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:

Ecology and Sustainability (10)


Adhesives at the Beach 

Jonathan Wilker
Preferred major(s):
Chemistry or Materials Engineering or Biomedical Engineering or Chemical Engineering
Desired experience:
Students in our lab are not required to arrive with any particular expertise. Marine biology (e.g., working with live mussels), materials engineering (e.g., measuring mechanical properties of adhesives), and chemistry (e.g., making new polymers) are all involved in this work. Few people at any level will come in with knowledge about all aspects here. Consequently we are looking for adventurous students who are wanting to roll up their sleeves, get wet (literally), and learn several new things.

The oceans are home to a diverse collection of animals producing intriguing materials. Mussels, barnacles, oysters, starfish, and kelp are examples of the organisms generating adhesive matrices for affixing themselves to the sea floor. Our laboratory is characterizing these biological materials, designing synthetic polymer mimics, and developing applications. Characterization efforts include experiments with live animals, extracted proteins, and peptide models. Synthetic mimics of these bioadhesives begin with the chemistry learned from characterization studies and incorporate the findings into bulk polymers. For example, we are mimicking the cross-linking of DOPA-containing adhesive proteins by placing monomers with pendant catechols into various polymer backbones. Adhesion strengths of these new polymers can rival that of the cyanoacrylate “super glues.” Underwater bonding is also appreciable. Future efforts are planned in two different areas: A) Using biobased and biomimetic adhesives as the basis for making new plastic materials. This project will be more in the realm of materials engineering. B) Developing gel-based adhesives for wound closure. Work here will involve some aspects of biomedical engineering.

More information: http://www.chem.purdue.edu/wilker/


Efficient and renewable water treatment 

David Warsinger
Preferred major(s):
Mechanical, Civil, Electrical, Materials, Chemical, or Environmental Engineering
Desired experience:
Applicants should have an interest in thermodynamics, water treatment, and sustainability. Applicants with experience in some (not all) of the following are preferred: experimental design and prototyping, manufacturing, Python, LabView, EES, MATLAB, 3D CAD Software, & Adobe Illustrator. 2nd semester Sophomores, Juniors, and 1st semester Seniors are preferred.

Water and energy are tightly linked resources that must both become renewable for a successful future. However, today, water and energy resources are often in conflict with one another, especially related to impacts on electric grids. Further, advances in material science and artificial intelligence allow for new avenues to improve the widespread implementation of desalination and water purification technology. This project aims to explore nanofabricated membranes, artificial intelligence control algorithms, and thermodynamically optimized system designs. The student will be responsible for fabricating membranes, building hydraulic systems, modeling thermal fluid phenomenon, analyzing data, or implementing control strategies in novel system configurations.

More information: www.warsinger.com


Evaluation of a Prototype Membrane Heat Exchanger for Efficient Buildings 

Jim Braun
Preferred major(s):
Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:
Applicants should have a general interest in energy and sustainability. Should also have a strong background/interest in thermodynamics and heat transfer. Applicants with experience in some (not all) of the following are preferred: LabVIEW, Engineering Equation Solver, MATLAB, 3D-CAD Software, prototype design/manufacturing, and Adobe Illustrator. 2nd semester Sophomores, Juniors, and 1st semester Seniors are preferred. Students will partake in weekly literature reading and discussion small group meetings and will keep a log of their weekly progress. They will present their updates at weekly meetings and will present a talk or poster at the end of the summer. Students will end the summer with a greater understanding of the energy challenges in the building sphere and will develop a broad range of scientific skills pertinent to the design and evaluation of new technologies.

Buildings are the largest source of energy consumption in the U.S., constituting roughly 48% of our primary energy consumption, and air conditioning is one of the largest uses of energy within buildings. As global temperatures rise from global warming, populations grow, and greater emphasis is put on indoor air quality and comfort, cooling energy demand will grow too. The long-standing conventional technologies we rely on for space cooling are inherently inefficient in warm, humid climates where a large portion of the cooling energy goes to the condensation dehumidification process instead of air cooling. Thus, there is a great need for innovative, disruptive technological development that can challenge the way we’ve provided space cooling for decades. In this project, we are developing a novel technology that mechanically separates water vapor out of air using water vapor selective membranes, which is much more efficient than condensing water out of air. Additionally, we are exploring innovative heat and mass transport phenomena using novel materials. The student who joins this project will have the opportunity to contribute to important experimental work, will learn about energy use and the thermodynamics and heat transfer in buildings, and will learn about material development, too.

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


Indoor Air Chemistry & Physics 

Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s):
Any engineering or science major.
Desired experience:
Seeking a student passionate about studying environmental contaminants, air pollutant dynamics, HVAC systems, and filtration. Preferred skills: experience with MATLAB, Python, R. Coursework: chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, heat/mass transfer, fluid mechanics.

We spend 90% of our time indoors. Indoor air quality has a significant impact on human health and well-being. Our research group studies the physics and chemistry of indoor air. We use state-of-the-art measurement techniques to explore the dynamics of indoor air pollutants in diverse indoor environments. We are seeking a motivated student to assist with ongoing research projects related to indoor air chemistry - dynamics of volatile organic compounds and ozone in buildings and indoor air physics - emissions and filtration of airborne particles (aerosols). Your role will involve assisting graduate students with indoor air measurements and data analysis in MATLAB.

More information: www.brandonboor.com


Lake Michigan Shoreline Erosion - Measurements and Modeling 

Cary Troy
Preferred major(s):
Civil or Environmental Engineering
Desired experience:
Must love water. Must not hate Matlab. Must love to be outside. (no guarantees w/Covid!!) Must be a great team member and communicate well. Must be willing to work hard, get frustrated, and persevere.

In the Great Lakes, water levels have been at record highs in the last few years , and the damage to the shorelines has been immense and costly (just google "Lake Michigan erosion" to see newspaper articles and videos). As engineers, we need to be better able to predict this erosion and design resilient shorelines that can withstand the huge variations in water levels that may be a consequence of climate change. The aims of this research are two-fold: (1) Quantify recent erosion along Lake Michigan's shoreline, using both direct measurements and remote sensing; (2) Develop a computational model that can predict this erosion.

With these aims in mind, this summer research project aims to leverage students' strengths to contribute to the best of their abilities. Research activities can include boat work on Lake Michigan, beach surveys with LiDAR-equipped drones, data analysis using Matlab and/or Arc-GIS, laboratory experiments involving water flumes and acoustic instrumentation, and setting up/running sophisticated computer models that aim to simulate how waves and currents move sand along the shoreline. This project is best suited for a student really interested in water, potentially setting you down a path to become a hydraulic (water) or coastal engineer, working to create more sustainable and resilient coastlines and waterways.

More information: https://engineering.purdue.edu/CE/People/view_person?resource_id=24098


Measuring wetland greenhouse gas emissions with environmental Internet of Things sensors. 

Jacob Hosen
Preferred major(s):
Biology, Natural Resources, Computer Science, and Environmental Engineering majors (interpreted broadly).
Desired experience:
Students with an interest in working with IoT technology, including sensors powered by Arduino processors, are encouraged to apply. Experience with environmental sensors and/or wetland field work is beneficial, but not required.

Wetlands in agricultural landscapes are important sites for maintaining water quality in streams, rivers, and reservoirs that are downstream of farmland. Despite these benefits, such wetlands can be a large source of potent greenhouse gasses—primarily methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Yet, data on the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by agricultural wetlands and the environmental factors that cause these differences are not widely available. For this project, we will leverage environmental internet of things (IoT) technology to deploy networks of gas sensors in agricultural wetlands. We will use these gas sensors to determine what local environmental factors (e.g., water inundation length, elevation, soil organic matter content) cause CH4 and N2O emissions to increase and decrease from wetland soils.

The student working on this project would be responsible for deploying gas sensors, which will involve fieldwork at wetlands located near Purdue. This student will also have the opportunity to analyze the data collected from these sensors with the assistance of faculty and graduate student mentors.

More information: http://www.ecosystemscience.io


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.


Mobile Air Quality Sensors and the Internet of Things 

Greg Michalski
Preferred major(s):
Data science, computer science, electrical engineering, computer engineering, chemistry
Desired experience:
One or more of the following Java, python, html, raspberriPI, aurdino, circuits, statistics, machine learning, internet of things, cloud computing

The project goal is to design and develop a hardware, software and cloud computing system for the acquisition of air quality data from mobile platforms such as taxis, backpacks, and drones. The sensors will be deployed around Purdue and eventually in the city of Arequipa, Peru. Data will be used to assess the spatial and temporal changes in air pollutions in Peru's 2nd largest city. The research is a collaboration between Purdue and the University of San Augustin (UNSA) as part of the NEXUS project.

More information: https://www.purdue.edu/discoverypark/arequipa-nexus/en/index.php


Remote sensing of soil moisture using Signals of Opportunity: Field Experiments and Validation Studies  

James Garrison
Preferred major(s):
EE, AAE, ABE, Agronomy, Civil
Desired experience:
Position 1 - signal processing, microwave hardware, programming (C, python, matlab) Position 2 - agricultural field and lab experience, electronic hardware, Both positions - willingness and ability to work outdoors, access to transportation.

Root Zone Soil Moisture (RZSM), defined as the water profile in the top meter of soil where most plant absorption occurs, is an important environmental variable for understanding the global water cycle, forecasting droughts and floods, and agricultural management. No existing satellite remote sensing instrument can measure RZSM. Sensing below the top few centimeters of soil, often through dense vegetation, requires the use of microwave frequencies below 500 MHz, a frequency range known as “P-band”. A P-band microwave radiometer would require an aperture diameter larger than 10 meters. Launching such a satellite into orbit will present big and expensive technical challenge, certainly not feasible for a low-cost small satellite mission. This range for frequencies is also heavily utilized for UHF/VHF communications, presenting an enormous amount of radio frequency interference (RFI). Competition for access to this spectrum also makes it difficult to obtain the required license to use active radar for scientific use.

Signals of opportunity (SoOp) are being studied as alternatives to active radars or passive radiometry. SoOp re-utilizes existing powerful communication satellite transmissions as “free” sources of illumination, measuring the change in the signal after reflecting from soil surface. In this manner, SoOp methods actually make use of the very same transmissions that would cause interference in traditional microwave remote sensing. Communication signal processing methods are used in SoOp, enabling high quality measurements to be obtained with smaller, lower gain, antennas.

Under NASA funding, Purdue and the Goddard Space Flight Center have developed prototype instrumentation using P-band (360-380 MHz) and I-band (137 MHz) SoOp measurements to retrieve soil moisture. These studies have culminated in the planned (2021) launch of the SNOOPI (SigNals Of Opportunity P-band Investigation) satellite to present the first demonstration of these measurements from orbit.

To support this mission, an extensive campaign of experiments are planned in the Purdue agricultural research fields and potentially at some remote locations. We are seeking up to two motivated students to assist with these experiments. One position may involve installing and maintaining remote sensing instruments in the field and on an Unpiloted Aerial Vehicle (UAV), writing software for signal and data processing, and performing quality control checks on the collected data. The other position may involve collecting field measurements of soil and vegetation properties.

Students in Electrical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering or Physics are desired for the first position. Good programming skills, experience with C, python and MATLAB, and a strong background in basic signal processing is required. Experience with building computers or other electronic equipment will also be an advantage.

Students in Agronomy, Agricultural and Biological Engineering or Civil Engineering are desired for the second position. Laboratory or field experience is desired.

In both cases, students must be willing to work outdoors for a substantial amount of time and have an interest in applying their skills to solving problems in the Earth sciences, environment, or agriculture. Students should have their own means of transportation as the experimental sites are in remote locations.

More information: https://science.nasa.gov/technology/technology-highlights/cubesat-mission-demonstrate-innovative-method-mapping-soil-moisture-and-snow-space


Smart Water for Smart Cities 

Inez Hua
Preferred major(s):
EEE, CE, or IE
Desired experience:
Minimum GPA: 3.0. Preferred majors: Environmental and Ecological Engineering, Civil Engineering, or Industrial Engineering. Preferred coursework: CE/EEE 350 or CE/EEE 355 or EEE 250 Preferred skills: Proficiency with programming in R or Python Python, experience with ArcGIS or similar programs.

Water is centrally important to environmental sustainability: it supports human societal needs and the natural environment, and powers the growth of economic sectors, geographic regions, and cities. Data science should be harnessed to better understand how much and where water is consumed. The undergraduate researcher will be apply methods to quantify and model industrial water consumption at fine spatial and industry-sector resolution, visualize the results with geographic information systems, and interpret the impacts of water consumption on the urban environment.