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ASU junior Piper Heiligenstein selected for prestigious research internship in Canada


Headshot of Piper Heiligenstein.

Piper Heiligenstein, a junior biological sciences major, is in Canada this summer for the Fulbright-MITACS Globalink Research Internship program.

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May 23, 2023

Piper Heiligenstein, a junior biological sciences major in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University is sharpening her research skills as a participant in the Fulbright-MITACS Globalink Research Internship program this summer.

Heiligenstein, who is also working on a biomedical research certificate at ASU, said her main areas of interest for research are infectious diseases, genetics and synthetic biology.

The Lorraine Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU recently announced that Heiligenstein was admitted to the prestigious program, sponsored by Fulbright Canada, which runs from May through July.

The internship is intended for students interested in going to Canada to undertake advanced research projects for 10 to 12 weeks. Projects are drawn from a broad cross-section of research topics covering all academic disciplines. Students are then placed with a university research project and supervised by a professor.

In addition to research, the program includes professional training and cultural, social and recreational activities. Participants receive a grant of CAD $7,000.

Heiligenstein is spending 12 weeks at McGill University, an English-language public research university located in Montreal, Quebec. She is working under Rodrigo Reyes, assistant professor of biology and research chair in chromosome biology.

“I will be studying how to preserve genomic integrity at the energetic limits of life, which is such an interesting topic. My main project goal is to understand the effect of sudden starvation on the replisome and DNA replication,” she said.

Heiligenstein said her long-term goals are twofold and the MITACS Globalink Research Internship program will help her reach them.

“As for my future goals, I plan to get my PhD in either genetics or biomedical research. Another one of my long-term goals is to tackle the issue of increasing the access of essential medicines in underdeveloped countries,” she said.

“I believe this program will help with both of these goals as it will allow me to expand my knowledge of genetics and give insight on how the Canadian government communicates with scientists.” 

This is not Heiligenstein’s first research experience. She is an undergraduate research assistant at the ASU Biodesign Institute and was a laboratory research assistant as a DAAD-RISE intern at Kiel University in Germany in summer 2022.

Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, Honors Faculty Fellow at Barrett and a faculty mentor in the Office of National Scholarships Advisement, said the MITACS Globalink Research Internship program is very competitive, with projects in many disciplines — from science, engineering and math to the humanities and social science — at 70 different universities throughout Canada.

“Students are competing against other highly qualified undergraduates in their fields from all over the world, so to be selected is quite an achievement,” she said.

Bhattacharjya said Heiligenstein began working in biomedical research during her sophomore year, developing advanced skills and techniques critical to genetics and infectious diseases research.

“Her competence in these skills and techniques undoubtedly conveyed that she was prepared and ready to work alongside others — as opposed to arriving without crucial skills and needing additional training before being able to work. Students like Piper, whose applications demonstrate their competence in the skills and techniques required in respective research settings, are particularly competitive,” she said.

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