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:

Chemical

 

Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) of Solid Propellants

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering
School/Dept.: ME
Professor: Steven Son
Preferred major(s): ME, AAE, ChE or MSE
Desired experience:   Junior or senior level students are preferred. Aptitude and interest in graduate school also desirable. Good laboratory or hands on work experience desirable.

Significant advancements have been made in the fabrication of energetic materials with additive manufacturing (AM) processes. The geometric flexibility of AM has been touted, but little has been done to combine complex geometries with spatially-varying thermodynamically optimized materials in solid propellants. Investigation of the intersection of these areas is needed to fulfill the potential of tailorability of AM processes for propellant optimization. The propellant grains result in complex geometries. Recent development of an ultrasonic-vibration assisted direct write printing system at Purdue has opened a range of new materials for printing. Steps are being taken to combine AM techniques in a single, multi-nozzle printer to allow continuous fabrication of a propellant with two or more major components. This project will focus on printing thermodynamically optimized solid propellants in with a range of internal geometries and investigating their effects with classical and more recent diagnostic techniques.

 

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.

 

After the Fire: Rapid Decontamination of Plastic Potable Water Infrastructure Materials

Research categories:  Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Desired experience:   Clear enthusiasm for chemistry and materials; evidence of strong internal motivation and initiative.

The 2018 Camp Fire is the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California’s history, and more than 27,000 Californians faced tremendous hardship and loss. Many people are asking when they will be able to have safe drinking water again, when can they rebuild, and how to determine if their homes are safe. These critical questions require scrutiny because of the extensive damage to the drinking water distribution systems and even building plumbing. Volatile organic chemicals (VOC) have been found at 100s-1000s of ppb levels exceeding safe drinking water limits. The SURF student will: (1) conduct experiments that simulate plastic potable water infrastructure chemical contamination and (2) determine the effectiveness of water rinsing and warm air flushing at removing organic contaminants that have diffused into the plastics. The student will work with faculty and a Lillian Gilbreth postdoctoral research associate who were called into the disaster zone for their expertise at responding to and recovering from the large-scale drinking water distribution contamination incident.

 

Characterization of Decomposition and Detonation of Cocrystal Explosives

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering
School/Dept.: ME
Professor: Steven Son
Preferred major(s): ME, AAE, ChE or MSE
Desired experience:   Junior or Senior UG students preferred. Good lab skills are highly desired.

Cocrystal explosives offer the possibility improved safety and performance over conventional materials. The SURF student would assist graduate students in the study of novel cocrystal explosives. Both slow heating and detonation experiments and detonation experiments will be designed and performed.

 

Cure-in-Place-Shelters for Disaster Preparedness

Research categories:  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.

Quick-cure polymer-based composites can be used for creating temporary shelters and other structures immediately after a disaster (i.e. earthquake, hurricane, etc.) Currently, it can take days to months to provide traditional types of temporary housing. The few temporary shelter options on the market are designed around concepts such as DRASH tents, modular construction, and trailers. Our research team has recently conducted studies on cured-in-place composites for infrastructure repair. This model polymer composite system could be developed into rapidly-deployable shelters that require few tools, could be towed, air-dropped, or stored, would be lightweight but strong and rigid. The SURF student will (1) investigate whether uncured composite can withstand the pressures necessary for inflation into shape, (2) assist in developing non-toxic UV-curable resin formulations and (3) characterize and understand how the mechanical, thermal, shelf-life and other material properties are influenced by the chemical formulation to determine structure/property/performance maps. Through this project, students will develop knowledge and important skills in material design and mechanical testing of composites.

 

Developing new techniques for NO3- isotope analysis

Research categories:  Chemical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: EAPS
Professor: Greg Michalski
Preferred major(s): Chemistry
Desired experience:   wet chemistry, analytical chemistry, research

Nitrate is a important compound in the atmosphere and biosphere. Its stable isotope composition of nitrate are informative about assessing sources of nitrate and processes that form it. However, current analysis techniques and slow and cost ineffective. Therefore developing new nitrate isotope analysis techniques that are fast, accurate, precise, and inexpensive is desirable. We are developing a new technique using Ti3+ to reduce NO3- into N2O for analysis by isotope ratio mass spectrometry

 

Development of New Approaches for Biological Imaging and Materials Design using Mass Spectrometry

Research categories:  Chemical, Innovative Technology/Design, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Chemistry
Professor: Julia Laskin
Preferred major(s): Chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, materials engineering
Desired experience:   We are looking a different skill set for different aspects of the project. If you are excited about science and dedicated to research, you will find an excellent environment in our lab.

We have two projects in the lab. In one project, we develop new analytical approaches for imaging of numerous biomolecules in biological systems. We need help in running experiments, analyzing data, and development of new computational approaches, which will streamline data analysis and facilitate biological discoveries. In another project, we develop unique instruments for designing layered coatings using beams of complex ions. In this project, we need help with the synthesis of relevant precursor molecules, their characterization using mass spectrometry and other analytical techniques, ion deposition on surfaces, and surface characterization.

 

Elastically-driven flow focusing in micro-channels

Research categories:  Chemical, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: Vivek Narsimhan
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering, Biological Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Applied Mathematics
Desired experience:   Basic understanding of MATLAB

Separation of biological suspensions (e.g., cells, bacteria, macro-particles in solution) find wide use in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Traditional techniques such as centrifugation and filtration (size-exclusion) are common, but for many point-of-care applications, it is desired to use strategies that are more gentle, cheap, portable, and low-volume. Here, microfluidics has emerged as an attractive method to address these concerns. Using channels with minimal power sources or moving parts (i.e., only syringes), several laboratory studies have demonstrated that one can purify and isolate cancer cells, leukocytes, or bacteria samples from diluted whole blood without the use of specific biomarkers. The scientific premise behind these studies is that various components in blood have different shapes, sizes, and deformability, and this variability in physical properties allows one to isolate/purify these components using flow forces.

In this project, we propose to improve focusing-based microfluidic techniques through the addition of long-chain, charge-neutral polymers (e.g., PEO or PVP) to the biological suspension. If added in dilute amounts (~1% wt. or below), these bio-compatible polymers impart additional flow forces to the particles in the fluid. These forces depend sensitively depend on the particle’s size, shape, and deformability, and hence can be used to fractionate particles by shape and size. The student will do the following: (a) fabricate non-spherical microparticles, and (b) visualize these particles flowing in a microfluidic device through microscopy or holography. The student will learn basic synthesis and image processing for this project.

 

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.

 

High Performance Concrete from Recycled Hydrogel-Based Superabsorbent Materials

Research categories:  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 cement and concrete would be a benefit to the project but are not required.

Concrete that is internally cured by water-swollen superabsorbent polymer (SAP) particles has improved strength and durability. Widespread adoption of SAP-cured concrete is hindered by the lack of commercial SAP formulations that maintain their absorbency in cement’s high-pH environment. Most commercial SAP formulations are designed for disposable diapers and other absorbent hygiene products (AHPs), which account for ~12% (3.4M tons) of all non-durable goods in landfills. Over 70% of a diaper’s weight is composed of absorbent materials – mainly cellulose and polyacrylamide(PAM)-based SAP particles – the latter being chemically equivalent to the SAP particles that perform well in concrete research. Thus, a sustainable strategy to create effective concrete curing agents is to recycle the absorbent materials from AHPs and reprocess for use in concrete. AHP recycling efforts are already underway, including a plant in Italy with a 10,000-tonne annual capacity for AHP recycling. However, synthetic strategies must be developed to convert recycled AHPs into absorbent particles that perform well in concrete. Hypothesis and Objectives: We hypothesize that the PAM and cellulose components of AHPs can be separated and chemically crosslinked to form particles that display high absorption capacity in alkaline environments. The SURF student will: (1) obtain recycled absorbent materials and characterize the structures of the materials including composition, particle morphology, and swelling behavior; (2) design and synthesize absorbent particles by combining different ratios of recycled absorbent materials with a crosslinking agent and grinding/sieving to create particles with dry sizes of 10-100 micron; (3) identify the dosages of absorbent particles required to create internally cured concrete with good workability and mechanical strength; and (4) perform cost-benefit analysis of concrete cured by recycled particles and commercial SAP.

 

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).

 

Image analysis of vesicle membranes

Research categories:  Chemical
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: Vivek Narsimhan
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering, Biological Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Applied Mathematics
Desired experience:   It is desirable for the student to have a background in MATLAB, Python, or equivalent.

Vesicles are elastic and highly deformable sacs of fluid enclosed by a lipid bilayer. These entities are critical for the intracellular compartmentation and molecular trafficking that underlie the signaling, defense and nutrition vital for an organism’s survival. Similar lipid architectures are also used in industrial applications ranging from drug and gene delivery to fabric softeners. Lastly, vesicles are model systems to understand fundamental processes that occur in all cellular membranes (e.g., budding, fusion, membrane-protein interactions). For these reasons, there is immense interest to characterize the physical properties and mechanical behavior of vesicular systems under various conditions.

In this project, the student will develop and modify image processing codes to analyze microscope images of vesicles. The goal of these codes is to extract elastic properties of the lipid bilayers through thermal fluctuations of the vesicle shape over time. Ambitious students will also have the opportunity to synthesize vesicles in lab, examine more complicated membrane architectures (multicomponent vesicles), and solve equations describing the shape dynamic of these entities under weak flow.

 

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: https://www.brandonboor.com/

 

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: http://tmnt-lab.org

 

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).

 

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 Vesicular Dispersions for Stabilizing Suspensions of Dense Particles Against Sedimentation

Research categories:  Chemical
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: David Corti
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering, Chemistry
Desired experience:   Thermodynamics, physical chemistry

For many applications of colloidal dispersions or suspensions, such as inks and paints, the dispersed particles must remain suspended for long times, to maintain their expected performance. While this is often accomplished by preventing the agglomeration (sticking together) of the particles, which remain suspended by Brownian motion, the dense particles that are often used in some inks, may still settle rapidly even if they are prevented from agglomerating. We previously developed a general method for preventing dense particles from settling by using close-packed vesicular dispersions of the double-chain surfactant DDAB (didodecyldimethyl-ammonium bromide). In this project, the SURF student will help investigate the ability of DDAB vesicles prepared at different salt concentrations to stabilize high density particles. In addition, the student will help study the thermophysical properties and phase behavior of DDAB solutions as a function of the salt concentration. Working with a Ph.D. candidate, who specializes in this area, the student will learn various experimental techniques for characterizing colloidal and vesicular dispersions, including densitometry and polarizing light microscopy. The student should have a good understanding of basic thermodynamics and physical chemistry.