Research Projects

This is a list of research projects that may have opportunities for undergraduate students. You can browse all the projects, or view only projects in the following categories:



Atomistic Simulations of Gold-Silicon Interface

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Michael Sangid
Desired experience:   Junior standing and ability to develop computer codes.
Number of positions: 1

The size of electronic devices has been decreasing steadily over the years and it is expected to continue that trend, as there is significant interest in the development to microelectronics and nanoelectronics for applications in the biomedical, sensing, data storage and high-performance computing fields, among others. With the increasing miniaturization of electronics, it is important to consider any effects that might happen in the interfaces at the nanometer scale, as the behavior of materials at this length scales may differ markedly from the behavior at the macroscopic scale. This project studies the interactions occurring in the interface between gold and silicon, materials selected due to their excellent properties as conductor and semiconductor, respectively, and their popularity in electronic circuits. The behavior of gold and silicon is expected to differ from the properties observed in the bulk and at larger scales, so it is crucial to analyze and understand the mechanisms of this behavior for the design and manufacture of microelectronic devices utilizing these materials. The research will involve Molecular Dynamics modeling of the gold-silicon interface. Additionally, this project will be complemented by other research opportunities in our lab.


Catalysis in Petroleum Coking

Research categories:  Chemical
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: Enrico Martinez
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering, Chemistry
Desired experience:   Training in Chemical Reaction Engineering. Experience with Gas Chromatography is desirable.
Number of positions: 2

Petroleum Coking is a very relevant process in a crude oil refinery. The main objectives of this process are:
Recovery of lighter liquids and gasses from vacuum residue
Raw material is the bottoms of vacuum distillation, meaning larger amounts of contaminants.

Solid petroleum coke is a byproduct of the reaction.

Coking is a type of thermal cracking reaction usually performed on vacuum residue (bottoms from vacuum distillation). It breaks down larger hydrocarbons into smaller and more useful ones. The reaction can be conducted with or without a catalyst present and the main goal of our project is to test several types of catalysts to improve the yield of liquid hydrocarbon products.

The research is being done using the so called "Delayed Coking" process. Delayed coking takes the vacuum residues and heats them in a furnace before allowing the coking to take place in a coking drum. The process is semi-continuous because when one drum is full operation is switched over to another drum while the first one is cleaned. The typical Temperature is 482-516 degrees Celsius, while the pressure is 15-90 psig.

The experimental reaction system has already been setup in a lab at Forney Hall and is ready to be used in gathering data to develop kinetic models and screen different catalysts.


Characterizing fiber reinforced composite materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Industrial Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Michael Sangid
Preferred major(s): AAE, ME, or MSE
Desired experience:   Willingness to do hands-on work
Number of positions: 2

We are looking for a motivated, hard-working student interested in experimental composite materials research. This position is on a team investigating fiber orientation and length measurements in thermoplastic composites. These long fiber composites have a direct application to replace steel and aluminum structural alloys in the aerospace and automotive industries. Our team is comprised of Pacific Northwest National Lab, Autodesk, Plasticomp, Magna, Toyota, University of Illinois, and Purdue. Applicants will work under the mentorship of a graduate student and faculty member. The position includes hands on specimen preparation, in the form of extracting and polishing samples for fiber orientation measurements and melting samples and isolating the pertinent fibers for length measurements. Applicants should be undergraduate students interesting in composite materials.


Crystal Engineering of Organic Crystals

Research categories:  Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Industrial & Physical Pharmacy
Professor: Tonglei Li
Preferred major(s): chemistry, chemical engineering
Number of positions: 1 or 2

Crystallization of organic materials plays a central role in drug development. Mechanistic understanding of nucleation and crystal growth remains primitive and scantily developed despite decades of investigation. Of the same organic molecule, distinct crystal structures can be routinely formed. The intricacy of the so-called polymorphism largely originates from the rich and unpredictable supramolecular tessellations supported by intermolecular interactions. The subtleties in strength and directionality of the interactions are controlled by structural diversity and conformational flexibility of molecule. In fact, it is these molecular interactions that make organic crystal structures fascinating as it is unlikely to predict crystal structures of a given organic molecule a priori.

In this project, the student will learn how to grow drug crystals, characterize them, and connect the structural outcome with crystallization conditions. It is expected that the student will conduct both experimental and computational studies in order to understand formation mechanisms of drug crystals.

More information:


Development of Theranostic Drug Delivery Systems for Cancer Treatment

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Industrial & Physical Pharmacy
Professor: Tonglei Li
Preferred major(s): chemistry, chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, biological engineering
Number of positions: 1

Drug delivery for cancer therapy is far from being satisfactory. A significant portion of potential drug compounds fail to enter the clinic because they cannot be formulated and delivered by existing approaches. Many clinically used formulations are poorly designed, bearing significant adverse effects and limiting treatment efficacy. Over the last few years, nanotechnology has been embraced for developing novel drug delivery systems to combat diseases such as cancer and infection. In our laboratory, we have been developing multicomponent nanocrystals to deliver cytotoxic agents along with bioimaging probes to treat and detect tumors. In this project, the delivery system will be fully tested in vitro and in vivo in order to understand the pharmacokinetic and biodistribution properties and to further improve the formulation design. In particular, the student will be learning and conducting cellular uptake experiment and help graduate students in their animal studies. It is expected that the student will gain a basic understanding of drug delivery for cancer and comprehend the current challenges in cancer therapy. The student will also learn the underlying design principles of our delivery system and, hopefully, provide meaningful suggestions for improvement.


Enhancing the Resource Potential of Anaerobic Digestion

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Agricultural & Biological Engineering
Professor: Abigail Engelberth
Preferred major(s): Chemical or Biological Engineering
Desired experience:   Statistics, Biology, Chemistry
Number of positions: 1

Anaerobic digestion is an established technology for the treatment of organic waste and the production of energy rich methane, but there is an opportunity to use it for the production of volatile acids as well. Volatile acids are used in the production of plastics, solvents, and pharmaceuticals and are currently being derived from petroleum sources. The anaerobic digestion of organics in wastewater could provide a renewable source of acids for the production of goods in existing markets. The SURF student will conduct experiments to narrow in on the conditions which are optimal for volatile acid production. This work will aid in upcycling a waste source and moving the economy away from dependence on fossil carbon sources.


Evaluating Release and Uptake of Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Biosolids

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Agronomy/ESE/EEE
Professor: Linda Lee
Preferred major(s): Environmental Science/Chemistry/Engineering
Desired experience:   General Chemistry sequence
Number of positions: 1

We have a project that will evaluate the transfer of contaminants of emerging concern from biosolids into water, soils, and plants. These biosolids are used as fertilizers in urban gardens as well as larger scale land production. The focus of the research for a SURF student this summer involves quantifying contaminants of emerging concern in the biosolids. Students would gain experience in extraction, clean up, and analytical methods common to environmental samples including liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry and development of associated analytical methods. In addition, the student will participate in studies targeted at evaluating plant uptake of targeted contaminants selected from the data obtained for the commercial biosolids particularly those derived from municipal wastewater treatment processes.


Single Particle Studies of Metal-Oxide Enhanced Biomass Gasification

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Jay Gore
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Desired experience:   Software: LabVIEW, Matlab, Microsoft Excel GPA: >3.5 preferred Experience: 1) hands-on experience in laboratory settings preferred, 2) ability to commute to Zucrow Laboratories required
Number of positions: 1

Biomass gasification is a potential renewable energy technology for production of synthetic fuels. The gasification process, depicted below, converts solid biomass feed-stock into gaseous products by partial oxidation with CO2/H2O/O2 gas mixtures at high temperatures and pressures. An environmental benefit of biomass gasification is possible through recycling of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants using the biomass gasification process. The drawbacks of biomass gasification as currently practiced in industry include: 1. intensive thermal energy requirements resulting in low process efficiency (<40%) and 2. unpredictable reaction rates attributed to the variation in chemical composition, particularly ash, of biomass feed-stock.

Ash is a trace (< 1 weight %) material consisting of minerals and metal oxides contained in biomass feed-stock. Prior studies have shown that trace quantities of mineral/metal-oxides can change the biomass gasification rates by orders of magnitude. Formation of a layer of ash and the concentrations of encapsulated catalytic minerals significantly impacts the gasification rates.

The proposed Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) project involves controlled experiments and modeling of the resulting data for future gasifier designs. The SURF student will contribute to the design of an experiment to study the effect of mineral/metal-oxides on the gasification reaction rate for biomass feed-stock. The student will acquire the knowledge to utilize laser absorption spectroscopy and gas chromatography for measurements of gas phase concentrations of major products that will enable calculation of reaction rates. The student will have the opportunity to learn data acquisition, control, and data processing tools along with hands on assembly, dis-assembly, and alignment work that would enrich his/her practical knowledge. The SURF student will work closely with a graduate student on all aspects of the project. Prior knowledge of software such as LabVIEW, MATLAB, and Microsoft Excel is desired.


Understanding How Deicing Salts Interact with Concrete Paving Materials

Research categories:  Chemical, Civil and Construction, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Civil
Professor: Jason Weiss
Preferred major(s): chemistry, civil engineering, material science, other
Number of positions: 2

Work at Purdue has focused on the development of improved models to predict the service life of concrete when the concrete is exposed to freezing and thawing and/or to the application of deicing salts. Specifically these models are a departure from the current US practice that specifies only air content. The model that is being developed is based on fluid saturation level, fluid composition, and fluid absorption rates. These models are leading to the development of alternative methods to improve freeze-thaw resistance such as the development of Soy-Based concrete sealants which have recently been patented. The student in this project will be expected to perform a series of carefully planned, innovative experiments that relate the salt chemistry with chemical reactions and pavement damage development. This work is currently being developed into a model for use on the national scale.