Research Projects

This is a list of research projects that may have opportunities for undergraduate students. You can browse all the projects, or view only projects in the following categories:

Aerospace Engineering


Assembly and Test of Ocean Winds Remote Sensing Instrument for the Hurricane Hunter Aircraft

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Electronics, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): AAE, ECE
Desired experience:   Good programming skills are essential to this project. Embedded programming and FPGA experience are strongly desired, though not required. Experience with electronic hardware, either academically or through extracurricular activities (e.g. amateur radio, robotic competitions, etc.) is also strongly desired. The project will require precise documentation, so good English writing skills are also a necessity.
Number of positions: 3

This project will involve the development and testing of improved software for an experimental remote sensing instrument designed to measure ocean wind speed and roughness in tropical cyclones. This instrument has flown on the NOAA “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft during the last season. It will be returned to Purdue to be updated, and improved based upon our experience with its performance during these flights. Using a fraction of the power, and requiring a far simple calibration process than the existing airborne radar systems, this new technology has the potential to contribute to our understanding of tropical storm development and to improve our hurricane forecast capabilities. In addition, the data may be used to calibrate a NASA satellite mission, CYGNSS, scheduled for a 2016 launch, that will utilize a similar measurement principle.


Characterization of Fiber Reinforced Composite Materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Sangid Michael
Preferred major(s): AAE, ME, MSE, IE, ChE, CE, NE, CS
Desired experience:   Preferably junior standing
Number of positions: 2

We are looking for motivated, hard-working undergraduate students interested in experimental composite materials research. This position is on a team investigating fiber orientation and length measurements in thermoplastic composites. These long fiber composites have a direct application to replace steel and aluminum structural alloys in the aerospace and automotive industries. Our team is comprised of Pacific Northwest National Lab, Autodesk, Plasticomp, Magna, Toyota, University of Illinois, and Purdue. Applicants will work under the mentorship of a graduate student and faculty member. The position includes hands on specimen preparation, in the form of extracting and polishing samples for fiber orientation measurements and melting samples and isolating the pertinent fibers for length measurements.


Combustion at Small Scales

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Li Qiao
Preferred major(s): Aerospace or mechanical engineering
Desired experience:   Prior experience at Birck Nanotechnology Center is preferred but not required.
Number of positions: 1

A long-pursued goal, which is also a grand challenge, in nanoscience and nanotechnology is to create nanoscale devices, machines, and motors that can do useful work. Such tiny devices have applications in many fields. They might, for example, someday “transport medicine in the human body, conduct operations in cells, move cargo around microfluidic chips, or search for and destroy toxic organic molecules in polluted water streams”. No matter what jobs these nanomachines will be designed to do, they must be chemically propelled or powered. Various approaches have already been explored to generate power and mechanical work at the nanoscale level, e.g., novel devices made of carbon nanotubes or nanowires and mainly driven by an electrical source of energy.

Combustion, however, has never been considered as a potential means for powering nanoscale devices, even though it is still a dominant means for producing energy and power in our modern society. But the possibility that it soon will be considered in this direction is becoming surprisingly closer. This project explores the combustion behavior of nanoscale-tailored fuels and propellants. The SURF student will work closely with a PhD student to perform experiments on combustion behavior of fuels and propellants at small scales. The experiments will be performed at Birck Nanotechnology Center


Detecting workload effects and cognitive control mode changes in continuous aircraft state data

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Industrial Engineering
School/Dept.: Industrial Engineering
Professor: Steven Landry
Preferred major(s): IE, AAE
Desired experience:   Statistics knowledge would be very helpful. Experience or interest in aviation is preferred.
Number of positions: 1

We have generated hypotheses regarding how to detect high and low workload conditions within recorded aircraft state data. Specifically, conditions of high workload result in low delay, high lag, and high gain. In this work, a human subjects experiment will be conducted where we test those hypotheses. In the experiment, pilot participants will fly a simulator under conditions of high, medium, and low workload, with the aircraft states recorded. Delay, lag, and gain will be recorded and analyzed to see if statistically-significant differences exist across the workload levels. We will also generate data to help us generate hypotheses on how discrete shifts in cognitive control mode (strategic, tactical, opportunistic, or scrambled) can be detected within the continuous aircraft state data.


Development of Critical Technologies to Support the Construction of the Zucrow’s Turbine Rig

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Innovative Technology/Design, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Guillermo Paniagua
Preferred major(s): ME or Aerospace
Desired experience:   Passionate about mechanical design, breakthrough ideas, propulsion
Number of positions: 3

The Zucrow Turbine wind tunnel under development is a world-unique transient wind tunnel, that allows an independent change of the Mach and Reynolds number, as well as the temperature ratio of the flow to the model. This transient facility offers high fidelity heat flux measurements, with test durations from 100 ms to 200 seconds. The test-section inlet temperature can range between 80 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, while the pressure can range from 4 to 73 PSI. The Reynolds number would range between 50,000 to 4,000,000, while the pressure ratio can be independently adjusted, allowing testing at low subsonic regimes and high supersonic conditions (Mach 3.5).

We are seeking undergraduate students to join our team and work in the following areas:
- High fidelity instrumentation to measure flow temperature, pressure, massflow, heat flux, efficiency
- Control of the wind tunnel testing sequence
- Power absorption devices of the rotating module
- CFD analysis of the tunnel components


Experimental Characterization and Modeling of Energy Efficient Fluid Supply Systems

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: ABE / ME
Professor: Andrea Vacca
Preferred major(s): ME - AAE - ABE
Desired experience:   Required class: fluid mechanics Preferred course work: hydraulic systems - fluid power Preferred programming skills: labview - simulink or amesim
Number of positions: 1

This project will consider a particular design of a fluid supply system (for a high pressure application or for a low-pressure automotive application), and will focus on its characterization on following aspect: energy efficiency (evaluation of source of power loss) and noise emission (evaluation of noise radiated by the system).

The student will learn how to model and experimentally characterize fluid power systems.


High-pressure Combustion

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Li Qiao
Preferred major(s): Aerospace or mechanical engineering
Desired experience:   Prior experience working at Zucrow labs is preferred but not required.
Number of positions: 1

Practical engines such as liquid rockets, diesel engines and gas turbine engines all operate at high pressures. For example, the pressure in a rocket engine that uses liquid hydrogen and oxygen can be in excess of 100 atm. Diesel engines have high compression ratios resulting in a pressure of above 60 atm after ignition. Aircraft gas turbine engines typically operate at pressures of 30-40 atm. For lean-burn natural gas engines, the peak pressure in the cylinder chamber can be as high as 250-300 atm. Because combustion at high pressures is thermodynamically more efficient, future engines will likely operate at even higher pressures.

As a result of high pressure, the injected fuel is often at supercritical state during the injection, mixing, evaporation and combustion processes. Our fundamental understanding of these processes at near-critical and supercritical conditions, however, is far from complete. Modeling these processes through detailed numerical simulations has serious challenges due to the non-equilibrium and unsteady nature of the phenomena, lack of a physical interface at some conditions, as well as departure from ideal gas behavior resulting in thermodynamic nonidealities and transport anomalies.

The undergraduate student to be recruited from the SURF program will work closely with a PhD student on this research. His/her responsibilities will include measurement of key parameters of high-pressure flames using high-speed imaging techniques. Also theoretical analyses will be performed to understand the new physics of high-pressure combustion.


P-Band Satellite Remote Sensing Antenna

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Electronics, Environmental Science, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): AAE,ECE,ME,Physics
Desired experience:   Basic understanding of electromagnetism is desired, but not required. Experience with electronic hardware, either academically or through extracurricular activities (e.g. amateur radio, robotic competitions, etc … ), is strongly desired. Experience with metal fabrication is also strongly required.
Number of positions: 2

This project will build an antenna for receiving satellite transmissions in P-band (225-390 MHz). We are using these signals as a source of illumination in a “bistatic” radar configuration, comparing the direct signal observed along a line-of-sight to the satellite, with the scattered signal reflected from the land surface. Theory suggests that we can use this comparison to estimate the water content within the top 1 m of the soil (called the Root-Zone Soil Moisture, RZSM). This is a very important quantity for understanding the transportation of water from the soil into plant roots, and this measurement has applications to monitoring agricultural production and climate change. The project will require the design of an antenna for a specific satellite frequency, based upon an amateur radio handbook. Mechanical design and fabrication is also very important as the antenna will be installed outdoors and must withstand extreme weather (rain, snow, ice), large temperature ranges, and exposure to wildlife.


Realistic Simulation of Jet Engine Noise using Petaflop Computing

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical
School/Dept.: Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Gregory Blaisdell
Preferred major(s): AAE, ME, MATH
Desired experience:   Fluid mechanics (AAE 333 or ME 309), Compressible flow (AAE 334, or AAE 514 or ME 510), computer programming, signal processing (AAE 301 or similar)
Number of positions: 1

We are currently developing a scalable parallel large eddy simulation code that can realistically simulate high Reynolds number jet flows from complex nozzle geometries. The motivation behind the project is to gain insight into the noise generation mechanisms in a turbulent jet, which is crucial for designing noise reduction solutions such as chevrons and other mixing devices. Such high-fidelity simulations generate hundreds of gigabytes of flow-field and acoustics information. As a result, it becomes a significant challenge to extract meaningful information that will improve our understanding of the relationship between the turbulent jet flow and the far-reaching noise it generates. The SURF student will assist us in this effort by using a set of tools developed by a previous SURF student in 2014 to help characterize jet noise sources.

A popular model postulates that two distinct noise sources are active in a turbulent jet. One is the large coherent turbulent structures that radiate noise at shallow angles relative to the jet axis, and the second is the fine-scale turbulence that is more dominant in the sideline directions [1,2]. In 2014 a previous SURF student implemented several statistical tools that process the near- and far-field simulation data by computing correlations that are used for examining the source characteristics. These include auto-correlations and cross-correlations of the far-field pressure measurements, as well as correlations between turbulent fluctuations inside the jet and the far-field pressure. The analysis tools also include the ability to decompose the flow field into frequency bands so that the dynamics of high and low frequency portions can be studied.

The project for 2015 will involve applying these tools to simulation datasets and studying in detail how the high and low frequency portions of the acoustic field are correlated to various parts of the turbulent jet. In particular, the student will examine acoustic waves generated near the end of the potential core that move upstream in a subsonic jet to see if they interact with the nozzle boundary layer to produce vortices in the jet shear layer. In addition, acoustic waves moving away from the jet will be used to determine where in the jet the waves originated.

The SURF candidate is expected to have an interest in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), as well as computer programming. They do not have to have had prior experience with Fortran, but they must have experience using a computer programming language and be willing to learn Fortran. A strong background in mathematics is also needed. Experience with signal processing would be helpful. The student will spend some time on the basics of Fortran. This will be followed with an overview of the jet simulation code. Then the student will learn how to use the analysis programs developed last year. In addition, the student will learn to use the flow visualization software Tecplot. The student will then apply the codes to saved jet simulation flow fields to split the flow into particular frequency bands and examine how the sound in those frequency bands is correlated with various parts of the jet.

[1] Tam, C. K. (1995). Supersonic jet noise. Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, 27(1), 17-43.
[2] Tam, C. K., Viswanathan, K., Ahuja, K. K., & Panda, J. (2008). The sources of jet noise: experimental evidence. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 615, 253-292.


Transverse Impact Testing of Body Armor

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Weinong Chen
Preferred major(s): School of Mechanical Engineering, School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Desired experience:   An ideal candidate is one who: has experience with mechanical design and is interested in understanding high-rate deformation of materials and material systems. He/she must also be comfortable working in an environment that requires shooting body armor systems with projectiles that are commonly encountered by police officers in the line of duty. During the summer, the student will work closely with a graduate student who will be leading the experimentation. If interested, a brief tour of the facility can be given before agreeing to work on the project.
Number of positions: 2

The Dynamic Mechanics Research Laboratory is interested in investigating the effect of the rate of deformation on the properties of materials and structures. The goal of this project is to determine the effect of projectile/bullet impact onto woven armor systems, typically composed of either Kevlar or Dyneema.
As a SURF intern, your project is to assist and eventually lead a series of testing procedures aimed at describing the deformation and damage incurred in bullet-resistant body armor when impacted via ballistic projectiles. Basic understanding will be gained of high strain-rate (ballistic transverse impact), along with actual testing in this regime.