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:



Building Software for Environmental Modeling

Research categories:  Agricultural, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Environmental Science, Other
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Dharmendra Saraswat
Preferred major(s): Agricultural Engineering , Civil Engineering, Computer Science or related disciplines
Desired experience:   Programming skills in any language with some experience in frontend and backend web development is desired.

Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department has contributed several tools for environmental modeling community. It is a challenge to review and understand old codes with minimum documentation. This project involves modernizing an environmental modeling software written primarily in Perl. In this project, the SURF student will first assess the current application, create a plan for the new iteration in collaboration with the project supervisor, get a head start on developing the new application and document the process. The SURF student will work with a staff programmer.


Data Visualization and Analysis for IoT Based Smart Irrigation System

Research categories:  Agricultural, Civil and Construction, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Environmental Science, Other
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Dharmendra Saraswat
Preferred major(s): Agricultural Engineering, Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Computer Science or related disciplines
Desired experience:   Programming skills in any language with some experience in statistics is desired.

It is reported that currently almost 33 percent of the global population is affected by water scarcity and by 2030, this figure is expected to climb up to almost 50 percent. Around 60 percent of the water used for irrigation is wasted, either due to evapotranspiration, land runoff, or simply inefficient, primitive irrigation application methods. This realization has brought attention to smart irrigation – powered by the internet of things (IoTs) – that can be a better way of managing water stress on a global basis. In this project, the SURF student will customize commercially available software to analyze and visualize data, perform calculations/combine new data, run time-based calculations, plot functions for visual understanding and perform sophisticated analysis by combining data from several field nodes. The SURF student will work with Project Supervisor and a staff programmer.


High-Volume Treatment of Metal-Polluted Water

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Preferred major(s): Science or engineering students are welcome, including but not limited to chemistry, physics, geology, and the following engineering disciplines: chemical, civil, environmental, materials, mechanical.
Desired experience:   Enthusiasm for chemistry and an interest in materials research. Prior experiences with composites would be a benefit to the project but are not required.

Mining of coal and metallurgical ores has significantly impacted the land and groundwater quality in many semi-arid regions and there are great challenges to mitigate the impact of this legacy pollution. The impacted areas have a portion of their scarce water resources chemically contaminated and are lacking a cost-effective and comprehensive strategy to rehabilitate the fouled groundwater. Laboratory testing of polluted water will be passively treated with geotextile-like materials that have been surface modified with polymers and clay minerals designed to selectively sequester trace chemical pollutants. The novel engineered material will be designed to have high surface area in a structure that will minimally impact water transport. As the water passes over the material, the pollutant will be irreversibly bound to the surface. The SURF student will investigate chemical surface modification of polymer mesh materials to induce chemical binding of the select pollutants. Testing will include measuring the reduction in pollutants as a function of exposure time and determining the total binding capacity of the modified material mesh exposed to a mixture of pollutants and other species typically present in groundwater (i.e. organic/inorganic particulates).


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:


Low-cost user-friendly biosensors for animal health

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Electronics, Innovative Technology/Design, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Mohit Verma
Preferred major(s): Biomedical engineering, biological engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, or other relevant fields
Desired experience:   To be successful at this position, you should have a GPA>3.5, prior experience working in a wet lab (ideally experience with bacterial culture and DNA amplification), experience building electromechanical devices, and the ability to work in a team.

Infectious diseases are a leading cause of economic burden on food production from animals. For example, bovine respiratory diseases lead to a loss of ~$480/animal. Current methods for tackling these diseases includes the administration of antibiotics by trial-and-error. This approach leads to failure of treatment in up to one-third of the cases. In addition, it also leads to a proliferation of antibiotic resistance in pathogens.

Our research project focuses on developing a low-cost user-friendly biosensor based on paper that can detect which pathogen is causing the disease and whether it exhibits antibiotic resistance. Such a biosensor would provide a readout to the farmer or the veterinary physician and suggest which antibiotics are likely to be successful.

The SURF student will have three objectives: i) design primers for detecting pathogens associated with bovine respiratory diseases, ii) build a device for processing the sample and extracting DNA that can be amplified by the biosensor, and iii) build a device for detecting colorimetric/fluorometric output from the biosensor.

More information:


Monitoring Bacterial Contamination in Biologics

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Preferred major(s): Biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, biological engineering

Biologics comprised 22% of major pharma companies in 2013 and is expended to grow to 32% of sales in 2023. Biologics are large complex molecules that are created by microorganisms and mammalian cells. They are polypeptides or proteins such as monoclonal antibodies, cytokines, fusion proteins used in vaccines, cell therapies, gene therapies, etc. Impurities such as aggregates, cell debris, bacterial and viral contamination can negatively impact the manufacturing process. In this project, we will focus on developing methods for monitoring bacterial contamination.


Reducing Ocean Pollution By Understanding the Formation and Stability of Shipboard Emulsions

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Preferred major(s): MSE, ChemE, EEE, and related fields of science and engineering
Desired experience:   Enthusiasm for chemistry, and interest in materials, environmental, or chemical engineering. Prior experience with emulsions would benefit the project but are not required.

Bilge water is a collection of waste fluids onboard a ship and is a major source of pollution in marine environments. All waste fluids onboard (including oil, grease, fuel, detergents, etc.) are collected in the ship’s bilge until it can be treated and released into the ocean. Treatment techniques remove some of the pollutants but have a difficult time removing oil when it is in the form of an oil-in-water “shipboard emulsion” with nanoscale droplets. Consequently, oils and detergents are released into the environment. The goal of this project is to study the formation and composition of bilge water emulsions to ultimately prevent emulsion formation and improve treatment techniques. In this project, the SURF student will create and characterize model bilge water emulsions with emphasis on understanding the formation mechanisms and stability of these emulsions. The SURF student will have the opportunity to learn many different characterization techniques specific to nanoscale oil-water emulsions, including optical microscopy, dynamic light scattering, zeta potential measurements, interfacial tension measurements and more, by working closely with a current Ph.D. student in MSE and faculty in MSE and EEE (Profs. Erk, Howarter, and Martinez).


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

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): ECE, AAE, Physics, ABE
Desired experience:   Basic signal processing (AAE 301 or ECE 301 or equivalent) desired. Students should know how to use basic hand tools, and be willing to work outdoors in agricultural or forest environments. A drivers license and reliable access to a car is required for field work.

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, often through dense vegetation, 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 will be conducted for its third year the Purdue Agricultural research fields. 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.

In Spring 2019 an additional experiment, using a small Unpiloted Aerial Vehicle (UAV), will be conducted in a forested area in collaboration with the School of Forestry and Natural Resources (FRN).

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. Students should be willing to work outdoors and have an interest in applying their skills to solving problems in the Earth sciences, environment, or agriculture.

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


Unlocking the role of heat shock proteins in postmortem protein degradation of beef muscles

Research categories:  Agricultural
School/Dept.: Animal Sciences
Professor: Brad Kim
Preferred major(s): Animal Sciences/Food Science/ABE/Biochemistry or closely related
Desired experience:   Previous lab working experience will be desirable.

Providing consistently high quality and wholesome meat products to consumers is crucial to the continued success of the meat industry. The purpose of this research is to determine the role of small heat shock protein (HSP) in postmortem protein degradation of muscles. Anti-apoptotic functions of HSP have been well identified, but its potential impact on endogenous proteolytic enzyme activity is largely unknown. This study will determine the involvement of HSP in postmortem protein degradation of beef muscles. Student will have hands-on experience by performing assays to observe and quantifying the presence of small heat shock proteins present in samples, and interpreting results. Student will assist graduate students in any way needed, especially as is relevant to studies in small heat shock proteins.


Using Polymer Science to Make a Better Dirt Road

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: School of Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Desired experience:   Enthusiasm for chemistry and an interest in materials research. Prior experiences with soils would be a benefit to the project but are not required.

The majority of roadways in rural communities and developing countries are unpaved “dirt” roads, which typically become impassable and unsafe during inclement weather. Soil stabilization techniques can be used to increase the strength and durability of dirt roads, including mixing clays, resins, and polymer emulsions with soils to form a high-toughness composite. However, these techniques are only effective over weeks and months – not years – and composite performance is reduced by extreme weather events including droughts and floods. Thus, to increase the safety and well-being of individuals living in isolated communities both in the US and around the world, there is a critical need to design durable, low-cost dirt roads that are resilient to traffic and weather. During the course of this summer project, the SURF student will: (1) learn about the limitations of polymer-based stabilization methods for natural roadways in arid and semi-arid climates; (2) determine how the physical and chemical interactions of polymers in the presence of water, salts, and soils impact the mechanical properties and toughness of polymer-soil composites; and (3) develop material design strategies to create durable and self-healing polymer-based materials and coatings that can be applied to polymer-soil composites and, thus, to natural roadways. Through this project, students will develop knowledge and important skills in organic chemistry and synthesis as well as material design and mechanical testing of composites.


Using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to Monitor Crop Development

Research categories:  Agricultural, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Keith Cherkauer
Preferred major(s): Agricultural Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering
Desired experience:   Knowledge of programming (e.g., MatLab or Python), electrical circuits, and digital imagery is desired but not required.

Global food production must continue to increase in order to support a growing world population. The integration of data science, sensors and automated sensing platforms into breeding programs allows science and engineering to work together to increase the speed and accuracy of seed selection for future development into commercial products. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) provide a platform to collect very-high resolution remote sensing image data from fields frequently during the growing season. The student selected for this project will work with an experienced team of graduate students and faculty to collect imagery and supporting ground reference data from multiple crop fields. They will learn how to setup ground targets, collect additional ground reference data (including soil moisture and leaf porosity measurements), manage large datasets, and process imagery to extract metrics per plot, which can be correlated to the specific seed variety in each plot within the field containing each experiment. As part of this project, the student will be responsible for collecting ground reference data and processing UAS imagery. They will use their data to assess the usefulness of one metric used for monitoring crop development that will be selected at the start of the summer.