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:



A Multi-Objective Optimization Approach for Generating Complex Networks

Research categories:  Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering
School/Dept.: Industrial Engineering
Professor: Mario Ventresca
Preferred major(s): CS, CE, EE, IE, STATS, Math
Desired experience:   Basic coding skills (R -preferred, Matlab, etc.), basic courses in probability and statistics, proficiency in English speaking and writing, experience in algorithm design and analysis is highly desirable.
Number of positions: 1-2

Complex networks are often used to model a wide range of systems in nature and society from biological to social networks. One area of importance is the ability to model network formation, which has lead to the development of many different algorithms (network generators) capable of synthesizing networks with very specific structural characteristics (e.g., degree distribution, average path length). However, existing generators are not capable of synthesizing networks with strong resemblance to those observed in the real world. In our recent work we created a new class of network generators, called Action-based Network Generators that have shown the ability to produce complex structure of networks exhibiting different properties. This SURF project will involve rigorous testing of the action-based network generator. The student, together with a PhD student, will be involved in running simulation experiments on real world networks, generalizing the generator for different types of networks and trying different computational techniques to obtain the optimal generator. This will also involve analyzing the simulation data to interpret results and further improve the algorithms. Finally, the project also provides the student with an opportunity to publish work as paper.


Center for Materials Under Extreme Environment (CMUXE) - Undergraduate research opportunities

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computational/Mathematical, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Nuclear Engineering
Professor: Ahmed Hassanein
Desired experience:   Minimum GPA 3.5
Number of positions: 3-5

The Center for Materials Under Extreme Environment (CMUXE) is looking for undergraduate research students for the following areas:

1. Ion beams and plasma interaction with materials for various applications
2. Magnetic and Inertial Nuclear Fusion
3. Laser-produced plasma (LPP) and Discharge-produced plasma (DPP)
4. Nanostructuring of material by ion and laser beams
5. High energy density physics applications
6. Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS)
7. Plasma for biomedical applications
8. Extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography
9. Computational physics for nuclear fusion, lithography, and other applications

Research of undergraduate students at CMUXE during previous SURF programs has resulted in students acquiring new knowledge in different areas and led to several joint publications, participation in national and international conferences, seminars, and provided experience in collaborative international research.

Several undergraduate and graduate students working in CMUXE have won national and international awards and have presented their work in several countries including Australia, China, Germany, Ireland, Japan, and Russia.

Position is open to undergraduates in all engineering and science disciplines. High level commitment and participation in group meetings are compulsory. Interested candidates are encouraged to visit the center website below for further information.


Contaminant transport in streams and rivers: streambeds, biofilms and water quality.

Research categories:  Agricultural, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Antoine Aubeneau
Preferred major(s): Civil Eng (Env. or Hydro area), EEE, EAPS, ABE, Forestry and Nat. Res., College of Agriculture (in general)
Number of positions: 2

Streams transport the products of erosion and weathering, as well as anthropogenic materials collected from industrial, agricultural and urban environments. While waterways are efficient transport networks, they are also important biogeochemical filters . Streams are known to efficiently retain and transform organic and inorganic nutrients. Microbial biofilms at the sediment-water interface purify the flowing freshwater. Streams are complex heterogeneous systems characterized by a tight coupling between the physical and biological template they inundate. This project will shed light on how dissolved chemical species move through riverbed sediments and their associated biofilms, with a focus on the nitrogen cycle and nitrate pollutions. Eutrophication of freshwater caused by fertilizers is a major societal issue. High loads of plant food lead to periodic oxygen depletion in receiving water bodies, causing major ecological and economical disasters. This project will inform sustainable management of water resources by providing a physically based explanation for the transport of solutes. The SURF students will work in the laboratory and/or in the field and they will acquire the hands on skills needed to complete a research project.

More information:


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

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 a new NanoHUB Tool: Coarse graining of Crystalline Nano-Cellulose.

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Pablo Zavattieri
Preferred major(s): Engineering (Materials, Mechanical, Civil, Aero, Industrial, etc. ), Physics or Chemistry
Desired experience:   Required: Some Programming (the student will learn how to program in NanoHUB), Desired: - Some basic Mechanics (e.g., strength of materials) - Modeling (atomistic, mechanics)
Number of positions: 1

The purpose of this project is to provide numerical tools for understanding the mechanical properties of Crystalline Nano-cellulose (CNC) at different length scale. Due to defects formation at mesoscale, mechanical properties of nano-materials could decrease dramatically and influence the overall performance of materials. Although there are sufficient and advanced numerical packages for modeling materials at nano-scale and macro-scale, having an efficient and reliable numerical method for meso-scale is still challenging. Here we develop a coarse graining modeling tools which provides insight for CNCs interaction, defects formation and mechanical properties at meso-scale. Students working in this project not only learn some important concepts in engineering, but also learn how develop a tool and work with advanced numerical packages.


Exploring the feedbacks in coupled natural and human systems in response to extreme events using Urban Metabolism Framework

Research categories:  Agricultural, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: ABE/EEE
Professor: Shweta Singh; David Yu (CE)
Preferred major(s): Ag and Biological Engineering, Civil Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences, Environmental Engineering and Science
Desired experience:   Land Use Change, Basic Statistics, Food Systems
Number of positions: 2

This is a highly interdisciplinary project cutting across 3 departments and there will be 3 major professors advising the student (Prof Shweta Singh, Prof David Yu and Prof Brady Hardiman). The project will involve literature search, data collection and some mathematical modeling. The details of the project is as follows :

Natural and man-made catastrophes such as severe drought, flood, nuclear disasters, etc. have a severe impact on production of food and food system infrastructure. This may lead to shift in consumption patterns and procuring patterns (such as local farming, urban gardens, etc.) to develop resilience to these extreme events. The goal of this work is identify and quantify the extent of changes in urban metabolism (UM) in response to these events and consequent impact on natural systems; thus exploring the feedback in the coupled natural and human systems (CNHs) in response to extreme events. Specific research questions to be addressed in this SURF projects are:
1. How has urban metabolism changed in response to particular extreme events (drought, flood, tornadoes, infrastructure failures, etc.)? What are exemplary cases of such events and regions?
2. What are short-term and long-term consequences of social adaptations to such extreme events on urban metabolism? Do short-term adaptations lead to unforeseen vulnerabilities of CNHs to different extreme events in the long-run?
3. Did “land use” and local ecosystem change in response to change in Urban metabolism change? (Such as development of backyard farming, local waste to energy, waste generation and disposal)
Research Approach
The summer research will focus on data collection and analysis with respect to these questions. This is a collaborative project between Ag. & Biological Engineering, Civil Engineering, Political Science, Forestry and Natural Resources and Environmental & Ecological Engineering. The project is in collaboration with Professors Shweta Singh, David Yu and Brady Hardiman and the SURF student will be jointly advised by all three.
Data Collection: Student will be expected to collect data for respective urban metabolism variables identified relevant to specific extreme event and also data on land use change for the defined region where there was significant impact of extreme events on urban metabolism.
1. A life cycle approach will be used to study the impact of extreme events on change in UM variable. Professor Shweta Singh will advise the student on quantifying the dependence of the local consumption to production in “distant location”. This will then help relate the potential impact on local food consumption change to production change in other areas. This will be done using an Input-Output model or FAO data. Alternatively, the student will be expected to collect data on consumption pattern change in a local region based on extreme event time map. Specific commodity of consumption that are most effected by extreme events will be targeted.
2. Collect data related to how social systems adapt in response to extreme events and how such social adaptations alter urban metabolism in the long-run. Explore how such changes in urban metabolism affect the capacity of cities to cope with different kinds of disturbances. The data collected will be used to construct systems models to explore the resilience of urban CNHs to unforeseen disturbances.
3. Calculate nitrogen content of food products and waste cycled through urban metabolic processes. Determine origin and destination of this nitrogen content and compare to estimated baseline (‘natural’) ecosystem nitrogen pools and fluxes. Quantify potential land use change associated with extreme events which prompt changes in behavior and urban metabolism.


Hierarchical Microstructure Descriptions of Materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Michael Sangid
Preferred major(s): CS, AAE, ME, MSE, ECE, IE
Desired experience:   Computer programming - We ask that a student be willing to program in Matlab and Python. iOS application development would also be a plus.
Number of positions: 1

Within our research group, we often use many advanced characterization techniques to probe the unique structure of materials. For instance, we identify a region of interest on the material and conduct separate analyses to quantify grain structure, residual stresses, phases, defect content, and chemical gradients. These distinct datasets need to be aligned and placed on the same grid. Afterwards, we deform the material and quantify the evolution of the microstructure attributes. This provides large amounts of data that needs to be stored and recalled to extract materials science in physically meaningful ways. We are looking for a student interested in programming and creating general tools that help with data structure.


Hotspot imaging analysis for experimental cancer

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computational/Mathematical, Electronics, Life Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering
Professor: Young Kim
Preferred major(s): BME, ECE, ME, Physics
Desired experience:   Imaging analysis, hardware interfacing, optical bench work, optical imaging
Number of positions: 1

Our group has recently developed an optical microvascular imaging platform to predict tumor formation in skin cancer. The primary goal of this project is to examine cancer prevention effects of skin resurfacing on experimental skin cancer, by comparing microvascular imaging with aminolevulinic acid-induced fluorescence imaging in animal models. While fractional ablative lasers are extensively used for cosmetic/aesthetic purposes, we will utilize this light-based treatment modality to prevent against neoplastic formation, because stromal alterations during early carcinogenesis serve as fertile tissue environments for subsequent tumor development. In preliminary data in mice, focal areas of persistent inflammatory angiogenesis are highly reliable predictors of future tumor development. To accurately determine cancer prevention effects, we will combine the two imaging modalities in small animal settings and visualize alterations in the spatial extents of detailed microvascularity. During this research, students will be able to get familiarized with 1) biophotonics technologies, 2) imaging processing, 3) basic cancer biology. This study could have a translational commercial impact, as this non-invasive instrument could be used clinically to assess an individual's risk of future tumor formation and to provide an early assessment of the effectiveness of current and emerging therapeutic and preventive treatment strategies.


In Situ Strain Mapping Experiments

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Michael Sangid
Preferred major(s): AAE, MSE, or ME
Number of positions: 2

The research we do is building relationships between the material's microstructure and the subsequent performance of the material, in terms of fatigue, fracture, creep, delamination, corrosion, plasticity, etc. The majority of our group’s work has been on advanced alloys and composites. Both material systems have direct applications in Aerospace Engineering, as we work closely with these industries. We are looking for a motivated, hard-working student interested in research within the field of experimental mechanics of materials.

The in situ experiments include advanced materials testing, using state-of-the-art 3d strain mapping. We deposit self-assembled sub-micron particles on the material’s surface and track their displacement as we deform the specimen. Coupled with characterization of the materials microstructure, we can obtain strain localization as a precursor to failure. Specific projects look at increasing the structural integrity of additive manufactured materials and increasing fidelity of lifing analysis to introduce new light weight materials into applications.


Modeling and Control of Aircraft Fuel Thermal Management Systems

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Neera Jain
Preferred major(s): Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering
Desired experience:   Desired coursework: thermodynamics, dynamics, control systems. Desired skills: exceptional coding skills. This project may contain aspects that are restricted to U.S. Citizens.
Number of positions: 1

The thermal and power demands on energy systems across a range of applications and industries are facing unprecedented growth. These systems are increasingly required to operate near the edges of their operating envelopes. As a specific example, tactical aircraft must dissipate waste heat to protect flight critical systems. However, each subsequent generation of aircraft faces increasing thermal challenges with decreasing availability of heat sinks – namely onboard fuel and ambient air – and increasing mission loads. This is especially apparent in tactical aircraft with shrinking component footprint requirements and dynamic, strenuous mission profiles. Better energy resource allocation across the aircraft and over the mission is crucial for expanding aircraft capability. Therefore, we require systematic design of energy resource management algorithms that maximize system capability via tight integration among mixed energy domain subsystems.

In this project, you will augment an existing model of a notional fuel thermal management system (FTMS) to include additional aircraft subsystems that are tightly coupled with the performance of the FTMS. You will also use optimization software to optimize the performance of the aircraft over various mission profiles.


Modeling and Control of a PEM Fuel Cell Micro-CHP System

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Neera Jain
Preferred major(s): Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering
Desired experience:   Desired coursework: Thermodynamics, Dynamics, Control Systems, Mechatronics Desired skills: proficiency with MATLAB and LabVIEW software; experience with experimental hardware, specifically data acquisition; experience coding in Modelica
Number of positions: 1

There is a growing interest in distributed energy resources (DERs) in the United States and around the world. Blackouts continue to cause major disruptions in the U.S., but a more distributed energy generation landscape can offer more robustness to these types of failures. From an efficiency standpoint, transmission losses can be minimized by generating and consuming electricity at the same location through an increase in the use of DERs. Finally, since many DERs are themselves renewable (e.g. rooftop photovoltaic solar panel installations), distributed energy generation has the potential to decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

A DER of particular interest is micro-CHP (Combined Heat and Power), also called micro cogeneration. CHP is the use of a prime mover (such as a gas turbine engine) to simultaneously generate electricity and recover useful thermal energy that would otherwise be wasted in the production of electricity, thereby resulting in systems with significantly higher efficiencies than traditional power plants. While CHP has been traditionally used in the industrial and large-scale commercial sectors, micro-CHP systems typically produce up to 50kW of electricity and are primarily aimed at the residential and small building market to meet electricity and hot water and/or space heating needs. From an economic perspective, these systems are particularly advantageous in locations where electricity prices are much higher than natural gas prices, and/or where robustness to grid failures is particularly important (e.g. in a hospital). Common prime movers for micro-CHP include combustion engines, Stirling engines, and fuel cells. Among these, PEMFC (proton-exchange membrane fuel cell) micro-CHP systems have a strong potential for high electrical efficiency, low emissions, and rapid transient response to load variability.

In our research group, we are interested in determining the optimal way to control these systems, particularly through the use of integrated thermal storage. In this project you will work with a graduate student to derive a dynamic model our experimental PEMFC micro-CHP system and collect experimental data to validate the model. Depending on your experience level and interest, the project may include control design (in simulation) for the purpose of optimizing the use of the thermal storage integrated with the PEMFC micro-CHP system.


Oil-in-water Emulsion Flows through Confined Channels

Research categories:  Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Physics
Desired experience:   Fluid dynamics, Programming experience
Number of positions: 1

The main goal of this project is to characterize transport of monodisperse and poly-disperse oil-in-water emulsions through confined channels by utilizing LAMMPS as well as experiments. A mesoscopic method called dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) will be used to capture the interaction of the droplets with hydrophilic and hydrophobic boundaries of the channel. We will quantify the transport properties of the emulsion for different scenarios, by varying the droplet size, surface properties of the channel, and addition of surfactants. Surfactant molecules are amphiphilic molecules, containing a hydrophobic tail and a hydrophilic head.


Simulation of Hydrostatic Pumps for High Pressure Applications

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Ag & Bio Eng. / Mech. Eng.
Professor: Andrea Vacca
Preferred major(s): AA / ECE / ME / ABE
Desired experience:   programming expertise; knowledge of Phyton
Number of positions: 1

Within this project, an advance simulation tool for high pressure pumps, based on the external gear design principle will be created.
The numerical model will focus on the study of the flow dynamics aspects related to the displacing action realized by the unit. The model will take advantage of already existing tools for the generation of the necessary input data related to the geometry.
The simulation will be based on simplified CFD approaches related to the modeling of the flow, considering also aspects related to fluid cavitation.
The model will be implemented in Python.
The activity will also include a validation of the simulation model, based on experimental data available for both standard and novel designs of external gear pumps.


VACCINE-Visual Analytics for Command, Control, and Interoperability Environments

Research categories:  Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Innovative Technology/Design
School/Dept.: ECE
Professor: David Ebert
Preferred major(s): Computer Engineering, Computer Science, other Engineering majors with programming experience
Desired experience:   Programming experience in C++, others as described below
Number of positions: 5

We are currently searching for students with strong programming and math backgrounds to work on a variety of projects at the Visual Analytics branch (VACCINE) of the Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence in Command, Control and Interoperability. Students will each be assigned individual projects focusing on developing novel data analysis and exploration techniques using interactive techniques. Students should be well versed in C++ upon entering the SURF program, and will be expected to learn skills in R, OpenGL, and/or a variety of other libraries over the course of the summer.

Ongoing project plans will include research that combines soil, weather and crop data from sensing technology to provide critical crop answers for California wine growers and producers, programming for criminal incident report analysis, incorporating local statistics into volume rendering on the GPGPU, healthcare data analysis, and analyzing customizable topics and anomalies that occur in real-time via social media networks Twitter and Facebook. If you have CUDA programming experience or an intense interest to learn it, please indicate this on your application form. We also plan to have a project that will assist first responders in accident extrication procedures.

The ideal candidate will have good working knowledge of modern web development technologies, including client-side technologies such as HTML5, SVG, JavaScript, AJAX, and DOM, as well as server side components such as PHP, Tomcat, MySQL, etc. Experience in visualization or computer graphics is a plus. The project will likely be based on the D3 ( web-based visualization toolkit; prior experience using D3 or other visualization APIs for the web is particularly welcome.

Of the past undergraduate students that have worked in the center, five of their research projects have led to joint publications in our laboratory and at many of our areas' top venues. Sample projects include visual analytics for law enforcement data, health care data and sports data. Students will be assigned individual projects based on the center's needs which will be determined at a later date. To learn more about the VACCINE Center go to the website provided below.

More information:


nanoHUB Research in Nanoscale Science and Engineering

Research categories:  Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology, Other
Professor: NCN Faculty
Preferred major(s): Electrical, Computer, Materials, or Mechanical Engineering; Physics; Computer Science
Desired experience:   Serious interest in and enjoyment of programming; programming skills in any language, physics coursework.
Number of positions: 15-20

Advances in nanoscale science and engineering promise to provide solutions to some of the Engineering Grand Challenges of the 21st century. The Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) has several undergraduate research positions available in exciting interdisciplinary research projects that use computational simulations to solve engineering problems in areas such as nanoelectronics, predictive materials simulations, materials characterization, nanophotonics, and the mechanical behavior of materials. The projects cover a wide range of applications, including development of systems with increased efficiencies for energy storage or energy conversion, development of next-generation electronic devices, improved manufacturing processes for pharmaceuticals and other materials, and the prediction and design of new materials with specific properties. Descriptions of the available research projects, requirements, and faculty advisors are posted on the website provided under 'More Information' below.

We are looking for students with a strong background in engineering or physics who can also code in at least one language, such as C or MATLAB. Selected students will work with a graduate student mentor and faculty advisor to create or improve a simulation tool that will be deployed on

nanoHUB is arguably the world’s largest nanoscale science and engineering user facility, with over 300,000 annual users. nanoHUB’s simulation tools run in a scientific computing cloud via a web browser, and are used by researchers and educators world wide. As part of our team, you will be engaged in a National Science Foundation-funded effort that is connecting theory, experiment and computation in a way that makes a difference for the future of nanotechnology and the future of scientific communities. At the end of the summer, successful students will publish a simulation tool on nanoHUB, where it can impact thousands of nanoHUB users.

In addition to the regular SURF workshops and seminars, NCN provides some additional activities and training for our cohort of summer students. More information, including examples of previous student projects, is available on the NCN SURF page:

In your SURF application, be sure to list the specific NCN project that you are interested in, along with your qualifications for that project. Students are matched to NCN projects based on their interests, qualifications, and available openings on projects.