To create a good research project, you need to start with a good idea! For those interested in biology research, we’ve compiled a list of different good ideas!
Elements of a good research idea:
There are a couple things that define a solid research idea:
You want to make sure your topic is relevant today! This means there should be some gap in knowledge that you are trying to decrease; it shouldn’t be something that’s already been covered by other scientists. It should be significant—this topic should invoke a lot of different questions and thoughts for your reader.
Make sure you are researching something that you are personally passionate about! This means you’ll be much more invested in the project and this interest will show throughout, making your work all the more exciting! Don’t pick something that might be relevant today, but that you’ll know you’ll get bored of easily.
A research project should be doable: make sure it is within your capabilities! You want to feel challenged but also comfortable with the idea and have clear methods with which to approach the challenge.
Doing research in high school is a fantastic way to delve into your interests. You build incredibly useful skills, learn new ideas, and are given the chance to work with incredible mentors.
A good way to go about picking a research idea and starting your research project is through a mentored program. Those who are selected for the Lumiere Research Scholar Program are given 1-1 mentorship with top PhDs. Below, we share some of the biology research ideas that have been proposed by our research mentors.
Biology research ideas for high school students
Cancer cell research
One of the most relevant and pressing problems today concerns cancer research. We want to better understand cancer so that we can better develop treatments. Although this might seem like a huge topic to give to a high school student, know that your research goal can be something small but effective—for example, better understanding mechanisms contributing to cancer pathogenesis at the molecular level. Because the topic is so large, there are many things you could potentially aim to do:
1. Find the biochemical underpinnings of cancer predisposition syndromes.
2. Analyze biological sequencing databases to understand what makes certain cancers more aggressive.
3. Study tumor progression and how cancer cells invade and interact with other cells.
Suggested by a Lumiere PhD mentor at Cornell University
Cancer treatment research
On the other side of studying cancer, the overarching goal for all scientists is to find treatment methods. There have been so many new trials, hypotheses, and data, in the last few years; investigating different treatments could yield incredibly valuable results.
4. Study cancer immunotherapy: the study of how cancer cells evade the immune system and how we can harness the immune system to battle cancer.
5. Track current progress and limitations of new methods and identify next opportunities.
6. Study how cancer cells can evolve to become resistant to certain treatments that were once effective.
7. Develop methods and workshops to help with early cancer detection (ex. Teach women how to conduct a simple breast exam at home).
Suggested by Lumiere PhD mentors at Duke University and Yale University
A topic more relevant than ever is gene editing and gene therapy, the process of changing regions of cellular DNA. This is a fascinating new area of research, with so many unexplored possibilities. Gene editing is a rapidly growing field with relevancy in disease treatment, food modification, “perfect humans,” ethical dilemmas, and more!
8. Identify disease causing genes in a crop pathogen.
9. Research past and current technologies still in place regarding gene editing; identify challenges still in place and weigh the ethical and social implications of these technologies.
10. Design a CRISPR system to mutagenize an important gene in a plant or animal to improve its health or productivity.
Suggested by a Lumiere PhD mentor at UC Berkeley
Pharmaceutical and disease research
With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical research has come to the forefront of the world. If you’re interested in drug discovery, development, and disease treatment, this is the area for you. There are many interesting questions to explore here, some that can be applied to your local community, some to the global community.
11. Identify technical challenges in mass vaccination campaigns. Students can review existing data from public health organizations as well as current scientific literature on new vaccine delivery technologies.
12. Analyze barriers in the clinical translation of biomaterials by conducting case studies on failed products and reviewing clinical trial data.
13. Conduct surveys to study diversity of immune responses to viruses.
14. Design specific operating procedures for a pandemic-prepared taskforce.
15. Research novel drug delivery devices aimed at a certain disease of interest, such as Type 1 Diabetes. Go in-depth into this disease!
16. Compare gene expression profiles of healthy vs diseased cells for very rare disorders.
Suggested by a Lumiere PhD mentor at UC Berkeley
The brain will always be an area of endless study for biologists. Research in neuroscience is always particularly relevant for our world, as it concerns the way our human brain operates and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions. Students who are interested in brain development, mental health, behavior, and more will find this topic interesting!
17. Review recent advances in neuroscience and the potential benefits and costs of new tools and techniques.
18. Discover different theories of learning and memory. This can include the use of different clinical studies designed by the student.
19. Learn about the scale and types of neural analyses used to record brain activity; compare normal states to diseased states.
20. Analyze the effects of alcohol and drug addiction on the brain.
Suggested by a Lumiere PhD mentor at Stanford University
Harnessing the power of microbial cultivation is becoming a hot topic in many areas of application, particularly that of the environment. Microbial studies have recently probed into producing therapeutics and addressing the issue of industrial waste disposal. Students may confront various real-world problems in their investigations:
21. Study current microbial applications for plastic recycling or bioplastic production and develop your own proposal.
22. Compare data from existing techniques of environmental biotechnology and bioremediation: what looks to be most effective?
Suggested by a Lumiere PhD mentor at University of Pennsylvania
Animal lovers will love this one: developmental biology is the study of the process by which animals and plants grow and develop. It’s one of the fastest growing and most exciting fields in biology and really opens the door to all different kinds of research. Students will find many exciting ideas to engage with:
23. Study the different factors that influence fertility and development in a specific organism: how can this be applied to humans?
24. Analyze how the collection of microbes living in a host organism (the microbiome) affect the physiology of this organism.
25. Study how different chemical exposures during fetal development can affect an organism’s growth, from limb development to sex determination.
Suggested by a Lumiere PhD mentor at Johns Hopkins University
There are hundreds of different ideas we didn’t have the opportunity to list here, but we hope we’ve inspired you to get started with this list! If you are passionate about biology and hope to do advanced research under expert mentorship, consider applying to the Lumiere Scholar Program. You can find the application form here.
Amelia is a current junior at Harvard College studying art history with a minor in economics. She’s enthusiastic about music, movies, and writing, and is excited to help Lumiere’s students as much as she can!
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