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:



Characterization of Stomatal Development Genes

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Environmental Science, Life Science
School/Dept.: Horticulture
Professor: Mike Mickelbart
Preferred major(s): Biology, biochemistry, or related majors
Desired experience:   Biology and genetics
Number of positions: 1

Stomata are small pores on the surface of leaves that regulate gas exchange with the environment. The genetic determinants of stomatal density (SD) changes in response to intrinsic or extrinsic factors are largely unknown. We screened a large population of Arabidopsis thaliana and identified genetic regions correlated with differences in stomatal density. Within these genetic regions, we have selected candidate genes that may be involved in stomatal development. The goal of this summer project is to utilize plants that have mutations in genes of interest to determine if they affect stomatal development. Natural genetic variation will also be used to assess differences in expression of these genes in a diverse set of plant material. The student will gain experience in DNA and RNA isolation, gene expression, DNA sequencing, growth measurements, and leaf anatomical characterization using light microscopy.


Development of a new wind sensor

Research categories:  Agricultural, Electronics, Environmental Science, Innovative Technology/Design, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Jiqin (Jee-Chin) Ni
Preferred major(s): Electrical engineering; computer engineering; mechanical engineering
Desired experience:   Hands-on and technical writing skills, knowledge and experience in electronics.
Number of positions: 1

This project is to develop an innovative and compact wind speed and direction sensor. It is expected to have wide applications. The student’s contribution will be (1) select materials for the sensor and an electronic device; (2) build a prototype sensor and the device that acquires, converts, and displays sensor output; (3) test the sensor and the device; (4) assist in preparing an invention disclosure.


Evaluating Release and Uptake of Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Biosolids

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Agronomy/ESE/EEE
Professor: Linda Lee
Preferred major(s): Environmental Science/Chemistry/Engineering
Desired experience:   General Chemistry sequence
Number of positions: 1

We have a project that will evaluate the transfer of contaminants of emerging concern from biosolids into water, soils, and plants. These biosolids are used as fertilizers in urban gardens as well as larger scale land production. The focus of the research for a SURF student this summer involves quantifying contaminants of emerging concern in the biosolids. Students would gain experience in extraction, clean up, and analytical methods common to environmental samples including liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry and development of associated analytical methods. In addition, the student will participate in studies targeted at evaluating plant uptake of targeted contaminants selected from the data obtained for the commercial biosolids particularly those derived from municipal wastewater treatment processes.


Evaluating the Maintenance and Diffusion of Water Conservation Best Management Practices in the Great Bend of the Wabash River Watershed

Research categories:  Agricultural, Educational Research/Social Science, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Forestry and Natural Resources
Professor: Linda Prokopy
Preferred major(s): no strong preference
Desired experience:   Prior experience with or knowledge of appropriate and sustainable water resource best management practices (BMPs) such as rain gardens and rain barrels a plus. Experience with outdoor field work also a plus.
Number of positions: 1

This project will characterize the adoption, maintenance and diffusion of water quality and climate change BMPs in the Region of the Great Bend of the Wabash River Watershed (Tippecanoe County). The project has three primary objectives. First, it will determine what motivates urban and suburban landowners to adopt and maintain stormwater conservation BMPs. Second, it will identify how stormwater conservation BMPs spread or diffuse throughout a community. Third, it will determine specific watershed management planning recommendations for setting adoption goals and reaching potential adopters for the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation (WREC), an environmental non-profit organization working in the Region of the Great Bend of the Wabash River Watershed.

To understand what motivates the adoption and maintenance of these BMPs in this watershed, an assessment of both the property owner/manager and the actual practice will be conducted. The SURF student will aid in the assessments of the actual practices. Implemented projects will be photo-monitored by the student to document project maintenance and physical assessments of the BMP will be conducted. These physical assessments will include the quality of practice implementation, plant growth and cover assessment, erosion or compaction issue identification, and notation of any issues or problems with the BMP that may reduce its effectiveness.


Investigate the role of small heat shock proteins in meat tenderness development

Research categories:  Agricultural
School/Dept.: Animal Sciences
Professor: Brad Kim
Preferred major(s): Animal Sciences/Food Science
Desired experience:   Previous lab experience w/ handling chemicals would be desirable.
Number of positions: 1

Improving eating quality of US beef is crucial considering the fast growing demands for high value beef products from consumers in very competitive regional/international markets. Particularly, there is a strong need for the US meat industry to reduce inconsistent meat tenderness, which is often derived from so-called ‘intermediate pHu’ (pHu 5.8 – 6.19) beef. Although the role of proteolytic enzymes in myofibrillar protein degradation and tenderness development has been well understood, there is still a lack of knowledge on the specific biochemical mechanisms governing the variability in the eating quality of intermediate pHu beef. The recent findings from our lab show a possible involvement of small heat shock proteins in tenderness development of beef particularly the meat with intermediate pHu. Therefore, further elucidation and manipulation of biochemical/biophysical mechanisms regulating myofibrillar protein degradation enable greater utilization of bovine muscles. This will consequently increase the profitability and sustainability of the fresh meat industry and offer consumers more consistent quality.


Modeling Metabolic Flux for Bioenergy

Research categories:  Agricultural, Life Science
School/Dept.: Department of Biochemistry
Professor: Clint Chapple
Preferred major(s): biochemistry, plant genetics, chemical engineering or related area
Desired experience:   Biochemistry of metabolism
Number of positions: 3

The sun is the principle source of energy for our planet, and photosynthesis is the primary mechanism by which that energy is captured and stored in the form of reduced carbon. An outcome of these biochemical events is that plants represent a quantitatively important, sustainable, and carbon-neutral source of energy for humans. In order to maximize the utility of plants for this purpose, it is critical that we gain control of the processes associated with energy capture and storage, including the molecular mechanisms that allocate fixed carbon to the myriad biochemical pathways in plants, including the shikimate and phenylpropanoid pathways that together contribute to the biosynthesis of lignin, a polymer that comprises approximately 25% of plants’ biomass.

In this project, a student will work with graduate students and post docs to develop a kinetic model for the shikimate and phenylpropanoid pathways. Kinetic models provide insights into the distribution of flux control, thus permitting more intelligent, predictive and effective design of experiments to modulate fluxes towards pathway end products. The anticipated outcomes from our proposed kinetic modeling are two-fold: first, it identifies what remains unknown about the regulation and control of metabolic fluxes to lignin; second, the model allows development of strategies and predictions of what targets are the most promising candidates for alteration of metabolic flux to lignin. This meets the desired goal of designing modules for precise control of metabolic pathways in plants.

Other Purdue faculty members involved with this project are Dr. Natalia Doudareva and Dr. John Morgan.


Modeling and Control of a Hydraulic Hybrid Transmission

Research categories:  Agricultural, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: ABE
Professor: Monika Ivantysynova
Preferred major(s): ME, ABE
Desired experience:   Matlab/Simulink, System Control
Number of positions: 1

The student participating in this project will be involved in the modeling and control of a new hydraulic hybrid transmission. Ongoing research at the Maha Lab focuses on investigating novel hydraulic hybrid transmission architectures for both on-road and off-highway applications. In previous studies fuel savings of 30 to 70% have been seen with hydraulic hybrid transmissions depending on application. To further this research a hardware-in-the-loop transmission test rig was built at the Maha lab.

The chosen student will begin by working with a graduate researcher to develop a simulation model of the existing transmission. This simulation model will then be used by the student to investigate various power management strategies to maximize system efficiency. Next the student will develop an implementable controller based on the chosen power management strategy. Finally the summer will culminate with the student implementing their controller on the transmission test rig and measuring its performance.


Single Particle Studies of Metal-Oxide Enhanced Biomass Gasification

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Jay Gore
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Desired experience:   Software: LabVIEW, Matlab, Microsoft Excel GPA: >3.5 preferred Experience: 1) hands-on experience in laboratory settings preferred, 2) ability to commute to Zucrow Laboratories required
Number of positions: 1

Biomass gasification is a potential renewable energy technology for production of synthetic fuels. The gasification process, depicted below, converts solid biomass feed-stock into gaseous products by partial oxidation with CO2/H2O/O2 gas mixtures at high temperatures and pressures. An environmental benefit of biomass gasification is possible through recycling of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants using the biomass gasification process. The drawbacks of biomass gasification as currently practiced in industry include: 1. intensive thermal energy requirements resulting in low process efficiency (<40%) and 2. unpredictable reaction rates attributed to the variation in chemical composition, particularly ash, of biomass feed-stock.

Ash is a trace (< 1 weight %) material consisting of minerals and metal oxides contained in biomass feed-stock. Prior studies have shown that trace quantities of mineral/metal-oxides can change the biomass gasification rates by orders of magnitude. Formation of a layer of ash and the concentrations of encapsulated catalytic minerals significantly impacts the gasification rates.

The proposed Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) project involves controlled experiments and modeling of the resulting data for future gasifier designs. The SURF student will contribute to the design of an experiment to study the effect of mineral/metal-oxides on the gasification reaction rate for biomass feed-stock. The student will acquire the knowledge to utilize laser absorption spectroscopy and gas chromatography for measurements of gas phase concentrations of major products that will enable calculation of reaction rates. The student will have the opportunity to learn data acquisition, control, and data processing tools along with hands on assembly, dis-assembly, and alignment work that would enrich his/her practical knowledge. The SURF student will work closely with a graduate student on all aspects of the project. Prior knowledge of software such as LabVIEW, MATLAB, and Microsoft Excel is desired.


Study on fluid structure phenomena

Research categories:  Agricultural, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: ABE
Professor: Monika Ivantysynova
Preferred major(s): ME, ABE
Desired experience:   Matlab, C++
Number of positions: 1

The research goal of this research project is a study of the lubrication film between piston and cylinder of axial piston pump or motor using a custom-developed fluid structure interaction model, which captures the impact of macro and micro motion, fluid and material properties, heat transfer, surface shape and surface elastic deformations. This in house developed tool will be used to conduct numerous simulations to better understand the physical phenomena affecting the lubrication. This project also provides an opportunity to study new design ideas like surface shaping and material impacting on the performance of the fluid film.

This project is well suited to a student who is willing to have a deeper understanding of computational fluid dynamic analysis. Previous experience with Matlab, C++ and completed coursework in fluid power, fluid dynamic, heat transfer and lubrication is highly preferred.


Using Stable Isotopes to Quantify Nitrogen Fates in Container Plant Production Systems

Research categories:  Agricultural, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Horticulture & Earth, atmospheric, and planetary science
Professor: Greg Michalski
Preferred major(s): Any
Desired experience:   Strong background in chemistry and math is important. Background in environmental science, ecology, and/or biology is beneficial.
Number of positions: 1

Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is increasingly important in the production of container plants as awareness of the environmental consequences of nitrogen (N) leaching increases and as regulations on nitrogen losses from nurseries tighten. Furthermore, N lost to the environment reduces the economic efficiency of container production. While N leaching is relatively easy to measure, losses due to nitrification have been difficult to quantify. The goal of this research is to demonstrate that fertilizer with unique stable isotope signatures of oxygen and N can be used to accurately quantify N fate following application. To quantify N uptake and loss, fertilizer containing 15N- and 17O-labeled ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) and potassium nitrate (KNO3), respectively, will be applied to red maple (Acer rubrum) plants growing in 2-L containers. Mass balance equations will be used to quantify N conversions and losses in the system.

Students participating in this project will learn analytical techniques in chemistry, mass spectrometry, plant physiology, and some basic horticulture skills. Students will also have the opportunity to visit commercial production facilities that this work will ultimately impact.

This is a joint project between Greg Michalski (Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences) and Mike Mickelbart (Horticulture). Students will work in and interact with other students in both labs.