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:

Engineering the Built Environment (11)


Developing IoT sensors for real-time concrete strength monitoring  

Luna Lu
Preferred major(s):
civil engineering, electrical engineering
Desired experience:
MATLAB, IC circuit design

EMI technique is a nondestructive testing (NDT) method that makes use of the piezoelectric nature of lead zirconate titanate (PZT) sensor that vibrates and interacts with the host structure, thereby tuning the electrical characteristics of PZT through mechanical interaction. Inversion algorithm is then used to extract mechanical properties of host structure from using electrical characteristics of PZT sensor. EMI technique has been evolving for decades and demonstrated to be a good in-situ method to determine bulk concrete properties, e.g. Young’s modulus, in lieu of tedious molding and compression test. However, current EMI studies in modulus measurement are mostly established on the statistical relationship between EMI spectrum and conventional compression test, and the variation of sensors can lead to a bad repeatability.
In this work, a novel EMI method for concrete modulus measurement will be reported. This novel NDT method can extract the dynamic modulus of concrete cylinder using only one PZT sensor. The specific activities include: (a) embedding PZT sensor in cylinder mold; (b) casting concrete in mold; (c) measuring the electrical impedance spectrum of sensor; (d) reading the resonance frequencies of the spectrum in low frequency band and (e) calculating the modulus using resonance frequencies. The orientation of sensor, the sensing range and the repeatability between different sensors will be discussed in this project. The investigation of the nature of EMI sensor-structure interaction has a broad interest to NDT and piezoelectric material community.

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


Enhancing Human-Robot Interaction Using Wearable Technologies 

Sogand Hasanzadeh
Preferred major(s):
All Engineering Fields or Neuroscience
Desired experience:
Programming (Python, Matlab, C++), Data Analytics (Machine learning, Deep-learning) Seeking applicants who are creative and passionate to explore new areas

While intelligent systems promise to extend human capabilities within occupational settings, workers must increasingly collaborate with artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve desired outcomes. This research aims at enhancing bi-directional interaction between workers and robots at the construction jobsites by obtaining continuous neurophysiological and psychophysiological data from workers. The developed personalized AI will measure, adapt, and enhance the skill performance of the next generation of the workforce to work safely and communicate effectively in the future automated jobsites.


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


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.


Resilient Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering 

Shirley Dyke
Preferred major(s):
Desired experience:
Students interested in this project should be critical thinkers, and have good experimental skills, some programming skills, CAD skills, and experience in MATLAB/Simulink.

There is growing interest from Space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency in establishing permanent human settlements outside Earth. To advance knowledge in the field, the Resilient Extra-Terrestrial Habitat Institute (RETHi) is taking steps to develop technologies that will enable resilient habitats in deep space, that will adapt, absorb and rapidly recover from expected and unexpected disruptions without fundamental changes in function or sacrifices in safety. To study, demonstrate, and evaluate the technologies developed in pursuit of this mission, a multi-physics cyber-physical testbed is being founded at the Ray W. Herrick Laboratories at Purdue University with collaboration from partners at three universities and two industrial partners. It allows to examine emergent behaviors in habitat systems and the interactions among its virtual (computational) and physical components.

The testbed will consider a habitat system and will aim to emulate the extreme temperature fluctuations that happen in deep space. To achieve this goal, a thermal transfer system is being developed, consisting of a chiller, an array of glycol lines, in-line heaters, actuated valves, and a series of sensors. Operated under a tuned controller, the thermal transfer system can cool or heat a certain surface area of the structure of the habitat to maintain a given temperature. However, to fully control the thermal transfer system is not straightforward. One of the critical challenges is its deep uncertainty, which results from inaccurate or long-delay sensors, variant test setup, complex controller design, etc. Therefore, a systematic study is needed to quantify the uncertainties to facilitate the thermal transfer system development. Emulation of a particular scenario considering a meteoroid impact will be performed, with random variations in the location and size of the impact and resulting consequences.

We are looking for undergraduate students to play key roles in this project, under the guidance of a graduate student and faculty members. The students are also expected to prepare a poster presentation on the results, and author a research paper if the desired results are achieved. Participating undergraduate researchers would be tasked to focus on the following research projects:
• Stochastic model for analyzing and exploring the behavior variability of the thermal transfer system, functioning in different scenarios.
• Experimental study to calibrate the developed model, involving parametric identification of the transfer system and experimental validation of the stochastic model.
• Numerical and experimental studies to detect and localize meteoroid impact and damage to the structure and other subsystems of the habitat, and use that information to make decisions regarding emergency actions to take.
• Numerical investigations to understand the limitations of fault damage detection methods when incomplete or erroneous sensor data is available.

More information: https://www.purdue.edu/rethi/


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.


Study on the effects of non-traditional supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) on transport properties and durability of concrete 

Jan Olek
Preferred major(s):
Civil Engineering, Materials Science
Desired experience:
Seeking student passionate about materials research and having general interest in the instrumentation and hands-on, laboratory work. 2nd semester Sophomores, Juniors and first semester Seniors are preferred

The global increase in emissions of the carbon dioxide and rapid decrease of natural resources create a great demand for study and development of new materials, modified approaches to old technologies or new vision for already known materials. Usage of supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) has been already proven as one of the efficient ways of reducing the CO2 emissions contributed by the cement industry. However, diminishing supply of traditional SCMs leads to the need to evaluate applicability of some of the alternative (non-traditional) pozzolanic materials for use in concrete. Some of the most promising materials in this category include potentially promising research direction on non-traditional SCMs which are known clays, natural pozzolans and bottom ashes.
One of the goals of this project is to develop a better understanding of the effects of the non-traditional SCMs on microstructure and transport properties of the concrete. In order to accomplish this goal, an experimental work on microstructural analysis of concrete, chemical analysis of the pore solution, water absorption and electrical resistivity of concrete needs to be performed. Some of the planned experiments involve concrete mixing and casting of the specimens, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) evaluation of microstructure, pore fluid extraction, chemical analysis of the pore fluid, evaluation of water sorption and electrical resistivity of concrete.
In addition, the scope of this project also involves evaluation of the impact of the non-traditional SCMs on durability performance of the concrete. Specifically, the chemical interaction of the concrete blended with SCMs with de-icing salts will be studied. The testing will involve use of Low-Temperature Differential Scanning Calorimeter (LT-DSC) to evaluate the durability of hydrated cement pastes with various amounts of non-traditional SCMs in the presence of de-icing salt solution. Also, DSC analysis will be used for so-called “low-temperature porosimetry” test to study the fluid amount in gel pores of the cementitious matrix. This part of the project will involve such tasks as preparation of paste specimens, preparation of de-icing salt solutions, setting up of the LT-DSC, performing of the measurements and analysis of data.
The student will assist the graduate student already working on the project with conducting the above-mentioned experiments, data analysis, reporting, and presentation of the results. The student will learn how operate certain equipment together with data analysis software, how to write a research report and will present a poster at the SURF research symposium


The impact of COVID-19 on user perceptions of public transit, shared mobility/micro-mobility services, and emerging vehicle types. 

Konstantina (Nadia) Gkritza
Preferred major(s):
Engineering or Statistics
Desired experience:
survey design, data analytics, statistics; good oral and written communication skills; experience working with diverse teams

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


Understanding building water safety under routine and post-disaster conditions 

Andrew Whelton
Preferred major(s):
Chemistry, Environmental and Ecological Engineering, Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Environmental Science, Health Sciences
Desired experience:
Skills: Self-motivated, desire to learn, works well with others Coursework: Interests in chemistry, environmental science, environmental engineering, public health

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