosynthesis under normal and heat stress conditions. These data will be used to determine the role of Rca-a with potential implications for producing climate resilient crops. Knowledge of plant molecular biology and physiology will be useful.


Project: Standardization of assumptions for modeling biorefinery feedstocks

Mentor: Yoel Cortes-Peña | Faculty member: Jeremy Guest

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Biorefineries play a central role in transitioning to a sustainable bioeconomy, yet modeling assumptions on the components of biomass feedstocks vary widely across studies, with no clear standard. This project seeks to understand the uncertainties and importance of assumptions concerning the properties of lignocellulosic components and to generate recommendations for modeling these components. The student will review literature to understand common assumptions in modeling biomass components, then — with the mentor’s help — will leverage the BioSTEAM software to characterize how economic and environmental sustainability indicators are affected by these assumptions. Finally, the student will create a set of recommendations based on the results. There are no prerequisites for the mentee, but students studying chemical or environmental engineering will be well-prepared for this project.


Project: Study of two-staged pretreatment method for effective recovery of color from feedstocks

Mentor: Shivali Banerjee | Faculty member: Vijay Singh

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

The increased awareness for eco-friendliness and sustainability has shifted the interest of stakeholders from synthetic colors to natural plant-based pigments for industrial applications. Color-producing engineered bioenergy crops could be sustainable feedstocks for recovery of natural colors. The two-staged pretreatment of these engineered bioenergy crops will allow the recovery of colors while making the feedstock more suitable for enzymatic saccharification. The student will review the literature to understand various methods for extraction of color from plant tissues. The student will then be trained to run experiments on two-staged pretreatment method for recovering color from CABBI feedstocks. The student will further assist the mentor in estimating the total color content recovered via the two-staged pretreatment. Students studying bioprocess engineering, chemical engineering, or environmental engineering will be well-prepared for the project.


Project: Automated Process Synthesis for Integrated Biorefineries

Mentor: Sarang Bhagwat | Faculty member: Jeremy Guest

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

This project focuses on the development of a software tool to explore the bioproducts opportunity space by automating key aspects of biorefinery process design by leveraging BioSTEAM and the biorefineries made using it. The proposed tools will search for biorefinery configurations across the qualitative and quantitative design space using loss functions that are indicators of biorefinery economics and environmental impacts and recommend designs for the production and upgrading of a portfolio of bioproducts. The student will assist in the survey and review of literature on the techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment of bioproducts of interest, and the key process design decisions made in those works. The student will also be advised on process design heuristics and collaborative programming in Python. Students studying chemical engineering or technology will be well-prepared for the project.


Project: Optimizing fermentation conditions for oleaginous yeasts

Mentor: Christopher Rao | Faculty member: Christopher Rao

Location: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Oleaginous yeasts can produce oils from sugars, creating a more valuable bioproduct. The student will work to optimize fermentation conditions during growth on plant-based sugars derived from CABBI feedstocks. There are no prerequisites for the mentee, but background knowledge in chemistry and biology will be helpful.


Project: Conversion of biologically derived intermediates to bio-based chemicals

Mentor: Marco Nazareno Dell’Anna | Faculty member: George Huber

Location: University of Wisconsin at Madison

Triacetic acid lactone (TAL) and linear alpha olefins (LAOs) are important chemical intermediates that can be converted into a variety of products such as preservatives, surfactants, and fuel additives. Both TAL and LAOs can be synthesized by engineered bacteria through fermentation of glucose. This project will focus on the further upgrading of these compounds to the final products with the use of heterogenous catalysis. The student will focus on the study of bio-derived chemicals production through catalytic conversion. The student will learn the basic concepts of catalysis, reaction kinetics, and how to use a batch and flow reactor. In addition, the student will perform sample analysis and extract yield, selectivity, and conversion for the reactions performed. The ideal student will have basic knowledge of reaction engineering, chemical reaction kinetics, and organic chemistry.


Project: Modeling yeast metabolism to design strategies of biofuel and bioproduct production

Mentor: Wheaton Schroeder | Faculty member: Costas Maranas

Location: Penn State University

The project focuses on the modeling of yeast species to predict metabolic interventions for the production of biofuels and bioproducts of interest. The student will aid in the reconstruction, curation, and analysis of genome-scale models of metabolism (GSMMs). Further, the student will use tools and methods to analyze these models with the goal of designing strategies for the production of biofuels and bioproducts of interest. Coursework in basic biology, linear algebra, differential equations, and programming are required. Coursework related to mathematical thinking, set theory, and bioinformatics will be useful, but necessary skills in this area can be learned during the internship.


Project: Multi-omics exploration of acetate co-utilization to improve organic acid production

Mentor: Yihui Shen | Faculty member: Joshua Rabinowitz

Location: Princeton University

This project focuses on engineering yeast strains to produce a polymer precursor and exploring acetate as a cheap co-supplemented nutrient source. The student will use multi-omics techniques to characterize their metabolism, based on which the student and mentor will propose new engineering targets for further improvement in performance. The student will learn yeast culture, fermentation, sample preparation, and data analysis for multi-omics measurement. The student will also identify bottlenecks in organic acid production in an engineered yeast strain and suggest next-round engineering. Coursework in biochemistry and general chemistry lab is required.


Project: Transcriptomic analysis of the multistress-tolerant yeast species Issatchenkia orientalis

Mentor: Ping-Hung Hsieh | Faculty member: Yasuo Yoshikuni

Location: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Joint Genome Institute)

Issatchenkia orientalis has been known for its tolerance of the low pH, high concentration of organic acids as well as some other stresses (e.g. high salt, high temperature, etc.). However, the underlying molecular mechanisms of its stress tolerance remain unknown. The project will focus on using transcriptomic analysis to discover potential genes involved in the stress tolerance of I. orientalis. The student will learn yeast culture, RNA extraction, and basic transcriptomic data analysis. There are no prerequisites for the student, but experience with molecular biology techniques and command-line interface will be helpful.


Download a PDF of all project descriptions >>>