Research Projects

Projects for 2017 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 2016 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:



Fluid Dynamics of Bacterial Aggregation and Formation of Biofilm Streamers

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Number of positions: 1

Bacteria primarily live within microscopic colonies embedded inside a self-secreted matrix of polymers and proteins. These microbial biofilms form on natural and man-made surfaces and interfaces and play important roles in various health and environmental issues. Previous experimental studies have indicated the significance of bacterial motility mechanisms in the colonization process and the subsequent biofilm formation. In particular, flagellar mediated swimming is crucial in approaching the surface and initiating the adhesion process. Understanding the swimming strategy of bacteria in confined geometries is shown to be a decisive factor in identifying the adhesion rate and elucidating the subsequent colonization process. However, majority of studies focused on the swimming behavior of motile cells in complex fluids have been conducted assuming the cells’ habitat to be an unbounded domain and thus, the boundary induced effects, such as surface trapping and wall accumulation, are poorly understood. The student will investigate the motion of microorganisms in complex fluids near boundaries.


Laser Diagnostics Applied to Reacting Fluid Flows for Propulsion Devices

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Terry Meyer
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Aerospace, or Chemical Engineering; Physics; Chemistry
Desired experience:   Physics, chemistry, and mathematics courses
Number of positions: 1

Propulsion, transportation, and energy systems rely on the turbulent mixing and efficient chemical reaction of fuels and oxidizers. Such reactions can take place in the liquid, gas, or solid phases and are investigated using sophisticated imaging and spectroscopic techniques. The undergraduate research assistant will work with graduate students and research faculty to assemble and operate flow hardware, align and test optical diagnostic instrumentation, and help collect and analyze data acquired using such techniques. The flows are designed to simulate conditions that are present in a variety of practical devices. The student will gain valuable hands-on experience and theoretical background that will be of use in a variety of fields related to mechanical, aerospace, and chemical engineering, as well as gain insight into potential areas of research for graduate study.


Metabolic Engineering of Cyanobacteria for Chemical Production

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: John Morgan
Preferred major(s): Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, ABE
Desired experience:   Biochemistry
Number of positions: 1

Cyanobacteria are single celled organisms that utilize sunlight to drive the reduction of CO2 into all the organic chemicals necessary for life. Hence, they are a potential alternative to petroleum as source of chemicals. Compared to plants, these bacteria grow significantly faster, require low nutrient input and are easier to process than plants. Cyanobacteria are also readily genetically engineered with foreign DNA. The goal of this project is to insert a foreign pathway consisting of several genes into a cyanobacteria to manufacture a valuable chemical. The student will also analyze the effects of light and CO2 on the amount of chemical produced.


Purdue AirSense: Creating a State-of-the-Art Air Pollution Monitoring Network for Purdue

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Educational Research/Social Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Industrial Engineering, Innovative Technology/Design, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): Any engineering, science or human health major.
Desired experience:   Motivation to learn about, and solve, environmental, climate, and human health issues facing our planet. Past experience: working in the lab, analytical chemistry, programming (Matlab, Python, Java, LabVIEW, HTML), electronics/circuits, sensors.
Number of positions: 1-2

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in the world and responsible for 7 million deaths each year. Poor air quality is a serious issue in rapidly growing megacities and inside the homes of nearly 3 billion people that rely on solid fuels for cooking and heating. Join our team and help create a new, multidisciplinary air quality monitoring network for Purdue - Purdue AirSense. You will have the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art air quality instrumentation and emerging sensor technologies to monitor O3, CO, NOx, and tiny airborne particulate matter across the campus. We are creating a central site to track these pollutants in real-time on the roof-top of Hampton Hall, as well as a website to stream the data to the entire Purdue community for free. 4-5 students will be recruited to work as a team on this project, which is led by Profs. Brandon Boor (CE) & Greg Michalski (EAPS).


Synthesis, Characterization, and Reactivity of Low-Valent Uranium Species

Research categories:  Chemical
School/Dept.: Department of Chemistry
Professor: Suzanne Bart
Preferred major(s): Chemistry
Desired experience:   General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry lab courses completed
Number of positions: 1

Understanding of the fundamental chemistry of transition metal alkyl species has contributed greatly to the advancement of pharmaceuticals, materials, and fine chemicals. Comparatively we know much less about the types of reactions of which the f-block elements, more specifically uranium, are capable. The principal investigator’s laboratory is working to understand the synthesis, characterization, and reactivity of reduced uranium complexes for small molecule activation. Our initial findings have led us to understand the great chemical potential of uranium(III) and uranium(IV) alkyls and taught us how to effectively work with this electron rich metal, avoiding decomposition and disproportionation observed by others. Future work, proposed here, explores the hypothesis that low-valent uranium alkyls are useful synthons for elusive uranium targets. Experiments will be carried out to 1) obtain a family of uranium(III) alkyls with a variety of ancillary ligands, 2) understand under what conditions uranium can undergo two electron processes, similar to late transition metals, including reductive elimination, oxidative addition, and migratory insertion, 3) explore the utility of uranium alkyls for multiple bond formation. The work proposed here includes synthetic methods, spectroscopic analysis, and computational approaches to fully understand the reactivity of these compounds.

Although an underutilized element, uranium has many positive traits that make it suitable for metal mediated transformations. The principle investigator’s laboratory is studying how to control chemical reactivity at low- and mid-valent uranium centers in solution. These studies encompass understanding the stability and reactivity of organouranium species to determine their potential for new transformations. Efforts towards understanding how to make uranium perform two electron processes are also underway. Characterization of our uranium complexes through spectroscopic and computational methods will provide insight into uranium-element bonding. Uranium has been demonstrated to perform reactions unparalleled by transition metals, and there is no doubt that more exciting processes mediated by uranium will be uncovered.