(BALTIMORE, Md.) – Cultivating next-generation scientists equipped to use big data analytics in their research, microbiologist and Notre Dame of Maryland University professor joins a two-year fellowship, funded by the National Science Foundation, to bring real-world case studies to college students.
Associate professor of biology Jennifer Kerr is one of the 2021-23 fellows in the High-throughput Discovery Science & Inquiry-based Case Studies for Today’s Students (HITS) program. Dr. Kerr joins a cohort of distinguished research faculty to design curriculum that teaches high-throughput discovery methods to undergraduates around the country. In the era of big data, scientific inquiry is increasingly moving toward analyzing large datasets to answer pressing research questions, which requires today’s scientists to use high-powered computer analytics.
“Designing better hypotheses or questions comes from being able to analyze these large datasets. We have been working to infuse bioinformatics into the department’s curriculum, and this fellowship is a really great step in the right direction,” she said. “This is where science is at right now, and it will just keep going in that direction. Notre Dame recognizes that high-throughput discovery is the next thing, and our students are going to be a part of it.”
The HITS fellowship enables the Biology Department to introduce students how to use these advanced research methods. Using tablets and laptops, students will be able to access analytics software from campus labs and perform complex calculations, visualizations, and interpretations on their findings, just like scientists in the world’s top research institutes.
“Dr. Kerr’s training through the HITS fellowship will enable her to implement activities using high-throughput data analysis into her classes,” said Dr. Rebecca Zordan, chair of the Biology Department. “She can also serve as a resource to other faculty within the department, helping embed similar activities across the curriculum. Students will gain experience with large datasets and utilize analysis software, giving them an awareness of how these types of projects operate in research labs.”
With the HITS Fellowship, Dr. Kerr adds to her expertise as a recognized oral microbiologist and molecular geneticist. She is president elect for the Microbiology and Immunology Group in the International Association for Dental Research. She is also president of the Maryland branch of the American Society for Microbiology.
She is excited to collaborate with other Notre Dame faculty in biology and other disciplines, such as criminology, to engage students in research using case studies developed by HITS fellows. She is especially interested in answering scientific questions that could not previously be addressed without big data analytics.
“One thing about science is we never run out of questions. For example, you have approximately 500 different bacteria in your mouth right now, and trying to understand how they all interact with each other, that’s big data,” she said. “We are going to see an exponential growth in being able to analyze some of these big questions that have always perplexed us, and some that we don’t even know exist.”
Established in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) is a private, Catholic institution in Baltimore, Maryland, with the mission to educate leaders to transform the world. Notre Dame has been named one of the best "Regional Universities North" by U.S. News & World Report.