SURF History

The SURF program was initiated by Associate Dean of Engineering for Research, Jay Gore, in 2003 using a portion of an unrestricted gift from Purdue University Alum Patrick Wang. Purdue's College of Engineering launched the program to meet the increasing needs of academia and industry by providing a dedicated laboratory experience to strengthen integrated, research-related, hands-on learning through discovery for participating students.

The SURF program was designed to enhance classroom learning, involve undergraduates in real problem solving, and spark interest for research careers in science and engineering. For each of the first two years, about 50 Purdue undergraduates participated in the 11-week program. SURF students were then about 25 percent women and 10 percent minorities.

In the summer of 2005, enrollment jumped to 162 students and included visiting scholars from 20 different universities, including Alabama A&M, Florida A&M, Illinois Institute of Technology, Notre Dame, and elsewhere. Women again made up about 25 percent of the participants and minorities increased to 20 percent.

In 2008, the enrollment reached nearly 200. While increasing the number of research opportunities for undergraduates continues to be important, the SURF administrators' focus will be on improving the quality of the program and recruiting top students who are interesting in pursuing a graduate degree at Purdue.

On campus, SURF students from engineering, science, and technology disciplines are paired with a professor and one or more graduate student mentors to work on interdisciplinary research projects with practical applications.

In 2005, those included developing a three-dimensional structure to study DNA sequences, reducing external sound inside automobiles when a sunroof or rear side window is open, and developing an internal-combustion engine that doesn't rely on moving pistons or spark-based combustion. Another project developing voice-production research on a human larynx could help patients who need a voice box or singers and other voice professionals after larynx surgery.

Others simulated a radiological bomb to determine radioactivity under different weather conditions and its effect on a major city, worked on a nuclear reactor system model, and participated in designing a fuel-efficient rocket for space missions.

Michael Harris, an associate professor of chemical engineering, has worked with six SURF undergraduates, and says he will continue to include them in his research program. "Students learn how to apply classroom knowledge to real-life applications and advanced-level projects," Harris says. "The research experience looks good on their resume, which could help them get a job or get into a graduate or professional program. Furthermore, the students can decide if they like the research environment."

"From the inception of the SURF program at Purdue, diversity was an important element of learning by discovery", says Dr. Jay Gore on the past, present, and future of the Engineering Undergraduate Research Office and our flagship program, SURF. Check out the video conversation on YouTube and our LinkedIn page!