2021 Research Projects

Projects are posted below; new projects will continue to be posted. To learn more about the type of research conducted by undergraduates, view the 2021 Research Symposium Abstracts (PDF) and search the past SURF projects.

This is a list of research projects that may have opportunities for undergraduate students. Please note that it is not a complete list of every SURF project. Undergraduates will discover other projects when talking directly to Purdue faculty.

You can browse all the projects on the list or view only projects in the following categories:

Cellular Biology (5)


Defining Chemical Modifications on Histones that Control Chromosome Integrity 

Ann Kirchmaier
Preferred major(s):
Biochemistry, Biology, Biological Engineering or similar
Desired experience:
General Chemistry required, introduction to molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics preferred.

The student will join a multi-disciplinary team investigating epigenetic processes, chromatin structure and gene regulation. This project will involve learning and applying biochemical, genetic and molecular biology strategies to build and characterize customized budding yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) strains or mammalian cell lines for the investigation of evolutionarily conserved protein-protein interactions and post-translational modifications using state-of-the-art detection and quantification strategies. Biological targets may include histone modifying enzymes, histone modifications, histone variants and chromatin assembly and DNA replication factors.

More information: https://ag.purdue.edu/biochem/Pages/Profile.aspx?strAlias=akirchma&intDirDeptID=9


Engineering human stem cells for targeted cancer therapy  

Xiaoping Bao
Preferred major(s):
Chemical, Biological, Biochemistry or any related major
Desired experience:
Previous experience with cell culture and molecular biology is a bonus, but NOT required.

Cancer is a major threat for humans worldwide, with over 18 million new cases and 9.6 million cancer-related deaths in 2019. Although most common cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, unsatisfactory cure rates require new therapeutic approaches. Recently, adoptive cellular immunotherapies with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) engineered T and natural killer (NK) cells have shown impressive clinical responses in patients with various blood and solid cancers. However, current clinical practices are limited by the need of large numbers of healthy immune cells, resistance to gene editing, lack of in vivo persistence, and a burdensome manufacturing strategy that requires donor cell extraction, modulation, expansion, and re-introduction per each patient. The ability to generate universally histocompatible and
genetically-enhanced immune cells from continuously renewable human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) lines offers the potential to develop a true off-the-shelf cellular immunotherapy. While functional CAR-T and NK cells have been successfully derived from hPSCs, a significant gap remains in the scalability, time-consuming (5 or more weeks), purity and robustness of the differentiation methods due to the cumbersome use of serum, and/or feeder cells, which will incur potential risk for contamination and may cause batch-dependency in the treatment. This project thus aims to develop a novel, chemically-defined platform for robust production of CAR-T and CAR-NK cells from hPSCs.

More information: https://engineering.purdue.edu/ChE/people/ptProfile?resource_id=210038


Microbiological Dynamics of Drinking Water during Stagnation 

Caitlin Proctor
Preferred major(s):
Biology, Environmental and Ecological Engineering, Civil Engineering, Environmental Science
Desired experience:
Experience in a biological lab is desired but not required. All hands-on lab skills can be taught.

The pipes that deliver drinking water to individual taps develop into complex ecosystems. Most of the bacteria that live on these pipes and in the water are harmless, but several are capable of causing disease. For example, Legionella pneumophila is a bacterium that causes a potentially fatal pneumonia in immunocompromised individuals. It is thus critical to understand and ultimately control the ecosystem within these pipes. This work will contribute to policies (e.g., the minimum required temperature in a water heater) and technologies (e.g., auto-flushing sinks) that will limit needless disease.

In this project, the student will utilize bench scale experiments, a pilot-scale piping rig, and full-scale plumbing systems to test hypotheses regarding establishment of biofilm and relationships between biofilm and water over time. The student will collect and analyze water samples, using a variety of tools to fully characterize the physiochemical and biological dynamics within the system. They will also learn how to write a scientific report and will present it at the SURF symposium.


Real time analysis of viral particles for continuous processing approach 

Arezoo Ardekani
Preferred major(s):
Chemical Eng, Biological Eng, Biomedical Eng, Physics, Mechanical Eng
Desired experience:
This project requires lab work and presence on campus, however, an online version can be offered to focus on coarse-grained modeling of proteins/cells.

The increasing worldwide demand for vaccines along with the intensifying economic pressure on health care systems underlines the need for further improvement of vaccine manufacturing. In addition, regulatory authorities are encouraging investment in the continuous manufacturing processes to ensure robust production, avoid shortages, and ultimately lower the cost of medications for patients. The limitations of in-line process analytical tools are a serious drawback of the efforts taken in place. In line analysis of viral particles are very limited, due to the large time required for the current techniques for detection, qualitative and quantitative analysis. Therefore, there is a need for new alternatives for viral detection.

More information: https://engineering.purdue.edu/ComplexFlowLab/


Synthetic neuron 

Chongli Yuan
Preferred major(s):

Neurons convert biochemical information (through binding of a neurotransmitter) to electrical signal (via action potential) and back to biochemical signal (through the release of neurotransmitters). These distinct and separable processes can be reconstituted in a synthetic neuron by using natural and engineered proteins, and a synthetic neuron platform can be used to understand the rules governing the emergence of the present morphology of a neuron and the architecture of the neuronal system. This project thus aims to construct a synthetic neuron with a modular design and a programmable synthetic neuronal network capable of recapitulating basic functions of a natural neuronal system (e.g., action potential, synaptic communication, and basic computation) and with a long-term vision of incorporating more advanced computation and potentiation.