UTM’s INSPIRE Scholars program gives hands-on training in biophysical methods
The two-week summer program aims to prepare upper year science students for graduate school or their entry into the world of biotech startups.

The University of Toronto Mississauga’s (UTM) 2023 Interdisciplinary Summer Program in Research and Entrepreneurship (INSPIRE) Scholars program is an intensive two-week program intended to prepare upper year physics, chemistry, and quantitative biology students for graduate school. The program is slated to take place between June 19 to 30, 2023, with the deadline to apply being March 6, 2023. Admitted scholars will receive a tuition fellowship that addresses the cost of instruction and laboratory fees. During the course, students will receive hands-on training from faculty in both experimental and computational techniques.

With its focus on entrepreneurship, another aim of the program is to inform participants about what it takes to create a start-up. The program will feature lectures from biotech entrepreneurs in the Greater Toronto Area. 

This year’s theme is “21st Century Biophysical Techniques.” Many physics professors within UTM’s Department of Chemical & Physical Sciences work alongside biochemists and molecular biologists in research areas under the questions: “How are cells programmed?” and “How do proteins function?” Biophysicists apply their expertise in mathematics, physics, and chemistry to the complex and data-rich questions that molecular biologists are interested in. Additionally, physicists and chemists have historically played a role in some major discoveries in biology, such as determining the structure of DNA

Some modules being offered in this year’s INSPIRE Scholars Program include “super-resolved imaging, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, single-molecule spectroscopy, computational molecular dynamics, among others.” Students will be given experiential opportunities to hone their techniques and enrich their knowledge in each of these modules.

There are many faculty members within the field of physics slated to teach in the program, including Professor Joshua N. Milstein, whose research focuses on the “spatial organization and dynamical motion of DNA;” Professor Claudiu Gradinaru, who uses tools like single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy to understand how intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) interact with other molecules; and Professor Sarah Rauscher who employs computational simulations of molecular dynamics to address questions about IDPs.

Faculty instructors from UTM’s Chemistry Department will include Professor Voula Kanelis, who uses nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and other tools to learn about ATP-binding cassette transporters and phage proteins on a molecular level; Professor Alana Ogata, who aims to develop single-molecule tools to analyze proteins and apply them to diagnosing diseases; and Professor R. Scott Prosser, who uses NMR spectroscopy to study protein folding and enzymes.

The year’s run marks the second time that the INSPIRE Scholars program is being offered, and it comes with some notable changes. In 2022, the INSPIRE Scholars program was four weeks long, with the theme of “GCPR pharmacology.” It was also named the “INSPIRE Scholars Drug Discovery Program,” and according to the theme, last year’s program was directed more towards students aiming for a career in pharmacology. 

Last year, 23 students from different disciplines participated, and admission for this year’s program is expected to be competitive. 

The INSPIRE Scholars Program is aimed for third- and fourth-year undergraduate students considering graduate school in biophysics, biochemistry, or other fields of quantitative biology, and incoming graduate students. Regardless, exceptional second-year students experienced in physics, chemistry, or biochemistry are also invited to apply.


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