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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:

Environmental Science


Assessing Mineral-Organic Matter Interactions in Soil using Pyrolysis Mass Spectrometry

Research categories:  Agricultural, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Professor: Timothy Filley
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering, Agronomy, EAPS, Biology
Desired experience:   Chemistry, Soil Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry
Number of positions: 1-2

This project is part of the National Science Foundation funded Intensively Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory (IML-CZO). This particular subproject is an effort to identify some of the fundamental controls in the fate of plant, microbial, and incompletely burned (i.e. black carbon) in shallow (0-10cm) and deep (to 10 m depth) soils. The student will investigate how strong soil aggregate and mineral binding removes organic matter from being accessible to microbial decay creating stabilized soil carbon structures. The student will work with a graduate student and Prof. Filley as they apply molecular forensic tools such as pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry. The student will exposed to concepts in mineral chemistry, soil science, isotope biogeochemistry, and mass spectrometry. The student will join four other undergraduates engaged on various aspects of the IML-CZO work and will also take part in a multi university meeting among the IML-CZO participants (Univ. of Illinois, Purdue Univ., Northwestern Univ., Indiana Univ., Univ. of Tennessee) and field sampling campaign.


Laboratory characterization of unsteady boundary layer turbulence and flow structure

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science, Other
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Cary Troy
Preferred major(s): Civil, mechanical, or aerospace engineering
Desired experience:   Should have taken a first course in fluid mechanics; Matlab experience is necessary; and experience on the water is desirable but not required. Students who are good working with their hands, tools, and the machine shop are also very welcome to our lab.
Number of positions: 1

The objective of this project is to produce and analyze preliminary data associated with unsteady, oscillatory boundary layers. Unsteady boundary layers are ubiquitous in the environment, including tidal flows, water waves, and the atmospheric boundary layer. They are also important in a variety of engineered flows over surfaces. The successful student applicant will be in charge of designing, setting up, carrying out, and analyzing experiments in two of our large-scale water flow facilities: (1) a 10m long research flume; (2) a 50m long wave basin, which is a brand new Purdue facility that has not been used. Students will perform measurements on turbulence and velocity structure using a range of state-of-the-art instruments, including acoustic Doppler current profilers.


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).


Turbulence characterization in Lake Michigan

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Cary Troy
Preferred major(s): civil, mechanical, or aerospace engineering
Desired experience:   Should have taken a first course in fluid mechanics; Matlab experience is necessary; and experience on the water is desirable but not required. Students who are good working with their hands, tools, and the machine shop are also very welcome to our lab.
Number of positions: 1

This project aims to measure turbulence levels in Lake Michigan using an innovative combination of state-of-the-art flow measurement tools. The successful applicant will be in charge of coordinating a large field experiment involving multiple instruments that sample water velocity and turbulence levels at a coastal site in Lake Michigan. The motivation for this work is to improve our abilities to parameterize turbulence in large-scale, 3-D hydrodynamic ocean and lake models. The project will involve laboratory work setting up, testing, and modifying instruments, as well as days on the lake performing instrument deployment/recovery and intensive sampling.


Web-based Water Quality Status Tool

Research categories:  Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Margaret Gitau
Preferred major(s): Computer Science or related
Desired experience:   HTML, PHP, CSS, Javascript, Python, Git, CGI, C#, etc; web servers/server technologies, databases
Number of positions: 1

Currently, computation of Water Quality Indices (WQIs- indicators of water quality status) relies largely on a manual process with regard to extraction of driving data, determination of subindex values, and overall index computation which limits index application. The goal of this project is to develop and test a decision-support and management tool that automates the processes of extracting data from existing repositories, calculating WQIs, and generating interactive visualizations for use by water quality managers. The project will entail the development of a web-based user interface and testing across multiple devices and browsers. The result will be a dynamic web-based application that will complement on-going water quality work within the research group. The student will be expected to develop the web-based application including technology selection, WUI design, programming, and testing. The student will work closely with a graduate research assistant on the team to obtain algorithms for data processing and information on back-end databases that need to be incorporated in the application.


Wideband GNSS Reflectometry Instrument Design and Signal Processing for Airborne Remote Sensing of Ocean Winds.

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science, Other
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): Electrical Engineering, Physics
Desired experience:   Linear Systems, Signal processing, computer programming (C, Python, MATLAB). Some experience building computers or electronics is desirable. A basic understanding of electromagnetism is also desirable.
Number of positions: 1

This research project will involve the assembly and test a remote sensing instrument to make measurements of the ocean wind field from the NOAA “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft. The fundamental operating principle of this new instrument is “reflectometry”, which is based upon observing changes in the structure of a radio frequency signal reflected from the ocean surface. These changes are related to the air-sea interaction process on the ocean surface and can be used to estimate the wind speed through empirical models. Transmissions from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), (e.g. GPS, Galileo, Glonass or Compass) are ideal signal sources for reflectometry, due to their use of a “pseudorandom noise” (RRN) code.

NASA will be launching the CYGNSS satellite constellation in November to globally monitor the tropical ocean and observe the formation of severe storms. CYGNSS will use a first generation GNSS-R instrument. This summer research project will produce a next-generation prototype taking advantage of the wider bandwidth of the Galileo E5 signal (~90 MHz vs. 2 MHz) for higher resolution measurements of the reflected signal.

In addition to hardware assembly and testing in the laboratory, this research project will also require the development of signal processing algorithms to extract essential information from the scattered signal. A “software defined radio” approach will be used, in which the full spectrum of the reflected signal is recorded and post-processed using software to implement the complete signal processing chain.

The goal of this summer research project is to deliver a working instrument, post processing software, and documentation to NOAA for flight on the hurricane aircraft during the 2017 hurricane season. There are two objectives of this experiment. The first is to demonstrate the feasibility of wideband E5 reflectometry measurements. The second objective is to collect the highest quality GNSS reflectometry data, under a wide variety of extreme meteorological conditions, to improve the empirical models that will be used for processing CYGNSS data and generating hurricane forecasts.

Students interested in this project should have good programming skills and some experience with C, Python and MATLAB. They should also have a strong background in basic signal processing. Experience with building computers or other electronic equipment will also be an advantage.

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