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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 2017 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:

Civil and Construction


Developing Cost-Effective Thermoelectric Materials for Civil Infrastructure Applications

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Luna Lu

The objective of this funding request is to support one (1) undergraduate student participating in Dr. Lu’s research in developing cost effective thermoelectric (TE) materials during Summer 2017. TE materials offer great promise for energy efficient power generation in civil infrastructures, such as waste heat recovery from HVAC systems and building envelopes etc. However, current applications are significantly limited by the high cost and toxicity of existing TE materials.

The recruited undergraduate students will work directly with a PhD student and supervised by Dr. Lu. The candidate will benefit from working in an interdisciplinary research group and will be exposed to state-of-art nanofabrication and analytical tools. The specific responsibilities include synthesizing and characterization of nanomaterials and devices.

The applicant should have technical background in materials science and engineering, civil engineering, chemistry, chemical engineering or a related area. The applicant should be highly motivated, able to work in team, and have good oral and written communication skills.


Drinking water safety and sampling in buildings

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Life Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering -AND- Environmental and Ecological Engineering
Professor: Andrew Whelton
Preferred major(s): Open
Desired experience:   Science or engineering background Prior lab or field experience with chemical or microbiological analysis preferred, but not required. Students will be trained with all necessary methods. Clear motivation to make a difference Able to effectively work in diverse teams Work hours will be based on the time of day and actual date of prescheduled sampling

The student will assist graduate students, a postdoctoral research association, and the professor conduct drinking water sampling in buildings. The project's focus is to better understand how drinking water quality changes during a plumbing system's age and also differences in drinking water across buildings. This project will be a mix of field and laboratory work. One study site is located in West Lafayette, IN while others are elsewhere. The student would accompany the researchers to those sites. Prior study can be found here:


Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering
Professor: Shirley Dyke
Preferred major(s): ME, AAE, CE or Planetary Science
Desired experience:   Students interested in this project should have good programming skills and some experience in MATLAB and Simulink.

There is growing interest from Space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency in establishing permanent human settlements outside Earth. However, even a very cursory inspection of the proposals uncovers fatal flaws in their conceptual design. The buildings may not be able to support the load demands, which should include potential impact from meteorites and/or the seismic motions induced by such an impact, and perhaps most importantly, the materials used as cover for radiation protection may be radioactive themselves. Ongoing research interest focuses on mitigating astronauts' health and performance in space exploration and has neglected the largely unexplored needs regarding the habitat and infrastructure required on extraterrestrial bodies. Their design and sustainability represents a multidisciplinary engineering and scientific grand challenge for humanity. In a context of extreme environments, it is especially important to design buildings whether for habitation, laboratory or manufacturing, that are capable of responding to prevailing conditions not only as a protective measure, but also to enable future generations to thrive under such conditions.

Participating undergraduate researchers would be tasked to design and develop the following areas:
• a system resilience framework for analyzing, exploring and comparing the behavior and growth of various extraterrestrial habitat system designs subjected to working and extreme conditions
• an experimental platform to investigate the geological formation of sublunarean structures (lava tubes, as potential places for future habitats) and study the effect of different mechanical and geometrical parameters on the formation of the tubes in lunar conditions

We are looking for students to play key roles in this project, under the guidance of a graduate student and faculty members. The students are also expected to prepare a poster presentation on the results, and author a research paper if the desired results are achieved.

More information:


Modeling and Measuring Lead in Residential Hot Water Heaters and Drinking Water

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Other
School/Dept.: Environmental and Ecological Engineering and Civil Engineering
Professor: Inez Hua
Preferred major(s): Environmental and Ecological Engineering, Civil Engineering with Environmental Engineering concentration
Desired experience:   Prefer student who has had previous experience in a 'wet' lab, and studying engineering applications of chemistry. Prefer student with strong academic preparation (course work) in chemistry and environmental engineering.

In recent years, the presence of lead (Pb) in US drinking water supplies has emerged as a critical human health issue. This is due to the fact that a significant portion of pipes in the distribution system and fittings within premise plumbing contain lead which can then be released into the drinking water supply. To limit lead exposure, the US EPA set a 15 μg/L action limit for lead for drinking water through the Lead and Copper rule in 19911. Over the last 20 years, two major incidents in Flint, Michigan beginning in 2014 and Washington, D.C. from 2001 to 2004 have magnified this issue as lead concentrations in these cities drinking waters began to exceed regulatory limits. Lead concentrations increased in these waters due to changes in the water supply or how the water was disinfected (moving from free chlorine to chloramine use). In Indiana, similar issues regarding lead contamination are of concern since approx. 8% of large drinking water distribution networks in the state contain lead pipes4. In fact, this percentage may be even greater when considering smaller distribution networks as well. To address this problem, certain Indiana municipalities reported that lead contamination is minimized due to their high hardness waters which induce pipe scaling whereas other municipalities have corrosion inhibitors. While this may solve some of the problems, it is clear that a greater understanding is needed to evaluate how lead enters drinking waters in the distribution system and subsequently reaches tap water supplies. One major unexplored area includes our understanding of how lead is affected within residential water heating systems, which are typically found in residential buildings to supply heated water to its residents. An undergraduate researcher will work on batch and flow-through experiments to characterize lead chemistry in systems that model residential homes.


Purdue AirSense: An Air Pollution Sensing Network for West Lafayette

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Innovative Technology/Design, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): The position is open to students from all STEM disciplines.
Desired experience:   Proficient in Python, Java, MATLAB; experience with Raspberry Pi or Arduino.

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in the world and responsible for 7 million deaths each year. We are presently developing a new air pollution sensing network for the Purdue campus to monitor and analyze air pollutants in real-time. We are recruiting an undergraduate student to assist with the development of our Raspberry Pi-based air quality sensor module. You will be responsible for integrating the Raspberry Pi with air quality sensors, developing laboratory calibration protocols, building an environmental enclosure for the sensors, creating modules on our website for real-time data analysis and visualization, and maintaining state-of-the-art aerosol instrumentation at our central air quality monitoring site at the Purdue Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE).


Seismic Design of Aboveground Storage Tanks

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Sukru Guzey
Preferred major(s): Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering
Desired experience:   Statics (CE 297 or similar), Dynamics (CE 298 or similar), Mechanics of Materials (Strength of materials) (CE 270 or similar)

Cylindrical steel storage tanks are essential parts of infrastructure and industrial facilities used to store liquids. There are millions of welded steel tanks in the world storing flammable and or hazardous liquids in the petroleum, petrochemical, chemical and food industries across the world. Mechanical integrity and safe operation of these tanks very important because failure or loss of containment of such tanks may have catastrophic consequences to the human life and the environment. There are many procedures given in design standards to withstand the possible load effects, such as the hydrostatic pressure of the stored liquid, the external wind pressure, internal and external pressures due to process, and seismic events.

Investigators have a relatively well understanding on the load effects due to the hydrostatic, wind, and external/internal pressures due to process during normal operating levels. However, behavior of large, aboveground, steel, welded, liquid storage tanks under the presence of seismic loads introduce several critical failure criteria to the structure not exhibited during normal operating levels. Although many researchers investigated the liquid containers under dynamic excitations, the research on this subject still active. The bottleneck of this research topic is the intricate interplay between the flexible thin-walled tank wall and bottom, liquid inside the container, and the reinforced concrete or soil foundation supporting the container. Although, are many relatively recent research efforts, there is still a gap to find a viable solution to this problem.

To address this gap, the aim of this work is to perform a study on seismic design of aboveground storage tanks. Dr. Guzey with a team of one doctoral student and one undergraduate SURF student, shall perform analytical and numerical studies to study the behavior of liquid containers under dynamics excitations. We shall conduct numerical experiments using different levels of complexity and fidelity of multi-physics of these containers and compare the results to available analytical solutions, physical tests and current design standards. The undergraduate SURF student will work under the mentorship of Dr. Guzey and a graduate student. The SURF student compile a literature review, perform numerical simulations using FEA computer program ABAQUS, and write scientific research papers and conference presentations.


Stochastic Storm Generation of Storms and Their Inner Structure

Research categories:  Agricultural, Civil and Construction, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Agricultural & Biological Engineering
Professor: Bernie Engel
Preferred major(s): Agricultural engineering, environmental engineering, computer science

Advanced field and watershed scale hydrologic models for engineering design, soil erosion, land use planning, and global-change research require detailed continuous temporal and spatial inputs of precipitation to execute the hydrologic processes integrated into their formulations. Accurate estimates of processes such as infiltration, runoff routing, and water quality algorithms need precipitation values on the order of minutes apart. In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collects 15-min time increment precipitation data in ~2000 locations. However, observed precipitation is yet rarely available in many sites and lack spatial coverage. In ongoing research, a stochastic storm generator developed at Purdue University allows generating storm characteristics such as inter-event time, duration, and volume, as well as within-storm intensities using the available 15-min resolution data. The current project proposes to extend the application of the current version of the storm generator from a single station to a more detailed network of meteorological stations. The final goal seeks to perform a test of available interpolation method between the statistical parameters defining the available locations so that time series of precipitation data in ungauged areas can be generated.


1. Collect short-time increment precipitation from NOAA and other sources. The SURF student will learn how to search available precipitation data available in the different agencies.
2. Organize and run a clean-up data analysis. The SURF student will deal with different files containing precipitation data and formats as well as its spatial representation by GIS tools.
3. Identify independent storms over the time period. The SURF student will be able to learn how to run Python, MATLAB, and R scripts and to understand the concepts defining independent rainfall events.
4. Fit storm characteristics (time between storms, duration, and volume) to a suitable storm distribution. The SURF student will be able to perform statistical distribution fitting and how to measure the goodness of fit of the available procedure in the storm generator.
5. Generate correlated storm characteristics by Monte Carlo numerical simulation implemented in a stochastic storm generator develop at the National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory (NSERL). The SURF student will experience the use of complex mathematical algorithms incorporated into the storm generator.
6. Characterize storm patterns of the observed storms.
7. Identify representative patterns of storms by cluster analysis over the storm patterns data. The SURF student will explore the concept of machine learning and cluster analysis.
8. Generate storms patterns by Monte Carlo numerical simulation also implemented in a stochastic storm generator develop at the NSERL. The SURF student will continue experiencing the use of complex mathematical algorithms incorporated into the storm generator.
9. Propose an interpolation method of the storm parameters between the stations previously analyzed. The SURF student will apply available spatial interpolation methods in precipitation statistical parameters.