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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:



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:


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.