Research Projects

Projects are posted below; new projects will continue to be posted through February. To learn more about the type of research conducted by undergraduates, view the 2018 Research Symposium Abstracts.

2019 projects will continue to be posted through January!

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:


Indoor Air Pollution Research: From Nano to Bio

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Life Science, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): Students from all majors are welcome to apply.
Desired experience:   Interest in studying contaminant transport in the environment, human health, air pollution, HVAC and building systems, microbiology, nanotechnology, and atmospheric science. Experience working in a laboratory setting with analytical equipment and coding with MATLAB, Python, and/or R. Passionate about applying engineering fundamentals to solve real-world problems.

Airborne particulate matter, or aerosols, represent a fascinating mixture of tiny, suspended liquid and solid particles that can span in size from a single nanometer to tens of micrometers. Human exposure to aerosols of indoor and outdoor origin is responsible for adverse health effects, including mortality and morbidity due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The majority of our respiratory encounters with aerosols occurs indoors, where we spend 90% of our time. Through the SURF program, you will work on several ongoing research projects exploring the dynamics of nanoaerosols and bioaerosols in buildings and their HVAC systems.

Nanoaerosols are particles smaller than 100 nm in size. With each breath of indoor air, we inhale several million nanoaerosols. These nano-sized particles penetrate deep into our respiratory systems and can translocate to the brain via the olfactory bulb. These tiny particles are especially toxic to the human body and have been associated with various deleterious toxicological outcomes, such as oxidative stress and chronic inflammation in lung cells. Bioaerosols represent a diverse mixture of microbes (bacteria, fungi) and allergens (pollen, mite feces). Exposure to bioaerosols plays a significant role in both the development of, and protection against, asthma, hay fever, and allergies.

Your role will be to conduct measurements of nanoaerosols and bioaerosols in laboratory experiments at the Purdue Herrick Laboratories, as well as participate in a field campaign at Indiana University - Bloomington in collaboration with an atmospheric chemistry research group. You will learn how to use state-of-the-art air quality instrumentation and perform data processing and analysis in MATLAB.

More information:


Measurements of parameters of T-100 Hall thruster

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Alexey Shashurin

Hall thrusters are widely utilized for spacecraft propulsion. The technology has been originally developed in Soviet Union and got adopted on the West in 1990s. In Hall thruster, neutral gas propellant is ionized and accelerated in the cross-field accelerator to reach high propellant exhaust velocities in the range 10 - 50 km/s.

In this project student will work with Hall thruster T-100. The project will include operating the thruster, measurements of electrical parameters of Hall discharge for various anode flow rates and magnetic fields, Langmuir probe measurements in the Hall thruster plume and indirect thrust measurements


Micro/nano Scale 3D Laser Printing

Research categories:  Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Xianfan Xu
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Materials Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering
Desired experience:   Junior or Senior standing, GPA>3.6

The ability to create 3D structures in the micro and nanoscale is important in many fields including electronics, microfluidics, and tissue engineering and is an emerging area of research and development. This project deals with the development and testing of a setup for building microscopic 3D structures with the help of a femtosecond laser. A method known as two photon polymerization is typically used to fabricate such structures in which a polymer is exposed to laser and at the point of the exposure the polymer changes its structure. Moving the laser in a predefined path helps in getting the desired shape and the structures are then built in a layer by layer fashion. The setup incorporates all the steps from a designing a CAD model file to slicing the model in layers to generating the motion path of the laser needed for fabricating the structure. In order to make a solid and stable structure, investigation of better materials and optimization of the process parameters is needed. Besides, possible improvements to the control algorithms used in the setup can be done to increase the efficiency of the process and build the structures faster.


Multiphase Fluid Flows in Tight Spaces

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Ivan Christov
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Computational Science
Desired experience:   1. Thorough understanding of undergraduate fluid mechanics. 2. Programming experience with high-level language such as Python or MATLAB. 3. Experience with shell/command-line environments in Linux/Unix; specifically, remote login, file transfers, etc. 4. Experience researching difficult questions whose answers are not found in a textbook. 5. Desire to learn about new fluid mechanics phenomena and expand computational skillset.

Multiphase flows are fluid flows involving multiple fluids, multiple phases of the same fluid, and any situation in which the dynamics of an interface between dissimilar fluids must be understood. Examples include water displacing hydrocarbons in secondary oil recovery, a mixtures of particle-laden fluids being injected into a hydraulically fractured reservoirs ("fracking"), introduction of air into the lungs of pre-maturely born infants to re-open their liquid-filled lungs and airways, and a whole host of other physico-chemical processes in biological and industrial applications.

The goal of this SURF project will be to study, using computational tools such as ANSYS Workbench and/or the OpenFOAM platform, how multiphase flows behave in tight spaces. To accomplish this goal, the SURF student will work with a PhD student. Specifically the dynamics of interfaces between different phases and/or fluids will be studied through numerical simulation, and the effect of the flow passage geometry will be addressed. Some questions that we seek to address are whether/how geometric variations can stabilize or destabilize an interface and whether/how geometry affects the final distribution of particles in particle-laden multiphase flow passing through a constriction/expansion. Applications of these effects to biological and industrial flows will be explored quantitatively and qualitatively.

More information:


Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) / nanoHUB

Research categories:  Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Other
Professor: NCN Faculty
Preferred major(s): Electrical, Computer, Materials, Chemical or Mechanical Engineering; Chemistry; Physics; Computer Science; Math
Desired experience:   Serious interest in and enjoyment of programming; programming skills in any language. Physics coursework.

NCN is looking for a diverse group of enthusiastic and qualified students with a strong background in engineering, chemistry or physics who can also code in at least one language (such as Python, C or MATLAB) to work on research projects that involve computational simulations. Selected students will typically work with a graduate student mentor and faculty advisor to create or improve a simulation tool that will be deployed on nanoHUB. Faculty advisors come from a wide range of departments: ECE, ME, Civil E, ChemE, MSE, Nuclear E, Chemistry and Math, and projects may be multidisciplinary. To learn about this year’s research projects along with their preferred majors and requirements, please go to the website noted below.

If you are interested in working on a nanoHUB project in SURF, you will need to follow the instructions below. Be sure you talk about specific NCN projects directly on your SURF application, using the text box for projects that most interest you.

1) Carefully read the NCN project descriptions (website available below) and select which project(s) you are most interested in and qualified for. It pays to do a little homework to prepare your application.

2) Select the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) / nanoHUB as one of your top choices.

3) In the text box for Essay #2, where you describe your specific research interests, qualifications, and relevant experience, you may discuss up to three NCN projects that most interest you. Please rank your NCN project choices in order of interest. For each project, specify the last name of the faculty advisor, the project, why you are interested in the project, and how you meet the required skill and coursework requirements.

For more information and examples of previous research projects and student work, click on the link below.


Preparing engineers to address climate change and its implications on sustainability: modeling impact of college experiences on students

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Educational Research/Social Science
School/Dept.: Engineering Education
Professor: Allison Godwin
Preferred major(s): All STEM majors invited to apply
Desired experience:   Some experience in statistics and programming languages is preferred. All other skills including human subject research ethics, statistical analysis in R, data management, will be taught.

Engineers are an essential part of solving the effects of climate change and must not only be aware of the issues but empowered to make change to reduce and shift the impact of humans on the planet. This research investigates engineering students' experiences during undergraduate programs that predict their beliefs about climate change and empowerment to address its related implications for sustainability in their careers. This study is the first of its kind to explore how experiences in college impact students' climate change beliefs and interest to address related implications for sustainability. This project is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Tech Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Myers-Lawson School of Construction and the Purdue University School of Engineering Education.

This SURF research project uses national survey data from ~4,000 senior engineering design students collected in 2018 along with 7,673 first-year student responses collected in 2014 to model how student experiences during undergraduate education may influence their understanding of climate change and desire to address sustainability in their future engineering careers. The SURF student will use multilevel modeling (this modeling technique will be taught to any interested student) to analyze how student beliefs, student experiences, and institutional contexts may influence students attitudes and actions over time. The student will learn complex statistics in the programming language R, analyze data and interpret findings, and write up their results for journal publication. The student will also interface with faculty and another undergraduate summer research student at Virginia Tech.