New graduate traineeship program at CUNY aims to create the next generation of scientists in bio-inspired nanoscience

The NanoBioNYC research traineeship program is set to officially launch during Earth Week on April 18th, 2023. Funded by a $3 million dollar National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in partnership with CUNY, it aims to give students the tools to succeed in careers in bio-nanoscience research by offering internships with industry or academic labs, professional development, mentorship, and stipends for their work. 

Bio-inspired nanoscience is an umbrella term for any use of nanotechnology  in a biological setting. The initiative breaks this down into four main focus areas: Green Energy Solutions, Interfacing Nanotechnology and Biology, Bio-Inspired Design of Green Functional Materials, and Cross-Cutting Computational Research. Together, they look to solve issues that pertain to both the environment and human systems using the tools provided to us by biological systems.

The program brings together students from multiple disciplines in STEM such as physics, chemistry, and biology to tackle these core challenges. Any STEM PhD student at either the CUNY Graduate Center or the Grove School of Engineering at the City College of New York can apply to the program. According to Tasnim Jackson, the Program Coordinator of NanoBioNYC, the discussions between the students from different disciplines is special to see, with each student bringing varied perspectives and experiences to the conversation.  

NanoBioNYC aims to give students the tools to succeed after graduate studies and prepares them for future careers in industry, entrepreneurship, or academic research. To second-year PhD student Mike Cornejo, “NanoBioNYC is making us more outstanding, making us go out of the bubble, and have us create our future.”

Cornejo currently studies radioimmunoconjugates that act as probes for detecting cancer. “Radioimmunoconjugates means that I have a conjugate that binds to the antibodies and it has a radioactive isotope. The radioactive isotope will tell us where it will go inside the body,” said Cornejo. “These will give gamma rays that can be detected by PET scans.”

The overarching goal is that, “They are going to be more specific to the cancer cells than any other healthy cells,” said Cornejo.

In Cornejo’s eyes, graduate students often lack the training that they need once they leave the “bubble” of their graduate research. They are, “…hungry for knowledge, but don’t have the tools that we need to know when we go out of this bubble,” observed Cornejo. “Years before this there was no traineeship that you could have. It would be either you get it on your own or go through other programs and see how to get those types of knowledge.” 

However with the NanoBioNYC program, Cornejo remarked that, “Now it’s more narrow and specific. You can go to one place and they will be able to provide everything you will need – and that’s beneficial to everyone.” “When we get out of this bubble, we’re going to be able to have those tools and go add it to whatever position we want to go, either in industry or academia. We’re going to be more prepared,” added Cornejo.

In the fourth and fifth year of the PhD, NanoBioNYC students are also given the opportunity to participate in summer internships in either industry, government labs, or in entrepreneurship through the NSF I-Corps. Industry partners include a broad range of companies such as IBM and Estee Lauder, and academic institutions include the Brookhaven National Lab and Air Force Research Lab. These experiences are vital because they allow you to “…learn a little bit more about the environment of industry, because that environment, either industry, government, and academia… will be pretty different,” said Cornejo.

The NanoBioNYC internship opportunities are also “…a way for us to be more competitive out there in the market,” according to Cornejo. They not only offer additional training but they also prepare students by giving them insight into in-demand skills and what a career post-graduation might look like. “We know what we need to bring to the company or what we need to bring to the school in order to have these types of jobs hire us,” said Cornejo.

NanoBioNYC also offers ​​a PhD Leadership Workshop Series that aims to give graduate students the necessary tools to become leaders in science. Past workshops have been on topics ranging from “Discovering Your Strengths” to “Presenting Your Science” that are meant to focus on key professional skills not traditionally taught in the curriculum.

“I really like that they’re going to be able to give us communication workshops next year,” said Cornejo. As a Latino who was raised in El Salvador, Cornejo explained that, “Communication skills… when it is your second language is pretty hard. You need someone else to give you a little bit of a hand.”

There are also laboratory technique training classes that are offered to students within the program that dig deeper into the specific methods being used in today’s breakthroughs. These classes focus on many of the nanoscience equipment housed at the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center (CUNY-ASRC) that are commonly used in industry and academic research. The CUNY-ASRC’s Nanoscience initiative also has a Nanofabrication facility that allows for the production of complex nanostructures that can be used in a variety of environmental and biological applications.

The program culminates into a capstone project that challenges students to tackle a problem in the field and come up with viable solutions. To Cornejo, this project is, “…really helpful because… in either industry or academia, they want you to have problem solving skills.”

To prospective undergraduate students that are interested in graduate school, Cornejo advised, “This professor told me, it’s not a race of a 100 meters, it’s a marathon… if you’re consistent and one day you make an improvement of 1%, and the end of your PhD, you will have 100%.” As a first generation college student, one of the lessons that has been integral to Cornejo’s success so far is, “…if you want something, ask for it. If you want to study a certain topic – go for it. We are always afraid to make mistakes, but sometimes those mistakes can lead to success.”

Cornejo also highlighted the impact that doing research as an undergraduate had on his career. “If I didn’t take that undergrad position… at that lab, I think I wouldn’t know what to do next. I was able to meet people that encouraged me to succeed.”

The launch event includes sessions on each of the four research topics and talks from numerous faculty in these areas. It features keynote speaker Dr. Arthi Jayaraman, the NRT MIDAS Director at the University of Delaware whose research delves into polymer nanocomposites and bio-inspired macromolecular materials. It also features talks from the director of the NanoBioNYC program, Dr. Rein Ulijn, and faculty advisors who encompass a myriad of research interests from CUNY campuses across the city.

Students are welcome to attend this event to learn more about the NanoBioNYC program as well as the diverse nanoscience research going on at CUNY. As part of its launch week, the program is also looking for graduate and undergraduate students to present their research in bio-inspired nanoscience at an in-person poster session with a $200 prize for the best presentations. 

Macaulay undergraduates are encouraged to submit abstracts of their research by April 7th, 2023 using the link below. If you are unable to make the abstract deadline but are eager to present, you can also reach out to Tasnim Jackson at In addition, if you are interested in learning more about the program, there is a sign up form below for a possible tour of the Nanoscience Initiative at CUNY-ASRC in the coming months.

Abstract Submission:

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