Research Projects

Projects for 2017 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 2016 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:



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: 3-4

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.


Fluid Dynamics of Bacterial Aggregation and Formation of Biofilm Streamers

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Number of positions: 1

Bacteria primarily live within microscopic colonies embedded inside a self-secreted matrix of polymers and proteins. These microbial biofilms form on natural and man-made surfaces and interfaces and play important roles in various health and environmental issues. Previous experimental studies have indicated the significance of bacterial motility mechanisms in the colonization process and the subsequent biofilm formation. In particular, flagellar mediated swimming is crucial in approaching the surface and initiating the adhesion process. Understanding the swimming strategy of bacteria in confined geometries is shown to be a decisive factor in identifying the adhesion rate and elucidating the subsequent colonization process. However, majority of studies focused on the swimming behavior of motile cells in complex fluids have been conducted assuming the cells’ habitat to be an unbounded domain and thus, the boundary induced effects, such as surface trapping and wall accumulation, are poorly understood. The student will investigate the motion of microorganisms in complex fluids near boundaries.


Heterogeneous Deformation and Strain Localization as a Precursor to Failure in Aerospace Materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Michael Sangid
Preferred major(s): AAE, MSE, ME, CS
Number of positions: 1

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.


Lyophilization Research

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Life Science, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Alina Alexeenko
Preferred major(s): Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and other Engineering majors; Math/CS, Physics
Number of positions: 1-2

Freeze-drying, also called lyophilization, is widely used in manufacturing of injectable pharmaceuticals, vaccines, biotech products, chemical reagents, food and probiotic cultures. The research during the summer undergraduate project will involve experimental studies of novel lyoprotectants and/or computational modeling of heat and mass transfer in R&D lyophilizes. The summer undergraduate researcher will be involved in developing research methods as well as collecting and analyzing data.

More information:


Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) / nanoHUB

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; Chemistry; Physics; Computer Science
Desired experience:   Serious interest in and enjoyment of programming; programming skills in any language. Physics coursework.
Number of positions: 16-20

NCN is looking for a diverse group of enthusiastic and qualified students with a strong background in engineering, chemistry or physics who can also code in at least one language (such as C or MATLAB) to work on research projects that involve computational simulations. Selected students will typically work with a graduate student mentor and faculty advisor to create or improve a simulation tool that will be deployed on nanoHUB. To learn about this year’s research projects along with their preferred majors and requirements, please go to website noted below.

If you are interested in working on a nanoHUB project in SURF, you will need to follow the instructions below and be sure you talk about specific NCN projects directly on your SURF application, in the text box for projects that most interest you.

1) Carefully read the NCN project descriptions (website available below) and select which project(s) you are most interested in and qualified for. It pays to do a little homework to prepare your application.
2) Select the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) / nanoHUB as one of your top choices.
3) In the text box that asks about your “understanding of your role in a project that you have identified”, you may discuss up to three NCN projects that most interest you. For each NCN project, be sure to tell us why you are interested in the project and how you meet the required skill and coursework requirements.

Faculty advisors for summer 2017 include: Arezoo Ardekani, Peter Bermel, Ilias Bilionis, Marcial Gonzalez, Marisol Koslowski, Peilin Liao, Guang Lin, Lyudmila Slipchenko, Alejandro Strachan, Janelle Wharry, and Pablo Zavattieri. These faculty represent a wide range of departments: ECE, ME, Civil E, MSE, Nuclear E, Chemistry and Math, and projects may be multidisciplinary.

Examples of previous student work can be found here:


Purdue AirSense: Creating a State-of-the-Art Air Pollution Monitoring Network for Purdue

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Educational Research/Social Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Industrial Engineering, Innovative Technology/Design, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): Any engineering, science or human health major.
Desired experience:   Motivation to learn about, and solve, environmental, climate, and human health issues facing our planet. Past experience: working in the lab, analytical chemistry, programming (Matlab, Python, Java, LabVIEW, HTML), electronics/circuits, sensors.
Number of positions: 1-2

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in the world and responsible for 7 million deaths each year. Poor air quality is a serious issue in rapidly growing megacities and inside the homes of nearly 3 billion people that rely on solid fuels for cooking and heating. Join our team and help create a new, multidisciplinary air quality monitoring network for Purdue - Purdue AirSense. You will have the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art air quality instrumentation and emerging sensor technologies to monitor O3, CO, NOx, and tiny airborne particulate matter across the campus. We are creating a central site to track these pollutants in real-time on the roof-top of Hampton Hall, as well as a website to stream the data to the entire Purdue community for free. 4-5 students will be recruited to work as a team on this project, which is led by Profs. Brandon Boor (CE) & Greg Michalski (EAPS).


Structural Stability of Cylindrical Steel Storage Tanks

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Sukru Guzey
Preferred major(s): Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering
Desired experience:   Statics, Dynamics, Mechanics of Materials, Structural Analysis
Number of positions: 1

Cylindrical steel storage tanks are essential parts of infrastructure and industrial facilities used to store liquids and granular bulk solids. 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. Failure of a tank may cause catastrophic consequences.

The internal hydrostatic pressure due to the stored liquid results in tensile circumferential stress in the steel plates forming the shell. Because the resultant circumferential stress is tension and not compression, the yielding and tensile rupture criteria are the main concern. Analysis and design principles to account tensile stresses due to hydrostatic pressure is well established (Azzuni and Guzey 2015).

External wind pressure is also a load effect for the design of cylindrical storage tanks. When a tank is empty, it is vulnerable to buckling due to external wind pressure. This buckling failure mode is addressed by increasing the overall stiffness of the structure by adding stiffener rings to the shell. However, current design specifications in North America and Europe are overly conservative for the sizing of the stiffener rings (Godoy, 2016). The current design rules for sizing the top stiffener ring is based on intuition and experience. Although some researchers suggested some analytical justifications (Adams, 1975), these justifications are based on a number of assumptions which are based on the yielding criteria of the stiffener ring and not the buckling criteria.

In this study we shall investigate analytical, semi-analytical and computational procedures to obtain a more robust and resilient design of cylindrical storage tanks due to external wind loading. We shall use classical thin shell theory to obtain an upper bound buckling capacity of cylindrical tanks under wind loading. We shall use Raleigh-Ritz methods to obtain a simple semi-analytical buckling expressions. In addition, we shall investigate the storage tanks using finite element analysis with the use of geometrically nonlinear analysis including imperfections (GNIA). With the GNIA we shall establish a lower bound buckling capacity of these tanks. Finally, we shall compare our results with the available experimental physical testing of the cylindrical tanks and suggest a new design procedure. 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.

Azzuni, E. and S. Guzey (2015). "Comparison of the shell design methods for cylindrical liquid storage tanks." Engineering Structures 101: 621-630.
L. A. Godoy (2016). "Buckling of vertical oil storage steel tanks: Review of static buckling studies." Thin-Walled Structures, 103: 1-21.
J. H. Adams (1975). "A study of wind girder requirements for large API 650 floating roof tanks." Refining, 40th mid-year meeting, American Petroleum Institute, 16-75.


Thermodynamics of Coherent Structures near Phase Transitions

Research categories:  Computational/Mathematical, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Ivan Christov
Preferred major(s): Engineering, Physics or Mathematics (any subareas of each)
Desired experience:   Knowledge of programming in MATLAB and/or a MATLAB-like high-level language (such as python). Experience writing own computer code and analyzing the numerical output. Basic understanding of partial differential equations. Basic understanding of thermodynamics and classical physics.
Number of positions: 1

Many phenomena in physics, engineering and material science can be addressed by "simple" mathematical models capturing only the essential behavior. Coherent structures are common to all areas of science, from synchronized oscillations of fireflies to Jupiter's red spot. "Simple" (also called phenomenological) models of phase transitions (abrupt changes in system behavior) also exhibit coherent structures and self-organized behavior. When large numbers of coherent structures interact in the presence of noise and/or external driving forces, a thermodynamic limit can be taken, describing the complex system by a single nonlinear partial differential equation for the "field" of coherent structures.

This project is aimed at numerically confirming analytical results obtained recently about such systems. The SURF student will work with the faculty member to further develop simple numerical simulations of partial differential equations using standard software such a MATLAB or Python tools such as numpy and scipy. The SURF student will generate simulations spanning a large parameter space and of sufficient size and accuracy to compute long-time (thermodynamic) averages suitable for comparison to the theory. If successful, the theory-numerics comparison will yield an important journal publication.

More information:


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: 1-3

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: