The flagship service offered by SPARQ-ed is open to all senior year 10, 11 and 12 students and teachers throughout Queensland. NOTE: Students must be at least 15 years old to participate in the Immersion Program. These programs are week-long enrichment activities offered to senior students and teachers in which participants undertake a scientific project devised in collaboration with one of the world renowned research groups within TRI's partner institutes.

Students participating in the research immersion programs can opt to complete an additional assessment piece which can earn them a point under the University of Queensland's Bonus Ranks Scheme. More information about this option can be found here.

Student participants are accepted on a first-come-first-served basis. Participants must provide the written endorsement of a teacher from their school stating why they would benefit from the experience. Registration and payment are made via Eventbrite at the link shown below (see ‘How to Apply’).

For each research immersion program, a project is designed which can be carried out by the participants over the course of five consecutive days. The project aim is normally to perform research to answer a question which is connected to the work of the contributing group. These programs are conducted in a dedicated teaching laboratory on the ground floor of TRI, under the supervision of a Coordinator (an experienced registered science teacher) and tutors drawn from TRI's post-graduate students.

In past projects, participants have used advanced cell and molecular biology techniques to create gene constructs used in research into metabolic disorders and prostate cancer, create libraries of mutated versions of genes important in molecular virology and cancer research, cloned segments of genes involved in the regulation of the cell cycle and observed the localisation and function of important proteins within cancer cells. The techniques used included the polymerase chain reaction, site-directed mutagenesis, genetic recombination and transformation of bacteria, DNA sequencing and fluorescence and confocal microscopy. In carrying out these techniques, participants learn how the theory they learn in the classroom is put into practical use.

In addition to the experimental program, participants have the opportunity to interact with a dynamic group of students and scientists as they try solve some of the pressing biomedical issues facing society. Participants attend research seminars at the cutting edge of biomedical science, learn valuable academic research skills in a tutorial at the Pharmacy Australian Centre of Excellence (PACE) medical library and develop their skills in science communication with the aid of UQDI's resident science writer. The culmination of the week is a closing symposium where participants present their findings to the staff and students of TRI.

How to apply

Buy tickets for SPARQ-ed 5 day immersions    Participant information

  1. After your registration and payment is received, additional information may be required including further student information and approval from the school.
  2. If you are a regional or remote student you are encouraged to apply for a Lion's Medical Research Foundation bursary to assist with travel and accommodation costs (see below for more information).

Please note: 

  • If you are having trouble accessing the above link, please contact the SPARQ-ed team at
  • Teacher participants are welcome and are encouraged to contact the coordinator at to apply.
  • Fees: Government school students $200, Non-Government school students $400. 

Lions Medical Research Foundation Scholarships

Thanks to the generous support of the Lions Medical Research Foundation, we can now offer scholarships to students from regional and remote Queensland to assist in costs associated with travel and accommodation. 

The Lions Medical Research Foundation has a long history of supporting scientists in the important work that they do. In an effort to foster the next generation of medical researchers, the LMRF and SPARQ-ed are pleased to announce travel scholarships for students from regional and remote Queensland participating in SPARQ-ed research Immersion programs. These awards, of up to $750 per recipient, are paid directly to the families of student participants to help defray the costs in travelling to and staying in Brisbane during the program.


In order for students to be eligible for an LMRF SPARQ-ed Scholarship, students must :

  • Be willing to provide an estimate of travel and accommodation costs on application and provide copies of receipts once availiable
  • Have been accepted into a SPARQ-ed research immersion program through the normal application process
  • Be enrolled in Year 10, 11 or 12 at the time they participate in the research immersion program at a Queensland school (state or non-government sector- NOTE year 12's cannot participate in the Nov program as they are no longer enrolled in school)
  • Have as their principal place of residence a location which is at least 56km from the SPARQ ed facility (in Woolloongabba, Brisbane) by the local transport service or at least 3 hours total travelling time per day from the SPARQ-ed facility by the local transport service


  • Be willing to stay at a location other than their principal place of residence during the duration of the SPARQ-ed Program. This may be alternative accommodation with friends or family or other accommodation organized by their family.
  • Be achieving at least a B average in science related subjects at school (students must be studying Biology and/or Chemistry)
  • Be prepared to appear in publicity materials for and engage in negotiated promotional activities organized by SPARQ-ed and the LMRF which clearly identifies them as LMRF SPARQ-ed Scholarship recipients

Other Considerations

  • Funding available for scholarships is limited to a total of 40 per year. Scholarships are awarded based on time of application to students who are attending their first research immersion program
  • Scholarship funds will be made available to parents or nominated guardians of the students following successful completion of the research immersion program

How to apply

  • LMRF SPARQ-ed Scholarships are awarded to students who have successfully applied for and placed in a SPARQ-ed research immersion program.
  • Successful scholarship recipients will be notified prior to the commencement of the program and provided with the necessary forms to complete.
  • Scholarship funds will be transferred to the nominated bank account following completion of the required forms and successful engagement with the research immersion program.

For more information about these scholarships, please contact the SPARQ-ed office on (07) 3443 6920, or at

For more information about the Lions Medical Research Foundation, please visit

Buy tickets for SPARQ-ed 5 day immersions

2018 dates

  • 9-13 April (Commonwealth Games week) - Years 10, 11 and 12 only
  • 2-6 July - Years 10, 11, 12 - Residential regional and remote student Immersion (min age 15 years) - accommodation UQ College
  • 9-13 July UQ special event - Years 10, 11, and 12 - Residential regional student Immersion (min age 15 years) - accommodation UQ College
  • 17-21 September (Last week of term 3) - Years 10, 11, and 12
  • 24-28 September - Years 10, 11, and 12
  • 2-5 October - Years 10, 11, and 12
  • 3-7 December - Years 10 and 11 only
  • 10-14 December - Years 10 and 11 only

9-13 April - Investigation of retrotransposon activity by flow cytometry

Mobile DNA or RNA elements (i.e. transposons/ retrotransposons or “jumping genes”) are believed to be critical drivers of evolution. These are repetitive nucleotide sequences that can cut or copy themselves out of the genome and re-insert elsewhere in the genome. Depending on their re-insertion site, transposons and retrotransposons can disrupt critical genes and inactivate them or alter their expression so as to cause disease. Mobilisation of transposons has been widely studied in many disease states including cancer, and up to 18 human diseases have been identified to be caused by recent insertion events.  

In this immersion program, we will measure the rate of retrotransposon activity in cells using reporter assays based on green and cherry fluorescent proteins and antibiotic resistance. The assays will reveal the role of key enzymes involved in the retrotransposition process. Students will be immersed in conducting modern-day research techniques including cell culture, transfection of mammalian cells with DNA, followed by techniques to measure reporter-gene activity including flow cytometric and microscopy-based analyses.

Learn more about Flow Cytometry.

Flow cytometry


2-6 July - Investigating cell death pathways in the mammary gland using histology and immunofluorescence microscopy

Dr Felicity Davis’s team study the remarkable changes that occur in the breast during puberty, pregnancy, and before and after breastfeeding. Their goals are to investigate cell growth and cell death during these phases, and to use these insights to develop new strategies for controlling the growth and death of breast cancer cells.

In this project, students will visualise mammary epithelial cells during pubertal growth, lactation and during post-lactational regression (involution) using histology and fluorescence microscopy. Students will explore whether specific proteins alter their expression or cellular localisation during these phases of massive cell proliferation and cell death.

Investigating Cell Death Pathways in the Mammary Gland using Histology and Immunofluorescence Microscopy


9-13 July - Investigating signalling pathways that regulate cell proliferation

The cytokine, thrombopoietin (TPO), is the chief regulator of megakaryocyte (MK) and platelet production, acting via its receptor, MPL (or TPO-R). The TPO molecule binds to its receptor on the plasma membrane of these cell types and their precursors to initiate a cascade of signalling events within these cells.

In humans, a lack of functional MPL results in congenital amegakaryocytic thrombocytopenia (CAMT), a rare condition in which infants develop a platelet and MK deficiency that if untreated, leads to multi-lineage failure (or a loss of blood cells of multiple types).  While a complete loss of TPO-R leads to thrombocytopenia (or low blood platelet count), other mutations in MPL have been identified in patients with increased platelet numbers. These disorders include familial thrombocytosis (or excessive platelet production) and two of the myeloproliferative neoplasms (or blood cancers), essential thrombocythemia (or overproduction of platelets in bone marrow), and myelofibrosis (a bone marrow disorder).

In this immersion, students will compare the structure, mechanism of activation and downstream signalling of TPO-R in normal physiology with that of disease-causing (hyperactive) mutants with a view to helping researchers to develop effective therapeutics to treat such conditions.

 Investigating signalling pathways that regulate cell proliferation


Dynamic tumour heterogeneity in melanoma therapy: exploring this using a novel model system

Associate Professor Nikolas Haass is a clinician scientist specializing in skin cancers. His team specialize in three-dimensional cell culture models, which recreate the correct interactions of the melanoma with its tumour microenvironment and thus predict the effects of drugs on the tumour in a much better way than the conventional two-dimensional cell culture models. His team apply cutting-edge intravital multi-photon microscopy.

In this project students will work with Assoc. Prof. Haass’s model to identify what causes acquired multidrug tol­erance in melanoma. Using the Fluorescent ubiquitination-based cell cycle indicator (FUCCI)-system, cutting edge imaging technology, participants will explore the biology of dynamic heterogeneity, which is critical for the develop­ment of novel melanoma treatment strategies such as drug sensitivity and resistance.

View course pre readings and resources

DNA breast cancer gene mutations and genome rearrangement

Dr. Eloise Dray's team are researching genome mutations in breast cancer patients. Some cancer cells have what is called a ‘hot’ genome. It means that they accumulate mutations at a higher rate than normal cells, which not only contributes to the cancer phenotype but also makes the cells become resistant to treatment.

In this project, students will visualize the chromosomes of various breast cancer cells lines, and cells containing patient mutations, to investigate whether their genome undergoes physical rearrangement as they grow in normal media or after treatment with drugs. 

View immersion resources

Turning off the Immune response in Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers: investigating anti-collagen II (AC II) antibodies

Professor Ranjeny Thomas and her team are developing treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) sufferers to target and turn off the immune response to specific self-antigens, such as citrullinated peptides or collagen II. In this project students will test  anti-collagen II antibodies in patients with RA and at-risk relatives, and determine whether they are produced at higher levels in patients carrying HLA-DRB1 RA-susceptibility genes. View more information.

Purifying the guardian of your genome hSSB1 

Associate Professor Derek Richard’s team are investigating the cellular processes that allow cells to cope with genomic stress and how these processes are modified in disease. This research centres on the initial basic discoveries of how these processes function in normal cells to prevent disease, and then how these pathways go wrong in diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.  In this project students will work with researchers from Associate Professor Derek Richard’s team to amplify and purify the human protein hSSB1 for use in experiments that will address how this protein functions at the molecular level within our cells. View more information and resources.