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:



Adhesives at the Beach

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Environmental Science, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Department of Chemistry
Professor: Jonathan Wilker
Preferred major(s): Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Materials Engineering
Desired experience:   This project will involve aspects of marine biology (e.g., working with live mussels), materials engineering (e.g., measuring mechanical properties of adhesives), and chemistry (e.g., making surfaces with varied functionalities). Few people at any level will come in with knowledge about all aspects here. Consequently we are looking for adventurous students who are wanting to roll up their sleeves, get wet (literally), and learn several new things.

The oceans are home to a diverse collection of animals producing intriguing materials. Mussels, barnacles, oysters, starfish, and kelp are examples of the organisms generating adhesive matrices for affixing themselves to the sea floor. Our laboratory is characterizing these biological materials, designing synthetic polymer mimics, and developing applications. Characterization efforts include experiments with live animals, extracted proteins, and peptide models. Synthetic mimics of these bioadhesives begin with the chemistry learned from characterization studies and incorporate the findings into bulk polymers. For example, we are mimicking the cross-linking of DOPA-containing adhesive proteins by placing monomers with pendant catechols into various polymer backbones. Adhesion strengths of these new polymers can rival that of the cyanoacrylate “super glues.” Underwater bonding is also appreciable. In order to design higher performing synthetic materials we must, first, learn all of the tricks used by nature when making adhesives. Future efforts for this coming summer will revolve around work with live mussels. Plans for experiments include changing the water, surfaces, and other environmental conditions around the animals. Mechanical performance of the resulting adhesives will be quantified and compared. Microscopy and other methods will be used to further understand the factors that dictate how these fascinating biological materials can function under such demanding conditions.


Computational modeling of mechanosensitive behaviors of cells

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computational/Mathematical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering
Professor: Taeyoon Kim
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   C language, MATLAB, and other coding skills

Cells are able to sense surrounding mechanical environments. For example, a number of experiments have demonstrated that nano- and micro-patterns can guide migration of cells. This cell behavior is called the contact guidance and plays an important role in various physiological processes. In this research project, we aim to develop a rigorous computational model to study mechanisms of the contact guidance.


Engineering of the Tumor Microenvironment of Pancreatic Cancer

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Mechanical Engineering
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Bumsoo Han
Preferred major(s): Mechanical or Biomedical Engineering Majors
Desired experience:   Course work on solid and fluid mechanics are required - Basic programming skill on Matlab - Basic wet lab skills are preferred, but not required.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) poses a significant challenge with dismal 7% 5-year survival rates. Ineffective treatment of PDAC is linked primarily to poor drug delivery through a dense PDAC stroma and to elevated drug resistance of pancreatic cancer cells. These are largely correlated to the complex tumor microenvironment (TME) of PDAC. Due to its complexity, it is extremely difficult to identify promising molecular targets and to devise innovative strategies for efficient delivery of molecules at the PDAC TME. In order to address this technical challenge, this project aims to develop and validate engineered tumor models based on microfluidics and tissue engineering technologies. Students in this project are expected to learn about microfabrication, biomechanics, biotransport and fluorescence microscopy and analysis.


Evaluate Epigenetic Effects on Transgene Expression

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical
School/Dept.: Davidson School of Chemical Engineering
Professor: Chongli Yuan
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering
Desired experience:   Previous research experience required

Transgene expression can be potentially regulated via epigenetic marks. We are making synthetic chromatin containing different histone modifications and assess their impact on transgene activity. Participating students will learn about molecular cloning, transcription assays and other molecular/cellular bio techniques.


Human Body Communication

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics
School/Dept.: ECE
Professor: Shreyas Sen
Preferred major(s): ECE, BME

The student will work on theory and device design related to using the human body as a communication medium to improve Healthcare and HCI.


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.


Multiphase Fluid Flows in Tight Spaces

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Ivan Christov
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Computational Science
Desired experience:   1. Thorough understanding of undergraduate fluid mechanics. 2. Programming experience with high-level language such as Python or MATLAB. 3. Experience with shell/command-line environments in Linux/Unix; specifically, remote login, file transfers, etc. 4. Experience researching difficult questions whose answers are not found in a textbook. 5. Desire to learn about new fluid mechanics phenomena and expand computational skillset.

Multiphase flows are fluid flows involving multiple fluids, multiple phases of the same fluid, and any situation in which the dynamics of an interface between dissimilar fluids must be understood. Examples include water displacing hydrocarbons in secondary oil recovery, a mixtures of particle-laden fluids being injected into a hydraulically fractured reservoirs ("fracking"), introduction of air into the lungs of pre-maturely born infants to re-open their liquid-filled lungs and airways, and a whole host of other physico-chemical processes in biological and industrial applications.

The goal of this SURF project will be to study, using computational tools such as ANSYS Workbench and/or the OpenFOAM platform, how multiphase flows behave in tight spaces. To accomplish this goal, the SURF student will work with a PhD student. Specifically the dynamics of interfaces between different phases and/or fluids will be studied through numerical simulation, and the effect of the flow passage geometry will be addressed. Some questions that we seek to address are whether/how geometric variations can stabilize or destabilize an interface and whether/how geometry affects the final distribution of particles in particle-laden multiphase flow passing through a constriction/expansion. Applications of these effects to biological and industrial flows will be explored quantitatively and qualitatively.

More information:


Sensing the Human Factors in Laparoscopic and Robotic Surgery

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Industrial Engineering
Professor: Denny Yu
Preferred major(s): Industrial Engineering, other
Desired experience:   Human Factors, Matlab, Machine Learning, Healthcare, Medical Device Design

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among surgeons are becoming more common. The purpose of this project is to use sensors to measure ergonomic risks and assess interventions to surgeons during laparoscopic and robotic surgery. This work will leverage sensing technology (e.g., motion tracking, pressure map, electromyography) to monitor surgeons’ ergonomics to ultimately develop recommendations on minimizing MSDs and how to better design an operating room.

The SURF student will participate in data collection in the operating room at Indiana University School of Medicine, data analysis and interpretation, and write his/her results for a journal publication. The student will regularly communicate his/her progress and results with faculty, graduate mentors, and surgeon collaborators.


Structural and Functional Analysis of Signaling Pathways in Cancer

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Biological Sciences
Professor: John Tesmer
Preferred major(s): Biology/Biochemistry related
Desired experience:   Freshman Chemistry and Organic Chemistry lab experience is desirable. Freshman level biology at minimum.

Undergraduate researchers in the lab will work alongside graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to decipher the molecular mechanisms of proteins involved in signal transduction from G protein coupled receptors to enzymes in the cell that control tumor growth and metastasis. Our lab uses X-ray crystallography, cryo-EM microscopy, and a battery of other biochemical and biophysical techniques to study proteins that we produce directly in our own lab. Trainees will emerge from our lab with advanced training in molecular biology, protein expression, and the purification of macromolecular complexes, and will receive an introduction to cutting edge biophysical techniques used to probe protein structure.