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:
Energy and Environment (22)
Advanced Textile based Wearable Devices
We are developing advanced textile materials towards next generation comfortable and wearable devices. The student will be involved in the design, fabrication and demonstration of the wearable devices including sensors, circuit components, power generators, etc.
More information: https://www.tianliresearch.com/
Bio-inspired Radiative Cooling Nanocomposites
Radiative cooling is a passive cooling technology without power consumption, via reflecting sunlight and radiating heat into the deep space. Compared to conventional air conditioners, radiative cooling not only saves energy, but also combats global warming. Recently, our group has invented commercial-like particle-matrix paints that cool below the surrounding temperature under direct sunlight. The Purdue cooling paints attracted remarkable global attention. Read, for example, the BBC News coverage here: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54632523. Currently we are working to improve the performance and create new radiative cooling solutions using bio-inspired concepts.
In this SURF project, we look for a self-motivated student to work with our PhD students. The student will first synthesize bio-inspired nanocomposites via some wet chemistry and/or nanoscale 3D printing methods. The optical, mechanical, and other relevant properties will then be characterized with spectrometers and specialized equipment, with a particular focus on the effect of different particle alignment/processing techniques on the optical and mechanical properties. Field testing will be performed to measure the cooling performance of the materials and devices. The work is expected to results in journal paper(s) of high quality. Students who make substantial contributions to the work can expect to be co-authors of the paper(s).
More information: https://engineering.purdue.edu/NANOENERGY/
Catalytic Conversion of Methane to Chemicals and Fuels
Methane is the most abundant component of natural and shale gas. The ability to convert methane to chemicals and fuels using catalytic technologies would enable developing lower CO2-footprint energy sources to power our society. This project will involve catalyst design, research and development to selectively convert methane into alcohol and aromatic products. The student will learn how to synthesize, characterize and evaluate novel catalytic materials and conduct research at the interface of materials science and heterogeneous catalysis.
More information: https://sites.google.com/site/rgounder/
Design, construction and simulation of scaled test facility for gas cooled reactor cavity building blowdown
The main goal of the research is to develop a scaled experimental facility to study a High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor (HTGR) building response in the event of a depressurization accident caused by a break in the primary coolant boundary and obtain first-of-a-kind data on the oxygen concentration distribution for validation of reactor safety codes and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) models. It is proposed to conduct experiments in a well-scaled test facility representing reference GA-MHGTR reactor building cavities and obtain oxygen concentration as function of time and space for range of reactor building vent locations, flow paths, and break sizes, locations and orientations. To support the experimental program, it is proposed to perform analysis of the reactor building response with a system level reactor safety code complimented by a CFD analysis for detailed localized predictions. The task under this project include study of the HTGR reactor components, where actual dimensions of the systems components are collected data, using scaling design scaled facility, and perform CFD analysis. Students interested on hands on experience in the laboratory, willing to build test facility, perform experiment, and analyze data are welcome. Great opportunity to develop thermal hydraulics laboratory skills.
Design, fabrication, and testing of an environmental chamber for X-ray characterization
High energy X-rays produced by synchrotron sources can be used to characterize the 3D microstructure and evolution of the lattice strains (and thereby stresses) in each grain during thermo-mechanical loading. For this project, we would use high energy X-rays to characterize the evolution of a fatigue crack in a corrosive environment. This project would entail the design, fabrication, and testing of an environmental chamber. The chamber would enclose the specimen in a corrosive environment, and at the same time, applying loading to the specimen. The design would need to limit the impedance of the incoming/outgoing X-ray sources during characterization.
More information: https://engineering.purdue.edu/~msangid/
Developing and Studying Activities for Localized Engineering Curricula
Engineering programs provide a unique pathway for learners to reassert control over their environment, demonstrate agency and decision making, build strong social connections, and take on crucial roles in their communities, all while developing complementary professional (“21st century”) skills. We have demonstrated through our Localized Engineering in Displacement (LED101) course that authentic engineering learning opportunities can serve as a vehicle for community development while simultaneously expanding the representation of engineers to explicitly include marginalized, displaced learners. The course has run multiple times, each cohort with a central “authentic” (real-world) challenge that is the context for all learning activities. The class for which our undergraduate researcher would develop activities, assess the implementation process, and study the impact will offer as its “authentic problem” the need for students to design, build, optimize, and implement a solar-powered lighting solution for girls, mothers, and the community studying at home during COVID in Senegal.
Efficient and renewable water treatment
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
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
High Performance Halide Perovskite Solar Cells
Sunlight is the most abundant renewable energy resource available to human beings, and yet it remains one of the most poorly utilized sources of clean energy. Solar cell modules incorporating single crystalline silicon and gallium arsenide currently provide the highest efficiencies for solar energy conversion to electricity but remain limited due to their high costs.
In the past few years, perovskite solar cell technology has made significant progress, improving in efficiency to ~25%, while maintaining attractive economics due to the use of inexpensive soluble materials coupled with ultra low-cost deposition technologies. However, the real applications of these devices requires new breakthroughs in device performance, large-scale manufacturing, and improved stability. Among these, stability and degradation are among the most significant challenges for perovskite technologies. Perovskite absorber layer and organic charge transport materials can be sensitive to water, oxygen, high temperatures, ultraviolet light, and even electric field, all of which will be encountered during operation. To address these issues, significant efforts have been made, including mixed dimensionality and surface passivation; alternative absorber materials and formulations, new charge transport layers, and advanced encapsulation techniques, etc. Now, T80 lifetimes (i.e., the length of time in operation until measured output power is 80% of original output power) of over 1,000 hours have been demonstrated. However, it is still far below the industry required 20 years lifetime, indicating the ineffectiveness of current approaches. To make this advance, non-incremental and fundamentally new strategies are required to improve the intrinsic stability of perovskite active materials.
In this project, we propose a new paradigm to develop intrinsically robust perovskite active layers through the incorporation of multi-functional semiconducting conjugated ligands. In preliminary work, we have demonstrated that semiconducting ligands can spontaneously organize within the active layer to passivate defects and restrict halide diffusion, resulting in dramatic improvements in moisture and oxygen tolerance, reduced phase segregation, and increased thermal stability. Combining a team with expertise spanning the gamut of materials synthesis, computational materials design, and device engineering, we will develop a suite of multi-functional semiconducting ligands capable of improving the intrinsic stability perovskite materials while preserving and even enhancing their electronic properties. Through this strategy, we aim to achieve over 25% cell efficiency with operational stability over 20 years for future commercial use.
More information: https://letiandougroup.com/
Identification, Verification and Validation of a Surfactant Formulation for Chemical Enhanced Oil Recovery in the Illinois Basin
Challenge: The Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) Lab has an ardent interest in developing a practical and economical program for the Illinois Basin. The Illinois basin is characterized as a mature asset that is typified by its shallow depths and low temperatures. Many of the fields have been waterflooded for the last several decades to aid in the recovery of the stranded oil within the sandstone and carbonate reservoirs. Significant progress has been made in understanding the brine constituents, oil viscosity/API gravity and reservoir mineralogy of the Illinois Basin; however, suitable chemical formulations, primarily surfactant/polymer combinations are still elusive. Considerable chemical testing is necessary to complement the Illinois Basin reservoir characteristics in order to move a project to pilot scale implementation.
The most pressing technical challenge is the design of a surfactant formulation that provides technical confidence (performance) for the reservoir brine and the crude oil. Notwithstanding, the areas of low/ultralow IFT, phase behavior and core flood are all key areas that need to demonstrate performance before implementing a field pilot program. Once a suitable surfactant formulation is determined, its stability, compatibility and performance with respect to the addition of polymer must also be understood and evaluated.
Targeted Goal: This project will focus on using the library of commercial surfactant products available in the EOR lab to find a suitable formulation for a target reservoir in the Illinois Basin. Once a surfactant formulation is determined through satisfactory phase behavior testing, Interfacial tension testing followed by core flood validation experiments will be carried out. Students should expect to learn about chemical enhanced oil recovery while performing experiments with surfactants, various brine solutions and oils.
More information: https://engineering.purdue.edu/cheeor/
Lake Michigan Shoreline Erosion - Measurements and Modeling
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
Laser diagnostics for studying shock-heated gases
The student will learn how to use mid-infrared laser diagnostics to measure the temperature of gases that are heated to 1000s of degrees by high-Mach shock waves in our shock tube. This will be used to improve our understanding of non-equilibrium processes that occur behind shock waves and play an important role in governing heat transfer to space vehicles entering the atmosphere.
More information: www.GoldensteinGroup.com
Lithium-ion Battery Analytics
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are ubiquitous. Thermo-electrochemical characteristics and porous electrode structures of these systems are critical toward safer and high-performance batteries for electric vehicles. As part of this research, physics-based modeling and experimental data-driven analytics will be performed over a wide range a normal and anomalous operating conditions of Li-ion cells.
More information: https://engineering.purdue.edu/ETSL/
Mobile Air Quality Sensors and the Internet of Things
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
Process Synthesis and intensification of Shale Gas Valorization
The assignment focuses on the creation of transformative process systems to convert light hydrocarbons from shale resources to liquid chemicals and transportation fuels in smaller, modular, local, and highly networked processing plants. The students will have the opportunities to learn cutting-edge technologies in process synthesis, intensification and optimization, as well as widely-used simulation tools such as Aspen Plus, Matlab, Chemkin, etc.
Remote sensing of soil moisture using Signals of Opportunity: Field Experiments and Validation Studies
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.
Removal of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Pollutants from Automotive Exhaust
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) are major pollutants from automotive exhaust that need to be removed by catalyst and adsorbent materials to protect our environment and air quality. The ability to reduce NOx under widely varying operating conditions requires improvements to catalyst material properties and performance. This project will involve catalyst design, research and development to selectively adsorb and react NOx to benign products (N2, H2O). The student will learn how to synthesize, characterize and evaluate novel catalytic materials and conduct research at the interface of materials science and heterogeneous catalysis.
More information: https://sites.google.com/site/rgounder/
Smart Water for Smart Cities
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.
Study of Betavoltaic characteristics
The main goal of the research is to study betavoltaic cell characteristics using a facility for its voltage and current responses with load. A betavoltaic cell creates electricity similar to a photovoltaic or solar cell. Betavoltaic devices are self-contained power sources that convert high energy beta (β) particles emitted from the decay of radioactive isotopes into electrical current. In the cell the electrons are produced indirectly via the kinetic energy of the beta particles interacting within the semiconductor. The project also will involve testing on a hydrogen loading facility to simulate the tritium loading in betavoltaic cell film. The betavoltaic used are commercial cells that are tested in a radiation approved facility. Experimental facility preparation, testing and data acquisition is needed. Students interested on hands on experience in the laboratory, willing to build test facility, perform experiment, and analyze data are welcome. Great opportunity to develop radiation laboratory skills.
The impact of COVID-19 on user perceptions of public transit, shared mobility/micro-mobility services, and emerging vehicle types.
The objective of this project is to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on user perceptions of public transit, shared mobility services, and emerging vehicle types (electric, connected, and autonomous vehicles). As transportation systems remain at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to examine the transportation trends and behaviors of shared modes’ and emerging vehicle types’ users to best plan for transportation policies in the long-run. This study aims to provide a well-documented and easy-to-use framework that can support both planning and policy decisions in order to enhance urban shared mobility by better understanding the attributes which are affected and providing alternative options. The developed research framework will be applied in three urban areas with different transportation systems and densities, and corresponding policy and planning implications will be compared and contrasted.
The student will assist with literature review efforts to establish a baseline of user perceptions for public transit, shared mobility/micro-mobility services, and emerging vehicle types before the pandemic. The student will also assist the research team with analyzing the data from surveys that will include questions about travel behavior, such as change in travel habits because of new technologies, trip purpose and patterns, use of emerging and shared mobility services as well as questions related to how COVID-19 has affected these travel activities. The student will also interact with other undergraduate and graduate students at the Sustainable Transportation Systems Research (STSR) group as well as the project sponsors.
More information: https://engineering.purdue.edu/STSRG
Thermal management of electronic devices
The continued miniaturization of electronic devices, with expanded functionality at reduced cost, challenges the viability of products across a broad spectrum of industry applications. The electronics industry is driven by global trends in storage, transmission, and processing of extreme quantities of digital information (cloud computing, data centers), increasing electrification of the transportation sector (electric vehicles, hybrid aircraft, batteries), and the proliferation of interconnected computing devices (mobile computing, IoT, 5G). Proper thermal management of electronic devices is critical to avoid overheating failures and ensure energy efficient operation. In view of these rapidly evolving markets, most of the known electronics cooling technologies are approaching their limits and have a direct impact on system performance (e.g., computing power, driving range, device size, etc.).
Research projects in the Cooling Technologies Research Center (CTRC) are exploring new technologies and discovering ways to more effectively apply existing technologies to addresses the needs of companies and organizations in the area of high-performance heat removal from compact spaces. One of the distinctive features of working in this Center is training in practical applications relevant to industry. All of the projects involve close industrial support and collaboration in the research, often with direct transfer of the technologies to the participating industry members. Projects in the Center involve both experimental and computational aspects, are multi-disciplinary in nature, and are open to excellent students with various engineering and science backgrounds. Multiple different research project opportunities are available based on student interests and preferences.
Understanding building water safety under routine and post-disaster conditions
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted building shutdowns across the globe to promote physical distancing. This however prompted worldwide concerns that the water, left in the plumbing, would become unsafe with high levels of lead, copper, and legionella, posing a health risk to building occupants who returned. Many of the shutdowns or low occupancy conditions still exist. Over the past 11 months, the PI and research teams have been working with public health officials and other researchers to understand the public safety risks and remediation measures needed for building reopening and preventing health risks to increase.
Separately, when disasters strike and drinking water becomes chemically contaminated, sometimes this water enters residential and commercial buildings. This results in do not use orders for the population and potentially contaminated plumbing. This SURF project focusses on better understanding drinking water safety under various plumbing use and contamination scenarios through laboratory testing.
This project will involve a student learning and applying water quality measurement techniques to determine the chemical safety of water in building plumbing systems. Theories that will be tested pertain to the impact of water stagnation time (no use) on the safety of the water inside plumbing systems of various configurations. Pilot- and bench-scale systems will be setup in the laboratory (Hampton Hall) to test specific theories identified by the team. Chemical drinking water characterization would include standard drinking water safety parameters, as well as heavy metals, organic carbon, etc. The student may also work with collaborating faculty and students on microbiology topics. If time permits, the student would conduct chemical contamination and decontamination experiments of different building water treatment devices or assist a graduate student already working on this effort. The purpose of this secondary experiment is to understand the vulnerability of these devices to damage and ability of them to be restored to safe use. For both of these efforts the student would learn and conduct testing, analyze, report, and present the results at the end of the SURF summer.
More information: www.PlumbingSafety.org