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:



Contaminant transport in streams and rivers: streambeds, biofilms and water quality.

Research categories:  Agricultural, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Antoine Aubeneau
Preferred major(s): Civil Eng (Env. or Hydro area), EEE, EAPS, ABE, Forestry and Nat. Res., College of Agriculture (in general)
Number of positions: 2

Streams transport the products of erosion and weathering, as well as anthropogenic materials collected from industrial, agricultural and urban environments. While waterways are efficient transport networks, they are also important biogeochemical filters . Streams are known to efficiently retain and transform organic and inorganic nutrients. Microbial biofilms at the sediment-water interface purify the flowing freshwater. Streams are complex heterogeneous systems characterized by a tight coupling between the physical and biological template they inundate. This project will shed light on how dissolved chemical species move through riverbed sediments and their associated biofilms, with a focus on the nitrogen cycle and nitrate pollutions. Eutrophication of freshwater caused by fertilizers is a major societal issue. High loads of plant food lead to periodic oxygen depletion in receiving water bodies, causing major ecological and economical disasters. This project will inform sustainable management of water resources by providing a physically based explanation for the transport of solutes. The SURF students will work in the laboratory and/or in the field and they will acquire the hands on skills needed to complete a research project.

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Design and Testing of a Novel Concept for Variable Flow Pumps

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Ag & Bio Eng. / Mech. Eng.
Professor: Andrea Vacca
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Ag and Bio, Aerospace, Material Engineering
Desired experience:   CAD modeling / fluid mechanics / fluid power / labview
Number of positions: 1

The present project is aimed at realizing a prototype of a novel concept of pumps. The novel concept consists in realizing a variable flow regulation using the principle of external gear machines. The novel concept guarantees higher energy efficiency of the overall hydraulic system.

The student's contribution within this project will be the design of an actual prototype of the new concept, suitable to operate at a level of delivery pressure up to 10 bar. On the basis of fluid-dynamic simulation results, the student will design all internal parts and follow the manufacturing process. In the final period of the project, it is expected an experimental activity aimed at verifying the expected pump performance on a research test rig utilizing existing facilities at the Maha Fluid Power Research Center of Purdue.


Experimental testing and validation of P-band bistatic remote sensing of soil moisture

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): Electrical engineering, physics, aerospace engineering
Desired experience:   Basic signal processing, linear systems. Experience in working with electronic equipment and computer programming. Some knowledge of statistics helpful.
Number of positions: 1

This activity is part of a larger research project, funded under the NASA Instrument Incubator Program, to develop and test a prototype for a new instrument for the remote sensing of sub-surface, or “root-zone” soil moisture. This is an important quantity to measure for our understanding of the water cycle and for practical applications in agricultural forecasting. The innovative technology in this instrument, is the use of “signals of opportunity” (SoOp’s), which are reflections of communication satellite transmissions. In contrast to active radar remote sensing, a SoOp instrument will be much smaller and lower power, as it does not need an transmitter. SoOp also allows measurements to be made in frequency bands that are not protected for scientific use, essentially making the entire microwave spectrum available for remote sensing.

In this particular application, we will use communication signals in P-band (230-270 MHz), which can penetrate the soil to several decimeters. For comparison, satellite instruments today operate in L-band which has a penetration depth of ~5 cm.

On this project, a SURF student would learn the fundamental physical models, apply them in simulations, to predict the sensitivity of the P-band reflectivity to soil moisture variation and instrument calibration. The student would also assist in assembling instrumentation for ground experimentation, processing the data and interpreting the results.

Students should have some experience with electronic equipment and computer programming, and know basic signal processing and linear systems. An interest in Earth and environmental sciences is desirable.


Exploring the feedbacks in coupled natural and human systems in response to extreme events using Urban Metabolism Framework

Research categories:  Agricultural, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: ABE/EEE
Professor: Shweta Singh; David Yu (CE)
Preferred major(s): Ag and Biological Engineering, Civil Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences, Environmental Engineering and Science
Desired experience:   Land Use Change, Basic Statistics, Food Systems
Number of positions: 2

This is a highly interdisciplinary project cutting across 3 departments and there will be 3 major professors advising the student (Prof Shweta Singh, Prof David Yu and Prof Brady Hardiman). The project will involve literature search, data collection and some mathematical modeling. The details of the project is as follows :

Natural and man-made catastrophes such as severe drought, flood, nuclear disasters, etc. have a severe impact on production of food and food system infrastructure. This may lead to shift in consumption patterns and procuring patterns (such as local farming, urban gardens, etc.) to develop resilience to these extreme events. The goal of this work is identify and quantify the extent of changes in urban metabolism (UM) in response to these events and consequent impact on natural systems; thus exploring the feedback in the coupled natural and human systems (CNHs) in response to extreme events. Specific research questions to be addressed in this SURF projects are:
1. How has urban metabolism changed in response to particular extreme events (drought, flood, tornadoes, infrastructure failures, etc.)? What are exemplary cases of such events and regions?
2. What are short-term and long-term consequences of social adaptations to such extreme events on urban metabolism? Do short-term adaptations lead to unforeseen vulnerabilities of CNHs to different extreme events in the long-run?
3. Did “land use” and local ecosystem change in response to change in Urban metabolism change? (Such as development of backyard farming, local waste to energy, waste generation and disposal)
Research Approach
The summer research will focus on data collection and analysis with respect to these questions. This is a collaborative project between Ag. & Biological Engineering, Civil Engineering, Political Science, Forestry and Natural Resources and Environmental & Ecological Engineering. The project is in collaboration with Professors Shweta Singh, David Yu and Brady Hardiman and the SURF student will be jointly advised by all three.
Data Collection: Student will be expected to collect data for respective urban metabolism variables identified relevant to specific extreme event and also data on land use change for the defined region where there was significant impact of extreme events on urban metabolism.
1. A life cycle approach will be used to study the impact of extreme events on change in UM variable. Professor Shweta Singh will advise the student on quantifying the dependence of the local consumption to production in “distant location”. This will then help relate the potential impact on local food consumption change to production change in other areas. This will be done using an Input-Output model or FAO data. Alternatively, the student will be expected to collect data on consumption pattern change in a local region based on extreme event time map. Specific commodity of consumption that are most effected by extreme events will be targeted.
2. Collect data related to how social systems adapt in response to extreme events and how such social adaptations alter urban metabolism in the long-run. Explore how such changes in urban metabolism affect the capacity of cities to cope with different kinds of disturbances. The data collected will be used to construct systems models to explore the resilience of urban CNHs to unforeseen disturbances.
3. Calculate nitrogen content of food products and waste cycled through urban metabolic processes. Determine origin and destination of this nitrogen content and compare to estimated baseline (‘natural’) ecosystem nitrogen pools and fluxes. Quantify potential land use change associated with extreme events which prompt changes in behavior and urban metabolism.


Measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from maize canopies

Research categories:  Agricultural, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Agronomy
Professor: Richard Grant
Preferred major(s): applied meteorology, meteorology, chemistry
Desired experience:   Willingness to work day or night
Number of positions: 1

Measure CO2 and N2O emissions from several maize fields at West Lafayette, IN using state-of-the-art instrumentation. This project is in collaboration with crop systems scientists and soil chemistry scientists.

The student will be involved in the measurement and analysis of CO2 and N2O measurements and their coupling with wind measurements to determine gas emissions. These emissions will then be related to the weather and soil conditions to determine the driving variables in emissions.


Microbes in the Air: Dynamics of Airborne Bacteria, Fungi & Pollen in a Living Laboratory

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): I am recruiting students from all engineering and science majors
Desired experience:   Some experience with MATLAB and programming is preferred.
Number of positions: 1

Our homes and offices are home to trillions of microorganisms, including diverse communities of bacteria and fungi. My research group explores the dynamics of airborne microorganisms, or bioaerosols, in buildings. These are incredibly small airborne particles, less than 10 micrometers in size - one-tenth the thickness of your hair! Bioaerosols can be released from our bodies, stirred-up from house dust, and can flow into buildings from the outside via ventilation. By developing a deeper understanding of the emissions, transport, and control of bioaerosols, we can work towards buildings that promote healthy microbial communities.

In this project, you will use our state-of-the-art research facilities to measure, in real-time, concentrations of bioaerosols in a living laboratory (occupied office) at Herrick Laboratories in Discovery Park. You will learn how to develop an experimental plan, conduct air quality measurements, and analyze bioaerosol data. Most importantly, the data you collect will help us learn how people, and the buildings in which we live, influence the behavior of these tiny airborne particles. The project is very well-suited for anyone interested in microbiology, air quality, human health, HVAC systems, or atmospheric science.

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