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:

Civil and Construction


Bio-inspired phase transforming cellular materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Pablo Zavattieri
Preferred major(s): CE, ME, AAE, MSE, IE
Desired experience:   - Background in mechanics of materials is a must. Background and some experience on mechanical tests is desired, but not necessary. - CAD software
Number of positions: 1 or 2 depending on available funding

In this project we will investigate some concepts of bioinspired phase transforming cellular materials (PXCM).The main advantage of PTCMs over traditional cellular materials used for structural applications is that energy dissipation on these materials do not rely on plastic deformation, therefore, these material recover its original shape after the load has been released.

In particular we will focus on the exploration of 3D new designs and bio-inspired mechanisms. The research tasks will be related to the design, mechanics, fabrication (3D printing) and final mechanical testing.


Characterization of Fiber Reinforced Composite Materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Sangid Michael
Preferred major(s): AAE, ME, MSE, IE, ChE, CE, NE, CS
Desired experience:   Preferably junior standing
Number of positions: 2

We are looking for motivated, hard-working undergraduate students 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.


Recovery of Nutrients from Animal and Human Wastes

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: CE and EEE
Professor: Ernest Blatchley
Preferred major(s): ABE, CE, EEE, ChE, BME
Desired experience:   First-year engineering, CE/EEE 350, previous lab experience is helpful but not required.
Number of positions: 2

Animal and human wastes are treated prior to disposal or release to the environment for purposes of controlling adverse impacts associated with these materials. However, some constituents within these wastes also represent potentially-valuable resources. If properly managed, these waste products can allow for recovery of valuable resources, and may represent a source of revenue. The aim of this project is to test, at bench-scale, treatment processes for recovery of nutrients and conversion of treated waste materials to a marketable fertilizer.

The specific approach in this project is modeled after a treatment system that has been implemented for recovery of nutrients from human urine at EAWAG (Eigenössische Anstalt für Wasserversorgung, Abwasserreinigung und Gewässerschutz, or Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland). In this system, human urine is introduced to a reactor system in which partial nitrification of urea (and other sources of organic-N) is accomplished by nitrifying bacteria. The goal of this process is to convert urea (and other forms of organic-N) into ammonium nitrate. The nitrifying population is maintained as attached-growth on a medium that is suspended in the reactor. Oxygen requirements for the system are met by aeration. A clarifier follows the nitrification reactor to allow for separation of solids that are generated in the process. The partially-nitrified urine is then introduced to a distillation device to allow for separation of a large fraction of the remaining water. The products of this system are distilled water and a concentrated aqueous solution that contains nearly all of the macronutrients (N, P, and K) that were present in the original material (Udert and Wächter, 2012).

The proposed project will involve construction and implementation of two to four bench-scale reactors for use in treatment of waste materials that are similar to those that are treated by the EAWAG system. However, the waste materials chosen for this application are local to Purdue University.

Project Tasks
The list below describes tasks that are to be completed in this project. The overall objective of this project is to define the dynamic behavior of a nitrification/distillation system for recovery of macronutrients from animal and human waste materials. We envision two students being supported by this project to conduct the work described below.

1. Bench scale treatment:
a. Reactor construction – two to four bench-scale (1.0 L) nitrification reactors will be built in the Environmental Engineering laboratories at Purdue University. The reactors will be installed in a hood as a means of controlling odors associated with the substrates. Each reactor will consist of a 1.0 L gas-tight reactor, a small clarifier, and a small distillation unit.
b. Nitrification will be accomplished using an attached-growth culture of nitrifiers. Both reactors will be “seeded” with bacteria from an operating attached-growth system as a means of reducing the time period associated with reactor start-up. One of the reactor systems will be fed human urine from volunteers who work in Hampton Hall at Purdue University. Human urine was selected for use in this system so as to allow for direct comparison with the existing system at EAWAG. The remaining reactors will be fed a liquid waste material from BioTownAg in Reynolds, IN. The waste materials to be applied to each of these reactors will be identified in consultation with BioTownAg. Candidate waste materials include swine urine, untreated digestate, and treated digestate (solids removed).
c. Distillation of the treated waste will be accomplished using a commercially-available home water distiller.
d. The liquid product from this system will be collected and analyzed for chemical content, including N, P, and K.
2. Economic and market analysis: The potential market value of the liquid materials that are generated from these systems will be evaluated. In addition to chemical (nutrient) content, it is possible that one or more of these materials may be identified as organic fertilizer products. The “organic” label has potentially important implications in terms of the market value of these products. This market and economic analysis will include a review of the pertinent literature.
3. Mass and energy balance of the bench scale research: to the extent possible, mass and energy balances will be performed on the systems. The objectives of these calculations are to provide credible estimates of energy efficiency and resource recovery potential from these systems.
4. Preliminary design: Results from these bench-scale experiments will be used to develop designs for reactors to treat these same waste materials at pilot-scale.

Udert, K.M.; Buckley, C.A.; Wächter, M.; McArdell, C.S.; Kohn, T.; Strande, L.; Zöllig, H.; Hug, A.; Obserson, A.; Etter, B. (2014) “Technologies for the treatment of source-separated urine in the eThekwini municipality,” Proceedings, WISA Biennial Conference, Mbombela, Mpumalanga, South Africa.

Udert, K.M.; Wächter, M. (2012) “Complete nutrient recovery from source-separated urine by nitrification and distillation,” Water Research, 46, 453-464.