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 2017 Research Symposium Abstracts.

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:

Aerospace Engineering


Characterization of strain localization and associated failure of structural materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Michael Sangid
Preferred major(s): AAE, MSE, ME, CS

The research we do is building relationships between the material's microstructure and the subsequent performance of the material, in terms of fatigue, fracture, creep, delamination, corrosion, plasticity, etc. The majority of our group’s work has been on advanced alloys and composites. Both material systems have direct applications in Aerospace Engineering, as we work closely with these industries. We are looking for a motivated, hard-working student interested in research within the field of experimental mechanics of materials. The in situ experiments include advanced materials testing, using state-of-the-art 3d strain mapping. We deposit self-assembled sub-micron particles on the material’s surface and track their displacement as we deform the specimen. Coupled with characterization of the materials microstructure, we can obtain strain localization as a precursor to failure. Specific projects look at increasing the structural integrity of additive manufactured materials and increasing fidelity of lifing analysis to introduce new light weight materials into applications.


Electron Beam Fluorescence for Supersonic Flow Diagnostics

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Alina Alexeenko
Preferred major(s): AAE
Desired experience:   Hands-on design, build, test experience.

The project is focused on experimental studies in high-vacuum facility of supersonic plumes by electron beam fluorescence.


Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering
Professor: Shirley Dyke
Preferred major(s): ME, AAE, CE or Planetary Science
Desired experience:   Students interested in this project should have good programming skills and some experience in MATLAB and Simulink.

There is growing interest from Space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency in establishing permanent human settlements outside Earth. However, even a very cursory inspection of the proposals uncovers fatal flaws in their conceptual design. The buildings may not be able to support the load demands, which should include potential impact from meteorites and/or the seismic motions induced by such an impact, and perhaps most importantly, the materials used as cover for radiation protection may be radioactive themselves. Ongoing research interest focuses on mitigating astronauts' health and performance in space exploration and has neglected the largely unexplored needs regarding the habitat and infrastructure required on extraterrestrial bodies. Their design and sustainability represents a multidisciplinary engineering and scientific grand challenge for humanity. In a context of extreme environments, it is especially important to design buildings whether for habitation, laboratory or manufacturing, that are capable of responding to prevailing conditions not only as a protective measure, but also to enable future generations to thrive under such conditions.

Participating undergraduate researchers would be tasked to design and develop the following areas:
• a system resilience framework for analyzing, exploring and comparing the behavior and growth of various extraterrestrial habitat system designs subjected to working and extreme conditions
• an experimental platform to investigate the geological formation of sublunarean structures (lava tubes, as potential places for future habitats) and study the effect of different mechanical and geometrical parameters on the formation of the tubes in lunar conditions

We are looking for 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.

More information:


Gas Breakdown and Microwave Interferometry Experiment

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Alexey Shashurin
Preferred major(s): Aerodynamics or propulsion

Application of an electric field between two electrodes filled with gas may cause an electric breakdown if voltage applied to the electrodes exceeds certain critical level (breakdown voltage). The breakdown means initiation of electric current flowing between the discharge electrodes separated by originally nonconductive medium, i.e. gas-filled gap.

In this project, the student will be working on upgrading existing electrical breakdown experimental facility. This includes design of discharge electrodes and conducting measurements of plasma density using 10GHz microwave interferometer.


Hall Thruster Experiment

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Alexey Shashurin
Preferred major(s): Aerodynamics or propulsion

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 by the cross-field accelerator to reach high propellant exhaust velocities in the range 10 - 50 km/s.
In this project student will work with Russian Hall thruster SPT-100. The project will include operating the thruster and measurements of various parameters of the thrusters including electrical parameters of the discharge, plasma properties in plume and thrust.


Increasing Engine Thrust via Boundary-Layer Ingestion: Experiments in the High Contraction Tunnel

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Steven Schneider
Preferred major(s): AAE
Desired experience:   Experimental experience. Coursework in aerodynamics and boundary layers. Ability to take the initiative, schedule time well, and work with one advisor at a distance (Bevilaqua) and one advisor who is on travel a lot (Schneider).

A well-established method for increasing the thrust per horsepower of aircraft engines is to increase their bypass ratio, which puts the engine power into a larger mass flow of air at a lower velocity. Recently, there has been renewed interest at NASA and the major aircraft and engine companies in similarly increasing the thrust per horsepower of jet engines by ingesting the aircraft’s boundary layer. The purpose of this SURF project will be to compare these two approaches by measuring the thrust and power of two propulsion systems, one ingesting the boundary layer from a model aircraft fuselage and another ingesting free stream air. The experiment will be conducted in the low turbulence wind tunnel at the Purdue Aerospace Research Laboratories (AERO on campus maps, at the airport), which will be modified for this purpose as part of the project. The ideal candidate will have some experience designing model electric aircraft or drones, as well as a familiarity with control volume analysis of jet flows. This research project has been designed and will be performed under the guidance of Dr. Paul Bevilaqua, a Purdue graduate and retired Chief Engineer of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. Prof. Steve Schneider will assist as needed, with some help from Schneider's graduate students.


Laser Diagnostics Applied to Reacting Fluid Flows for Propulsion Devices

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Terry Meyer
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Aerospace, or Chemical Engineering; Physics; Chemistry

Propulsion, transportation, and energy systems rely on the turbulent mixing and efficient chemical reaction of fuels and oxidizers. Such reactions can take place in the liquid, gas, or solid phases and are investigated using sophisticated imaging and spectroscopic techniques. The undergraduate research assistant will work with graduate students and research faculty to assemble and operate flow hardware, align and test optical diagnostic instrumentation, and help collect and analyze data acquired using such techniques. The flows are designed to simulate conditions that are present in a variety of practical devices. The student will gain valuable hands-on experience and theoretical background that will be of use in a variety of fields related to mechanical, aerospace, and chemical engineering, as well as gain insight into potential areas of research for graduate study.


Remote sensing of soil moisture using P-band Signals of Opportunity: Model development and experimental validation.

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): ECE, Physics, Geophysics, With appropriate coursework: AAE, ABE, Civil, Geomatics,
Desired experience:   Signal processing; Programming: C, Python, MATLAB; Electronic hardware experience preferred; Drivers license and access to car required.

Root Zone Soil Moisture (RZSM), defined as the water profile in the top meter of soil where most plant absorption occurs, is an important environmental variable for understanding the global water cycle, forecasting droughts and floods, and agricultural management. No existing satellite remote sensing instrument can measure RZSM. Sensing below the top few centimeters of soil requires the use of microwave frequencies below 500 MHz, a frequency range known as “P-band”. A P-band microwave radiometer would require an aperture diameter larger than 10 meters. Launching such a satellite into orbit will present big and expensive technical challenge, certainly not feasible for a low-cost small satellite mission. This range for frequencies is also heavily utilized for UHF/VHF communications, presenting an enormous amount of radio frequency interference (RFI). Competition for access to this spectrum also makes it difficult to obtain the required license to use active radar for scientific use.

Signals of opportunity (SoOp) are being studied as alternatives to active radars or passive radiometry. SoOp re-utilizes existing powerful communication satellite transmissions as “free” sources of illumination, measuring the change in the signal after reflecting from soil surface. In this manner, SoOp methods actually make use of the very same transmissions that would cause interference in traditional microwave remote sensing. Communication signal processing methods are used in SoOp, enabling high quality measurements to be obtained with smaller, lower gain, antennas.

Under NASA funding, Purdue and the Goddard Space Flight Center have developed an airborne prototype P-band remote sensing instrument to demonstrate the feasibility of a future satellite version. Complementing this technology development, a field campaign in the Purdue Agricultural research fields is being planned. This campaign will make reflected signal measurements from towers installed over instrumented fields. Measurements will be obtained over bare soil first, and then throughout the corn or soybean growth cycle. Complementing these remote sensing measurements, a comprehensive set of ground-truth data will also be collected for use in developing models and verifying their performance.

Work under this project will involve installing microwave electronic equipment in the field, writing software for signal and data processing, and making field measurements of soil moisture and vegetation properties.

Students interested in this project should have good programming skills and some experience with C, python and MATLAB. They should also have a strong background in basic signal processing. Experience with building computers or other electronic equipment will also be an advantage. Preference will be given to students who have an interest in applying their skills to solving problems in the Earth sciences, environment, or agriculture.

NOTE: The project will involve regular travel to and from the local research field, so students should have a drivers license and reliable access to a car.


Seismic Design of Aboveground Storage Tanks

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Sukru Guzey
Preferred major(s): Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering
Desired experience:   Statics (CE 297 or similar), Dynamics (CE 298 or similar), Mechanics of Materials (Strength of materials) (CE 270 or similar)

Cylindrical steel storage tanks are essential parts of infrastructure and industrial facilities used to store liquids. There are millions of welded steel tanks in the world storing flammable and or hazardous liquids in the petroleum, petrochemical, chemical and food industries across the world. Mechanical integrity and safe operation of these tanks very important because failure or loss of containment of such tanks may have catastrophic consequences to the human life and the environment. There are many procedures given in design standards to withstand the possible load effects, such as the hydrostatic pressure of the stored liquid, the external wind pressure, internal and external pressures due to process, and seismic events.

Investigators have a relatively well understanding on the load effects due to the hydrostatic, wind, and external/internal pressures due to process during normal operating levels. However, behavior of large, aboveground, steel, welded, liquid storage tanks under the presence of seismic loads introduce several critical failure criteria to the structure not exhibited during normal operating levels. Although many researchers investigated the liquid containers under dynamic excitations, the research on this subject still active. The bottleneck of this research topic is the intricate interplay between the flexible thin-walled tank wall and bottom, liquid inside the container, and the reinforced concrete or soil foundation supporting the container. Although, are many relatively recent research efforts, there is still a gap to find a viable solution to this problem.

To address this gap, the aim of this work is to perform a study on seismic design of aboveground storage tanks. Dr. Guzey with a team of one doctoral student and one undergraduate SURF student, shall perform analytical and numerical studies to study the behavior of liquid containers under dynamics excitations. We shall conduct numerical experiments using different levels of complexity and fidelity of multi-physics of these containers and compare the results to available analytical solutions, physical tests and current design standards. The undergraduate SURF student will work under the mentorship of Dr. Guzey and a graduate student. The SURF student compile a literature review, perform numerical simulations using FEA computer program ABAQUS, and write scientific research papers and conference presentations.


Surface Enhancement using Severe Plastic Deformation

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Innovative Technology/Design, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: David Bahr
Preferred major(s): MSE, ME, or AAE
Desired experience:   Mechanical behavior courses, mechanical testing laboratory experience.

Modifying the surface of metals using shot peening, burnishing, and other plastic deformation processing is common in industry. However, we have limited ability to predict performance of how shot peened materials change properties due to complex interactions between residual stresses and microstructural changes. This project, tied to an industrial consortium, will focus on developing a combined model that predicts both recrystallization and residual stresses using a combination of experimental measurements and predictive computational models in common engineering alloys. The student will gain experience in preparing samples for metallographic inspection, performing hardness testing and optical microscopy, and using basic finite element simulations.