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:

Civil and Construction

 

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.

 

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.

 

Data Visualization and Analysis for IoT Based Smart Irrigation System

Research categories:  Agricultural, Civil and Construction, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Environmental Science, Other
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Dharmendra Saraswat
Preferred major(s): Agricultural Engineering, Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Computer Science or related disciplines
Desired experience:   Programming skills in any language with some experience in statistics is desired.

It is reported that currently almost 33 percent of the global population is affected by water scarcity and by 2030, this figure is expected to climb up to almost 50 percent. Around 60 percent of the water used for irrigation is wasted, either due to evapotranspiration, land runoff, or simply inefficient, primitive irrigation application methods. This realization has brought attention to smart irrigation – powered by the internet of things (IoTs) – that can be a better way of managing water stress on a global basis. In this project, the SURF student will customize commercially available software to analyze and visualize data, perform calculations/combine new data, run time-based calculations, plot functions for visual understanding and perform sophisticated analysis by combining data from several field nodes. The SURF student will work with Project Supervisor and a staff programmer.

 

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).

 

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/

 

Lake Michigan Ecosystem Modeling

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science, Mechanical Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Cary Troy
Preferred major(s): Civil, Environmental, or Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   Proficiency in Matlab; Good communication skills, written and oral; Exposure to differential equations

This is an NSF-funded project examining the role of turbulence in the Lake Michigan ecosystem. Particularly, the project is quantifying the interactions between water column turbulence and the ability of invasive quagga mussels to filter nutrients and plankton out of the water column. The SURF research will involve the development of a 1-D biogeochemical model that models the temporal and vertical distribution of nutrients (e.g. phosphorus), phytoplankton, and zooplankton in Lake Michigan. The successful SURF applicant will be responsible for the coding and development of the model in Matlab, as well as potentially participating in data collection on Lake Michigan and the analysis of this data.

 

Preparing engineers to address climate change and its implications on sustainability: modeling impact of college experiences on students

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Educational Research/Social Science
School/Dept.: Engineering Education
Professor: Allison Godwin
Preferred major(s): All STEM majors invited to apply
Desired experience:   Some experience in statistics and programming languages is preferred. All other skills including human subject research ethics, statistical analysis in R, data management, will be taught.

Engineers are an essential part of solving the effects of climate change and must not only be aware of the issues but empowered to make change to reduce and shift the impact of humans on the planet. This research investigates engineering students' experiences during undergraduate programs that predict their beliefs about climate change and empowerment to address its related implications for sustainability in their careers. This study is the first of its kind to explore how experiences in college impact students' climate change beliefs and interest to address related implications for sustainability. This project is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Tech Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Myers-Lawson School of Construction and the Purdue University School of Engineering Education.

This SURF research project uses national survey data from ~4,000 senior engineering design students collected in 2018 along with 7,673 first-year student responses collected in 2014 to model how student experiences during undergraduate education may influence their understanding of climate change and desire to address sustainability in their future engineering careers. The SURF student will use multilevel modeling (this modeling technique will be taught to any interested student) to analyze how student beliefs, student experiences, and institutional contexts may influence students attitudes and actions over time. The student will learn complex statistics in the programming language R, analyze data and interpret findings, and write up their results for journal publication. The student will also interface with faculty and another undergraduate summer research student at Virginia Tech.

 

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.