2022 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 (6)

 

Adhesives at the Beach 

Professor:
Jonathan Wilker
Preferred major(s):
  • No Major Restriction
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. 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, such as systems like carbon fiber reinforced polymers, but with all components sourced sustainably. B) Developing new adhesive systems that function completely underwater.

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

 

Developmental, Behavioral & Environmental Determinants of Infant Dust Ingestion 

Professor:
Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s):
  • No Major Restriction
Desired experience:
We are seeking students passionate about studying environmental contaminants and infant exposure to chemicals in the indoor environment. Preferred skills: experience with MATLAB, Python, or R. Coursework: environmental science and chemistry, microbiology, physics, thermodynamics, heat/mass transfer, fluid mechanics, developmental psychology.

Our project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and involves an interdisciplinary collaboration between engineers, chemists, and psychologists at Purdue University and New York University (NYU). We will elucidate determinants of indoor dust ingestion in 6- to 24-month-old infants (age range for major postural and locomotor milestones). Specific objectives are to test: (1) whether the frequency and characteristics of indoor dust and non-dust mouthing events change with age and motor development stage for different micro-environments; (2) how home characteristics and demographic factors affect indoor dust mass loading and dust toxicant concentration; (3) how dust transfer between surfaces is influenced by dust properties, surface features, and contact dynamics; and (4) contributions of developmental, behavioral, and socio-environmental factors to dust and toxicant-resolved dust ingestion rates. In addition, the project will (5) create a shared corpus of video, dust, toxicant, and ingestion rate data to increase scientific transparency and speed progress through data reuse by the broader exposure science community.

Our transdisciplinary work will involve: (1) parent report questionnaires and detailed video coding of home observations of infant mouthing and hand-to-floor/object behaviors; (2) physical and chemical analyses of indoor dust collected through home visits and a citizen-science campaign; (3) surface-to-surface dust transfer experiments with a robotic platform; (4) dust mass balance modeling to determine distributions in and determinants of dust and toxicant-resolved dust ingestion rates; and (5) open sharing of curated research videos and processed data in the Databrary digital library and a public website with geographic and behavioral information for participating families.

The project will provide improved estimates of indoor dust ingestion rates in pre-sitting to independently walking infants and characterize inter-individual variability based on infant age, developmental stage, home environment, and parent behaviors. Dust transport experiments and modeling will provide new mechanistic insights into the factors that affect the migration of dust from the floor to mouthed objects to an infant’s mouth. The shared corpus will enable data reuse to inform future research on how dust ingestion contributes to infants’ total exposure to environmental toxicants.

U.S. EPA project overview: https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract_id/11194

More information: www.brandonboor.com

 

High-efficiency solar-powered desalination  

Professor:
David Warsinger
Preferred major(s):
  • No Major Restriction
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. Rising Juniors and Seniors are preferred.

Water and energy are tightly linked resources that must both become renewable for a successful future. The United Nations predicts that 6 billion people will face water scarcity by 2050. This warrants the need to develop efficient and realizable engineering solutions for desalination using the vast availability of solar energy.
This project aims to design, prototype, and test novel configurations for membrane-based desalination (reverse osmosis), powered by solar-thermal engines. The student will be part of a team of graduate and undergraduate students responsible for process design, thermal-fluid modeling and simulation, hydraulic circuit prototyping and testing, and experimental data analysis.
All students will be required to read relevant, peer-reviewed literature and keep a notebook or log of weekly research progress. At the end of the semester or term, each student will present a talk or poster on their results.

More information: www.warsinger.com

 

Real-Time Measurements of Volatile Chemicals in Buildings with Proton Transfer Reaction Mass Spectrometry 

Professor:
Nusrat Jung
Preferred major(s):
  • No Major Restriction
Desired experience:
Preferred skills: experience with MATLAB, Python, or R. Coursework: environmental science and chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, heat/mass transfer, and fluid mechanics.

The objective of this project is to utilize state-of-the-art proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) to evaluate emissions and exposures of volatile chemicals in buildings. My group is investigating volatile chemical emissions from consumer and personal care products, disinfectants and cleaning agents, and building and construction materials. You will assist graduate students with full-scale experiments with our PTR-MS in our new Purdue zEDGE Tiny House and process and analyze indoor air data in MATLAB.

More information: https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/stories/2020/Stories%20at%20Purdue/new-purdue-lab-provides-tiny-home-for-sustainability-education.html

 

Renewable energy-powered water technologies 

Professor:
David Warsinger
Preferred major(s):
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Environmental and Ecological Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Materials 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. Rising Juniors and 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 nanotechnology, material science and artificial intelligence allow for new avenues to improve the widespread implementation of desalination and water purification technology. The team is pursuing multiple projects that aim to explore solar and wind-powered desalination, nanofabricated membranes, light-driven reactions, artificial intelligence control algorithms, and thermodynamic optimization of energy systems. 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 here: www.warsinger.com

More information: www.warsinger.com

 

Sustainable Drinking Water Filtration Systems 

Professor:
Caitlin Proctor
Preferred major(s):
  • No Major Restriction
Desired experience:
Biology or engineering background. Lab skills in drinking water characterization, microbiology (e.g. culture plating), or mechanical engineering are desired but not required.

Clean drinking water is a universal right, but on the global scale, we still struggle to provide water free of contaminants to everyone. By developing more efficient systems to purify water, we can expand the availability of clean drinking water and reduce the environmental impact of treatment operations. This project will explore the operation of reverse osmosis membranes as a means of efficiently purifying water.

Reverse osmosis membranes are traditionally an expensive and energy intensive drinking water treatment method, and the membranes can suffer from biofouling that reduce the life of the membrane. Operating reverse osmosis membranes intermittently has profound implications for energy savings, and is still an effective form of water treatment. It is unclear if these systems will also be subject to biofouling, or growth of organisms on and after the filter. In this project, the student will utilize real-time microbiology tools and community sequencing to measure and characterize the microbes able to survive fluctuating salinity levels. It is hypothesized that the fluctuations in salinity will prevent significant growth of any microorganisms, thus extending the life and optimizing the operation of reverse osmosis membranes.