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:

Thermal Technology (7)


Bio-inspired Radiative Cooling Nanocomposites 

Xiulin Ruan
Preferred major(s):
Mechanical Engineering, Materials Engineering, Chemical Engineering
Desired experience:
Courses in thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, heat transfer, materials, and polymers are all relevant but not required.

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/


Design, construction and simulation of scaled test facility for gas cooled reactor cavity building blowdown  

Shripad Revankar
Preferred major(s):
Nuclear Engineering or Mechanical Engineering or Technology
Desired experience:
Desired course work: Courses on Thermal and fluids, Skills: Willing to work on hardware, construction of test facility, experimental work, CFD modeling, Data analysis Desirable experience : Experience in AUTOCAD or similar tool , machining, CFD FLUENT or CFX

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 

Michael Sangid
Preferred major(s):
Desired experience:
Experience inCAD tools, structural and thermal finite element analysis. Background in Matlab or Python coding.

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/


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


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/


Thermal management of electronic devices 

Justin Weibel
Preferred major(s):

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.