Student Stories

Read All About It: The Triple Helix

Name: The Triple Helix

Established in: 2005

Leadership (2017-2018): Salman Arif, Class of 2018, and Nilanjana Ray, Class of 2019

Most memorable moment: Hosted an event at the height of the Ebola epidemic, where experts on the virus communicated insights from their research to a general audience

How to get involved: Biannual applications at the beginning of fall quarter and the middle of winter quarter. Students can apply for one of The Triple Helix’s three flagship publications: Scientia, Science and Society Review, or E-Pub

Where to find it on campus: Print and digital issues of Scientia as well as Science and Society Review published quarterly; E-Pub articles published exclusively online over the course of the school year

Befitting its name, The Triple Helix is an organization that takes on a lot of moving parts at once. With three flagship publications, the international organization gives undergraduates the opportunity to publish original research, write about the intersections between science and society, and host scientific researchers for campus events.

The Triple Helix was started in 2004 by a Cornell undergrad, with its UChicago-specific chapter founded the subsequent year. Now a staple of the scientific community on campus for over a decade, The Triple Helix publishes two print publications, Scientia and Science in Society Review (SISR), as well as one exclusively online publication, E-Pub.

Published twice a year, Scientia is a rigorous, “hard science” journal of undergraduate research. SISR explores intersections between science, politics, economics, the law, and more, allowing students to communicate the societal importance of at-times seemingly arcane scientific ideas. Finally, E-Pub, a frequently updated online blog, provides an outlet for students to write more casually about science.

“We try to make sure there’s a fit for anyone with any sort of interest,” explained Nilanjana Ray, a third-year biology and psychology double major and the current vice president of UChicago's chapter of The Triple Helix.

The most recent issue of Scientia featured academic articles on cancer cells, Fragile X syndrome, nitrate pollution, and more—reflecting the diversity of topics Scientia publishes and the capacity of UChicago undergrads to conduct innovative research on a wide range of subjects. Scientia’s upcoming issue will be its first specifically focused around the Institute for Molecular Engineering (IME) and will feature interviews with IME professors interspersed alongside student research.

For students eager to share their findings but struggling to find other venues for publication, The Triple Helix’s Scientia offers a rare opportunity.

“We’re really unique in that we provide a platform for undergrads to actually publish their research, which is nearly impossible,” fourth-year economics major and chapter president Salman Arif said.

“It’s important to think that these undergrads that are doing this research will possibly expand on it when they go on to higher education. Building on this one project over time could lead to something big, so I think it’s good to expose the ideas that undergrads have to everyone, not just undergrads,” Ray added.

Members of the Triple Helix hear a professor describe his research

While Scientia appeals more to those undergrads actively involved in rigorous scientific research, SISR covers a more diverse range of academic disciplines. Students from traditional science majors as well from the philosophy, sociology, anthropology, economics, and HIPS departments have all contributed to the magazine.

“It’s important for people to be exposed to things that they [wouldn’t] understand otherwise but will be impacting them in the future…Things like that can be condensed in Science in Society Review,” Ray said.

For instance, the most recent issue of SISR—a first-time cross-collaboration with other Triple Helix chapters at universities across North America and Europe—focused on the pharmaceutical industry. Analyzing big pharma from a range of perspectives, UChicago undergrads contributed pieces about the arduous process involved in getting drugs approved for public use and on how technological innovations are revolutionizing the drug industry.

“Getting those different perspectives and being able to work with people from different schools was a really valuable experience for the people involved,” Arif said.

Another point of pride for The Triple Helix is its event scheduling arm, which has hosted writers’ workshops, publication release parties, and, most commonly, events where prominent academics can present their research to a general audience. Past speakers have discussed topics as far-reaching as the Affordable Care Act, the sociology of social media campaigns, and ruminations about the Ebola virus at the height of the epidemic.

Arif describes The Triple Helix as a “science communication RSO” and sees value in allowing students to communicate their ideas through writing and professors to communicate their ideas through these events.

Looking forward, Arif and Ray both hope to publicize The Triple Helix more widely, creating more opportunities for students of all academic disciplines—both those majoring in hard sciences, and those who are not—to get involved.

“One thing that we’ve always been striving towards is getting more sciences involved. It’d be really cool to see what math research is happening, what computer science research is happening, and even getting some more of the social sciences,” Ray said.

“Not everyone is a hard science major, but it’s important to make research and discovery accessible to different people,” Arif added.