Undergraduate research opportunities

QAAFI are proud participants in the UQ Undergraduate Research Program

The Undergraduate Research Program provides UQ-enrolled students with an opportunity to gain research experience working alongside some of the university’s leading academics and researchers.

Participation is open to undergraduate, honours, and masters by coursework students, and are offered in two rounds for the winter (mid-June to mid-July) and summer vacation periods (mid-November to mid-February). All successful scholars will receive a scholarship, read the UQ Student Employability Centre’s website for details on how and when to apply. 

View example projects below:

Fungicide resistance in husk spot fungus

Contact supervisor for program application support: Associate Professor Olufemi Akinsanmi

Suitable for: This project is open to applications from coursework masters students with a background in agriculture, biological sciences, or biotechnology.

Project description: Fungicides are used to control husk spot disease in macadamia.  Information in fungicide resistant strains is limited. The scholar will develop discriminatory dose for the main fungicides used for husk spot control and used the dose to evaluate historical field isolates for resistance.

Expected outcomes: Scholars can learn seed quality assessment, image analysis and statistical modelling techniques. Scholars may also be invited to co-author reports and oral presentations

Project location: Ecosciences Precinct Boggo Road, Dutton Park (10 min. walk from UQ St Lucia Campus)

Growing summers crops in winter

Contact supervisor for program application support: Professor Daniel Rodriguez

Suitable for: 

Project description: 

This project is aligned and adds value to project UOQ1808-001RTX “Optimising sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) agronomy”. The project aims at improving farmers’ understanding of (i) the effects of establishing sorghum in cold soils on root growth and function, and resulting water use patterns, and water use efficiency; (ii) the yield, profit and risk implications of ratooning a winter sown sorghum crop into a second harvest; and (iii) the yield, profit and risk implications on the subsequent winter crop sown in June, after the harvest of the winter sown ratooned sorghum. 


The effects of cold soils on sorghum’s root growth and function are not well understood despite their critical influence on water supply and demand and lodging susceptibility. In sorghum, genetic differences in the response of the root:shoot ratio to low temperatures were observed before (Clark and Reinhard, 1991). Sorghum seedlings grown at low temperatures have shown longer seminal roots, and thicker and shorter nodal roots (Anda and Pinter, 2002). Deeper rooting systems in sorghum growing on cold soils, together with a lower atmospheric demand during colder winter and spring months can be expected to increase the crop’s capacity to access water from deeper layers in the soil profile, and to increase water use efficiency. The ratooned crop will have lower establishment costs, and a shorter cycle compared to a late sown (December) crop. Particularly under irrigated conditions, cumulative yields of 20t/ha per season have been recorded (Andrew Miller – Surat, personal communication), and 17t/ha in Central Queensland (Graham Spackman – personal communication). In addition, assuming that the harvest of the ratooned crop takes place in April, there is opportunity for sowing a third crop i.e. chickpea, within the same financial year, making, the winter sown and ratooned sorghum crop a highly competitive option to cotton.

Research question: How does the winter sown and ratooned sorghum system fits the Northern Grains Region sorghum growing environments? 

Hypothesis: Ratooned winter sown sorghum crops offers the opportunity to grow three crops within the same financial year under irrigated conditions, or during wetter than average seasons.

Experiment: A simulation exercise will be run with APSIM to simulate the likely yields and risks at the cropping system level, associated with the practice of ratooning a winter sown sorghum crop.

Expected outcomes: The student will gain experience in the use of the APSIM simulation model (www.apsim.info). The model will be used to research the likely yields and risks at the cropping system level, associated with the practice of ratooning a winter sown sorghum crop. 

Project location: UQ Gatton Campus

SIPCA endorsement is required prior to commencement. 

Identification and estimation of prevalence of a new species – Glaesserella australis

Contact supervisor for program application support: Dr Conny Turni

Project description: The student would be part of a project that is looking at the prevalence of Glaesserella australis in the pig industry and also looking at the identification of the species in healthy animals at farm level to determine the colonisation of this species and therefore, determine preventative treatment and the timing of such treatment.  This work will also involve learning about the identification of other species to separate them from the new species and serotyping and genotyping them and the new species to determine the number of strains present.

Project location: Ecosciences Precinct Boggo Road, Dutton Park (10 min. walk from UQ St Lucia Campus)


Molecular identification of fungal species associated with avocado branch dieback

Contact supervisor for program application support: Dr Louisa Parkinson

Suitable for: The project is open to 3rd year Undergraduate or Masters-level Science or Biotechnology students enthusiastic about a career in molecular biology, microbiology, plant pathology or plant science.

Project description: Plant biosecurity and pathology diagnostics contributes towards food security and protecting agricultural crops by enabling the capacity for identifying plant pests and pathogens. Avocado is a billion-dollar industry and is challenged by numerous plant pests & pathogens, which hinder production. Branch dieback of avocado trees is an increasing problem in Queensland, and is associated with a complex of tree-boring ambrosia beetles, Euwallacea fornicates, and its fungal symbionts. The beetles deposit the fungal symbionts into the heartwood of tree branches for larvae to feed and the trees are susceptible to the fungus, resulting in branch death. Fungal isolates were collected from symptomatic avocado tree branches and beetle specimens, and pure cultures of the isolates have been submitted to the Queensland Government Plant Biosecurity Herbarium. The beetles and associated fungal isolates are members of cryptic species complexes and may represent new species, which need to be analysed in a phylogeny study. The aim of this study is to use molecular and bioinformatics techniques to identify the fungal isolates to species level.

Expected outcomes: Scholars will have an opportunity to consolidate their knowledge skills in molecular biology, and gain training and workforce experience in a PC2 laboratory setting:

  1. Molecular techniques (DNA extraction, PCR, gel electrophoresis, and spectrophotometry)
  2. Bioinformatics – using bioinformatics software & sequence databases, collecting & analysing nucleic acid sequence data, performing nucleotide alignments and multi-gene phylogenetic analyses.
  3. Conducting molecular work in a PC2 laboratory alongside scientific researchers from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), the Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and DAF Biosecurity. Potential opportunity for outstanding scholars in being offered higher degree research (HDR) or course-work projects.
  4. Planning and carrying out laboratory experiments, which will prepare scholars for independent research at Honours, Masters or PhD level.
  5. Safe laboratory/workplace practice and culture.

Project location: Ecosciences Precinct Boggo Road, Dutton Park (10 min. walk from UQ St Lucia Campus)

SIPCA endorsement is required prior to commencement. 

Planting the computational orchard

Contact supervisor for program application support: Associate Professor Jim Hanan

Suitable for: Students with agriculture, horticulture, plant science, computer science, information technology or statistical backgrounds

Project description: Development of new planting systems for Queensland orchards is a challenge because of the long time-frames for experimental work on trees. But what if we can grow a computational orchard that allows us to short circuit the process? This project will use data previously collected from experimental planting systems trials to develop functional structural plant models that address problems of interest to the scholar as well as to growers  and researchers in the area.

Expected outcomes: Scholars will learn the fundamentals of functional structural plant modelling, allowing visualisation and analysis of orchard data. They will develop  and present computational models of interest to researchers and growers in the team.

Project location: UQ St Lucia Campus

SIPCA endorsement is required prior to commencement. 

Response of wild oats to temperatures

Contact supervisor for program application support: Associate Professor Bhagirath Chauhan

Suitable for: This project is open to applications from students with a background in agriculture and UQ enrolled students only

Project description: Wild oats are becoming a serious problem in the grain cropping system of the northern region. They are ranked at #3 in the Australian grain regions, causing a revenue loss of $28 million. Wild oats are highly dormant and their germination is sporadic. Germination in the field depends on temperature; however, optimum temperatures for their germination are not well known in our conditions. Information on this aspect will help in finding suitable temperatures when wild oats emergence occurs in the field. These seedlings can then be controlled using different methods.

The main objective of this experiment is to evaluate the effect of different temperatures on wild oats germination. This experiment will be conducted in Petri dishes. These dishes will be placed in different incubators set at different temperatures. Germination will be counted every day.

Expected outcomes: Student may gain skills in data collection and he/she will be asked to present results at the end of the project.

Project location: UQ Gatton Campus

SIPCA endorsement is required prior to commencement. 

Using virtual plants to simulate photosynthesis in horticultural plants

Contact supervisor for program application support: Dr Inigo Auzmendi

Suitable for: This project is open to applications from 3-4 year students with a background in Plant Science. Students might have previous programing knowledge or not.

Project description: Plants assimilate the carbon required for maintenance and growth through photosynthesis. Estimating photosynthesis is not straightforward in horticultural plants with a complex canopy structure like avocado, macadamia and mango, because individual leaves within the canopy present different photosynthetic characteristics. Therefore, different approaches to simulate photosynthesis could result into different estimates of carbon assimilation. This project will involve the use of virtual plants to simulate photosynthesis of individual leaves and whole canopy with specific management practices like mechanical hedging or topping, different planting density and tree shape. The results of these simulations will be used to evaluate several biochemical and physiological photosynthesis models under various management conditions. The final goal is to determine on each case the most adequate photosynthesis model, and propose new approaches if necessary.

Expected outcomes: Scholars may gain skills in data collection, data analysis, photosynthesis, fruit tree management and computer simulations using virtual plants. Scholars with previous knowledge in programing can learn to develop their own photosynthesis models. Students will have an opportunity to generate publications from their research, and may also be asked to produce a report or oral presentation at the end of their project. 

Project location: UQ St Lucia 

SIPCA endorsement is required prior to commencement.