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:



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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) / nanoHUB

Research categories:  Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Other
Professor: NCN Faculty
Preferred major(s): Electrical, Computer, Materials, Chemical or Mechanical Engineering; Chemistry; Physics; Computer Science; Math
Desired experience:   Serious interest in and enjoyment of programming; programming skills in any language. Physics coursework.

NCN is looking for a diverse group of enthusiastic and qualified students with a strong background in engineering, chemistry or physics who can also code in at least one language (such as Python, C or MATLAB) to work on research projects that involve computational simulations. Selected students will typically work with a graduate student mentor and faculty advisor to create or improve a simulation tool that will be deployed on nanoHUB. Faculty advisors come from a wide range of departments: ECE, ME, Civil E, ChemE, MSE, Nuclear E, Chemistry and Math, and projects may be multidisciplinary. To learn about this year’s research projects along with their preferred majors and requirements, please go to the website noted below.

If you are interested in working on a nanoHUB project in SURF, you will need to follow the instructions below. Be sure you talk about specific NCN projects directly on your SURF application, using the text box for projects that most interest you.

1) Carefully read the NCN project descriptions (website available below) and select which project(s) you are most interested in and qualified for. It pays to do a little homework to prepare your application.

2) Select the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) / nanoHUB as one of your top choices.

3) In the text box for Essay #2, where you describe your specific research interests, qualifications, and relevant experience, you may discuss up to three NCN projects that most interest you. Please rank your NCN project choices in order of interest. For each project, specify the last name of the faculty advisor, the project, why you are interested in the project, and how you meet the required skill and coursework requirements.

For more information and examples of previous research projects and student work, click on the link below.