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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:



A dual-tuned, metamaterial-enhanced radiofrequency coil for MRI and phosphorus-31 spectroscopy

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Electronics, Innovative Technology/Design, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, School of Electrical & Computer Engineering
Professor: Joseph Rispoli
Preferred major(s): Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Desired experience:   CAD modeling, soldering, circuit characterization

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners can be used to acquire real-time localized metabolic information. This technique, known as magnetic resonance spectroscopy, can quantify the concentration of specific metabolites incorporating NMR-active nuclei. In this project, we will build a radiofrequency coil that will detect both typical proton (1H) and phosphorus-31 (31P) spectra using Purdue's 7T MRI scanner. The coil design will include metamaterial periodic structures to boost 31P sensitivity.

For this project, the SURF student will be part of the Magnetic Resonance Biomedical Engineering Lab (MRBEL) and work with Prof. Rispoli and a dedicated graduate student advisor. The SURF student's role will be to contribute to the final coil design (given electromagnetic modeling results from the graduate student advisor), to create a CAD model of the mechanical former, to prototype the former using our lab's 3D printer, to construct the required electrical circuitry on the former, and to validate the device on the 7T scanner. Familiarity with CAD software (Inventor/SolidWorks), soldering, analog circuits, metamaterials, and/or radiofrequency/microwave circuits is desired but not required.

More information:


Designing and testing vagal nerve stimulation with magnetic resonance imaging

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science
School/Dept.: Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Professor: Zhongming Liu
Preferred major(s): Electrical and Computer Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, or Biological Sciences
Desired experience:   As in the project description, a student may work on medical device design or animal experimentation. Medical Device The responsibility is designing mechanical apparatus or electric circuits in an MRI-integrated neural stimulator. A strong candidate should have strong background or interest in analog/digital circuit design and analysis, device fabrication and testing. A student in electrical and computer engineering, biomedical engineering is of particular interest. Animal Experimentation The responsibility is to perform animal experiments with cutting-edging neurotechnologies including 7-Tesla small-animal MRI, multi-channel in vivo electrophysiology, simultaneous neural stimulation, recording, and imaging. The student will be trained for animal handling, injection, and surgery. A student in biological sciences or biomedical engineering is of particular interest.

Vagal nerve stimulation is a potential way to treat various diseases and promote learning. For example, electrical stimulation to the vagus may put inflammation under control, or allow animals to learn how to walk out of a maze.

The laboratory of integrated brain imaging, along with several other labs at Purdue, is designing and optimizing new stimulators for vagal nerve stimulation, and using magnetic resonance imaging to test the designed stimulators in live rodents. This research is expected to lay the technical and physiological foundation to translation of vagal nerve stimulation to humans.

Depending on her or his background, the student can participate in either device design or animal experimentation. The student is expected to also engage in collaborative research across multiple laboratories.


Drinking water safety and sampling in buildings

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Life Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering -AND- Environmental and Ecological Engineering
Professor: Andrew Whelton
Preferred major(s): Open
Desired experience:   Science or engineering background Prior lab or field experience with chemical or microbiological analysis preferred, but not required. Students will be trained with all necessary methods. Clear motivation to make a difference Able to effectively work in diverse teams Work hours will be based on the time of day and actual date of prescheduled sampling

The student will assist graduate students, a postdoctoral research association, and the professor conduct drinking water sampling in buildings. The project's focus is to better understand how drinking water quality changes during a plumbing system's age and also differences in drinking water across buildings. This project will be a mix of field and laboratory work. One study site is located in West Lafayette, IN while others are elsewhere. The student would accompany the researchers to those sites. Prior study can be found here:


Enhancing Transgene Expression and Retention by Co-delivery of DNA Vectors with Modified Histones

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: Chongli Yuan
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering/Biochemistry

Conventional transgene delivery/therapy approaches currently lack the safety, efficiency and durability required for many research, industrial and/or clinical applications. Understanding how to create and maintain active gene expression will have broad-ranging impacts by facilitating transgene delivery and tailored expression in plants and animals.

The participating student with make recombinant histone proteins with defined modifications and examine their respective contributions in affect transgene expression efficiency both in short- and long term.


Hololens Augmented Reality based Ultrasound Imaging

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering
School/Dept.: Industrial Engineering
Professor: Juan Wachs
Preferred major(s): CS, ECE, ME, IE
Desired experience:   Very good programming skills. Experience in computer graphics and vision is an advantage.

The project consists of using an ultrasound on a patient simulator and observe the medical imaging on an augmented reality headset (Hololens). This information will be used for teleconsultation.


How strongly do oysters stick?

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Chemistry
Professor: Jonathan Wilker

Up through the 18th century intertidal oyster reefs provided a major determinant of sea life along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Billions of shellfish aggregated into reef structures tens of meters deep and several square kilometers in area. In doing so, oysters created habitat for other species, filtered large volumes of water, and protected the coast from storms. Since the late 1800s overfishing, pollution, and disease have reduced stocks substantially. During this time oyster harvests from once-bountiful locations such as the Chesapeake Bay have declined by 98% or more. A great deal of effort is currently being invested to reintroduce oysters to their earlier habitats.

Despite the vital role played by oysters in maintaining robust coastal ecosystems, we know few details about the chemistry of how these shellfish build reefs. Furthermore, we do not even have any data telling us how strongly the animals can attach.

Work this summer will include development of a method for determining the strengths with which oysters bond to surfaces. At the end of this summer we will both have the method in hand as well as adhesion data.


Human Body Communication

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics
School/Dept.: ECE
Professor: Shreyas Sen
Preferred major(s): ECE, CE, BME, CS
Desired experience:   Microprocessor Coding, or Device Design, or Circuit/System Design

We are developing state-of-the-art devices and algorithms to use the human body as a communication network for wearables and implantables, impacting healthcare and neuroscience in future.

We are looking for young, bright students to take these systems to the next level.

More details here:

More information:


Human Factors in Healthcare-Wearable Sensing and Workload

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Industrial Engineering
School/Dept.: Industrial Engineering
Professor: Denny Yu
Preferred major(s): IE, BME, or CS
Desired experience:   human subject research, field observations, matlab, sensors

Healthcare, specifically surgical and emergency care, is provided in a complex environment that impact patient and provider safety. Identifying best practices in technique, designing ergonomic medical devices, and quantifying the dynamic changes in workload in these environments remain a challenge. This summer research project will cover three areas of studies: measuring surgical techniques, wearable devices for healthcare, and quantifying clinician workload.


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:


Neural coding of an auditory pitch illusion

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering
Professor: Mark Sayles
Preferred major(s): Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Neuroscience
Desired experience:   MATLAB experience would be helpful but not required Experience handling small animals would be helpful but not required Interest in music would be a bonus!

Vocal communication, musical melody recognition, and the perceptual organization of our acoustic environment into meaningful “auditory objects” relies on the accurate neural coding of pitch. Despite many neurophysiological studies characterizing the neural representation of pitch-evoking sounds in the auditory periphery, there is no single unifying theory to explain all (or even most) pitch phenomena.

Most pitch-evoking sounds used in neurophysiological studies have been those which produce a very strong salient pitch percept when presented to one ear alone (monaurally). However, there is an additional class of pitch-evoking sounds, for which a pitch emerges only when sound is presented to both ears (binaurally). When listening to either ear alone, the sound has no pitch, and is simply broadband noise. These “binaural pitch” phenomena can be considered an “auditory illusion,” somewhat akin to the visual illusion of “magic eye” images.

We propose that binaural pitch phenomena offer an important clue regarding the neural basis of pitch in general. It is likely that all pitch phenomena involve the neural circuitry for binaural hearing. In the brainstem neurophysiology laboratory we have a unique capability to record from binaurally sensitive brainstem neurons. This project will involve characterizing the neural representation of binaural pitch in the patterns of spikes from brainstem neurons in anesthetized mammals. Students will perform in-vivo neurophysiological experiments to record spikes from single neurons, and analyze data using MATLAB. This project will be particularly appealing for students with an interest in the relationship between neuroscience, music and mathematics.


Neural mechanisms of hearing in noisy environments

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Life Science
School/Dept.: BME/SLHS
Professor: Mark Sayles
Preferred major(s): Biology, Biomedical Engineering
Desired experience:   MATLAB would be a bonus, but is not required. Animal research experience would be a bonus, but is not required.

Listening in noisy environments can be challenging. The mammalian auditory system uses neural mechanisms involving tightly synchronized activity between the two ears to detect micro-second differences in timing between the two ears which can be used to boost the signal-to-noise ratio of auditory representations in the brain ("binaural hearing"). People with even mild hearing loss appear unable to take full advantage of these neural mechanisms, and therefore suffer disproportionately in noisy places. The reasons for this are unknown.

We hypothesize that normal binaural hearing requires a specific pattern of cochlear inputs to binaural brainstem neurons, and that hearing loss alters this pattern - resulting in an inability to use binaural information to de-noise important sounds such as speech. In this project, students will record activity from binaural neurons in the brainstem of small mammals (some with normal hearing, and some with hearing impairment), and quantify the ability of those neurons to de-noise acoustic signals presented in background noise. This will involve animal work. Experience with MATLAB would be beneficial, but is not required.


Role of Microbial Motility in Degradation of Dispersed Oil

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Life Science, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Preferred major(s): Biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, biology, environmental engineering
Desired experience:   bacteria/cell culture laboratory and/or transport phenomena and/or microfluidic experiments

Microbial biodegradation processes play an important role in reducing the harmful
effects of a marine oil spill. The fate and transport of spilled hydrocarbons in the ocean depends on a combination of nonlinear effects such as environmental factors, ocean flows, chemical and physical properties of the crude oil, and the distribution of the oil-degrading microbial community. The over-arching goal of this research project is to quantify the role of motility of marine bacteria in the initial stage in biodegradation of oil through experiments and/or computational modeling.


Structure and Function of Signaling Proteins involved in Cancer and Heart Failure

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical
School/Dept.: Biological Sciences
Professor: John Tesmer
Preferred major(s): Biochemistry, Biology, or Chemistry
Desired experience:   Organic and Biochemistry lab experience preferred.

There are two possible projects:

1) Structure and function of P-Rex1, a driver of metastasis

P-Rex1 is a guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) for Rho GTPases. Rho GTPases are small G proteins which exist in inactive (GDP bound) or active (GTP bound) forms. They regulate cell migration, cell proliferation and transcription etc. Both Rho GTPases and P-Rex1 are over-expressed in different cancers and hence are important targets for chemotherapy. P-Rex1 is different from other RhoGEFs in that it is synergistically activated by the heterotrimeric G protein βγ subunits (Gβγ) and a phospholipid, PIP3. We are interested to find out how binding of Gβγ and PIP3 activate P-Rex1. Our strategy is to express and purify different P-Rex1 domains and the Rho GTPase Rac1 from E. coli and Gβγ from insect cells. We will then try to form stable complexes of Gβγ and IP4 with P-Rex1 and Rac1. This will be followed up by attempts to crystallize these complexes with the long term goal of obtaining an atomic structure.

The student will be involved in expression and purification of P-Rex1 and Rac1 proteins from E. coli. The protein purification methods involves different chromatography techniques, most common being affinity and size exclusion. This lab experience will help the student to understand how recombinant proteins are expressed and principles of protein purification and crystallization.
Overall picture of the project: The proteins purified by the student will be used for the structure determination of the complex which will give insight into how P-Rex1 is regulated.

2) Elucidation of the membrane binding mechanism of a receptor kinase

G protein-coupled receptor kinase (GRK) phosphorylates activated GPCRs on the cell surface. Different phosphorylation patterns of the receptor turn on distinct downstream pathways and lead to various functional outcomes. Therefore, GRK mediated receptor phosphorylation plays important roles in dictating the downstream pathway of receptor signaling. One critical step in the phosphorylation process is the association of GRKs with the cell membrane. Previous studies revealed that GRK5 contains specific binding sites for phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2). PIP2 anchors GRK5 to the membrane and facilitates its interaction with the receptor. The main goal of this project is to determine an atomic structure of GRK5 in complex with PIP2. Molecular details of how GRK5 orientates itself towards the cell membrane and how GRK5 changes its shape when in contact with PIP2 will help elucidate the molecular mechanism of GRK5 mediated receptor phosphorylation.

The SURF student will work with a postdoctoral fellow in the lab and learn protein purification and high-throughput crystal screening, and if sufficient progress is obtained crystal condition optimization and X-ray diffraction data collection.


Virtual Reality Robotic Model using Gaming Technologies

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering
School/Dept.: Industrial Engineering
Professor: Juan Wachs
Preferred major(s): ECE, CS
Desired experience:   Very good programming skills

The student will have to develop an environment that can be visualized with the VIBE wearable headset and in which he can control a virtual and real robot to grasp objects and move around the environment.


When someone is skipping their medication, we know first!

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering
School/Dept.: Biomedical Engineering
Professor: Nan Kong
Preferred major(s): BME, IE, ECE, CS, Math
Desired experience:   Pattern Recognition, Data Mining, Systems and Signals, Signal Processing, Experimental Statistics, Stochastic Processes, Stochastic Operations Research, or equivalent.

Adherence to preventive medications prescribed after vascular or cardiac events such as acute myocardial infarction (AMI), transient ischemic attack (TIA) or acute ischemic stroke is low and non-adherence has been associated with poor outcomes. Wireless technology and behavioral approaches have shown promise in improving health behaviors. Understanding how best to deploy these interventions for maximum impact is lacking, however. In this project, we will learn how data mining techniques can help characterize the behavior of medication adherence for a diverse group of people based on emerging data collected from smart pill bottles.

Visit the website noted below and this one to learn more about the work: