Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies News

Dr. Chao Cai Receives NSF REU Site Grant for New Undergraduate Research Experience at Purdue

April 27th, 2022

Dr. Chao Cai

Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies assistant professor and principal investigator Dr. Chao Cai has received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site grant totalling $402,971 for his project “REU Site: Purdue Undergraduate Research Experiences for Plant Biology and Data Science (PURE-PD)” in conjunction with Co-PI Dr. Natalia Dudareva, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and director of the Center for Plant Biology (CPB) in the College of Agriculture. This award will support the plant biology, data science, and research training of ten students from under-represented backgrounds for ten weeks during the summers of 2022–2024. 

PURE-PD traces its roots to 2019, when Dr. Cai was invited by Dr. Clint Chapple, then-director of the CPB, and Dr. Jody Banks to consult on the idea of establishing the CPB as a new REU site. Dr. Cai’s training as a plant biologist, and his affiliation with Purdue Libraries, known for its excellent research and pedagogy support, made him an ideal choice for a new and innovative collaboration. “With my experiences working with big biological datasets and teaching research data management, I proposed a data science-focused theme for the REU site,” said Dr. Cai. “Data skills are crucial for 21st century researchers, as well as important, transferable skills for nearly every professional career our students may pursue.”  

As the group brainstormed how to build the proposal and program, Dr. Cai realized that Libraries’ support for research, and undergraduate student research experiences, is unmatched, and that it would be critical for the successful development of a summer research program. “Information literacy, data literacy, and scholarly communications form the foundation for efficient research practices, and this is where Purdue Libraries excels.” Dr. Cai said. “Thus, I volunteered to take the lead in designing the program and writing the proposal. We went through a couple rounds of revisions with some awesome suggestions from reviewers. Finally, we were selected for funding in 2022, and our first cohort of undergraduate researchers will arrive on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus in May.”

Through diverse research projects and hands-on training, the program will increase the participation of students in STEM disciplines and prepare them for careers in plant biology and data science. Thirty students in total, primarily from schools with limited research opportunities or from under-represented groups, will be trained and tracked after the program ends in order to determine their career path outcomes. 

Of his goals for the project, Dr. Cai said “Because our REU program targets students from institutions with limited research resources and from underrepresented backgrounds, I hope it will give them an exciting opportunity to participate in the remarkable research projects conducted in the CPB, inspire them to continue doing research, and that the skills we teach them will have a positive impact on their future careers.”

The PURE-PD REU program is one of the first programs of its kind led by an academic research library. “I’m very excited about this opportunity to explore how to maximize the integration of library instructions and activities in summer undergraduate research programs,” Dr. Cai said, “and possibly set up an example for other academic research libraries to take the lead on similar programming opportunities.”

Recruitment for the ten-week 2022 summer season has already begun. More information about the program and application process for students can be found at

About Chao Cai: Dr. Cai is an assistant professor and Plant Sciences Information Specialist in Libraries and School of Information Studies. He acts as the Libraries liaison to departments within the College of Agriculture, as well as the Institute for Plant Sciences. Dr. Cai holds a PhD in plant biology, and is actively involved in the research and instruction of bioinformatics, information literacy, and data literacy. He may be reached at