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 2018 Research Symposium Abstracts.

2019 projects will continue to be posted through January!

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

 

Adhesives at the Beach

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Environmental Science, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Department of Chemistry
Professor: Jonathan Wilker
Preferred major(s): Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Materials Engineering
Desired experience:   This project will involve aspects of marine biology (e.g., working with live mussels), materials engineering (e.g., measuring mechanical properties of adhesives), and chemistry (e.g., making surfaces with varied functionalities). Few people at any level will come in with knowledge about all aspects here. Consequently we are looking for adventurous students who are wanting to roll up their sleeves, get wet (literally), and learn several new things.

The oceans are home to a diverse collection of animals producing intriguing materials. Mussels, barnacles, oysters, starfish, and kelp are examples of the organisms generating adhesive matrices for affixing themselves to the sea floor. Our laboratory is characterizing these biological materials, designing synthetic polymer mimics, and developing applications. Characterization efforts include experiments with live animals, extracted proteins, and peptide models. Synthetic mimics of these bioadhesives begin with the chemistry learned from characterization studies and incorporate the findings into bulk polymers. For example, we are mimicking the cross-linking of DOPA-containing adhesive proteins by placing monomers with pendant catechols into various polymer backbones. Adhesion strengths of these new polymers can rival that of the cyanoacrylate “super glues.” Underwater bonding is also appreciable. In order to design higher performing synthetic materials we must, first, learn all of the tricks used by nature when making adhesives. Future efforts for this coming summer will revolve around work with live mussels. Plans for experiments include changing the water, surfaces, and other environmental conditions around the animals. Mechanical performance of the resulting adhesives will be quantified and compared. Microscopy and other methods will be used to further understand the factors that dictate how these fascinating biological materials can function under such demanding conditions.

 

After the Fire: Rapid Decontamination of Plastic Potable Water Infrastructure Materials

Research categories:  Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Desired experience:   Clear enthusiasm for chemistry and materials; evidence of strong internal motivation and initiative.

The 2018 Camp Fire is the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California’s history, and more than 27,000 Californians faced tremendous hardship and loss. Many people are asking when they will be able to have safe drinking water again, when can they rebuild, and how to determine if their homes are safe. These critical questions require scrutiny because of the extensive damage to the drinking water distribution systems and even building plumbing. Volatile organic chemicals (VOC) have been found at 100s-1000s of ppb levels exceeding safe drinking water limits. The SURF student will: (1) conduct experiments that simulate plastic potable water infrastructure chemical contamination and (2) determine the effectiveness of water rinsing and warm air flushing at removing organic contaminants that have diffused into the plastics. The student will work with faculty and a Lillian Gilbreth postdoctoral research associate who were called into the disaster zone for their expertise at responding to and recovering from the large-scale drinking water distribution contamination incident.

 

Building Software for Environmental Modeling

Research categories:  Agricultural, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Environmental Science, Other
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Dharmendra Saraswat
Preferred major(s): Agricultural Engineering , Civil Engineering, Computer Science or related disciplines
Desired experience:   Programming skills in any language with some experience in frontend and backend web development is desired.

Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department has contributed several tools for environmental modeling community. It is a challenge to review and understand old codes with minimum documentation. This project involves modernizing an environmental modeling software written primarily in Perl. In this project, the SURF student will first assess the current application, create a plan for the new iteration in collaboration with the project supervisor, get a head start on developing the new application and document the process. The SURF student will work with a staff programmer.

 

Cure-in-Place-Shelters for Disaster Preparedness

Research categories:  Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Preferred major(s): Science or engineering students are welcome, including but not limited to chemistry, physics, geology, and the following engineering disciplines: chemical, civil, environmental, materials, mechanical.
Desired experience:   Enthusiasm for chemistry and an interest in materials research. Prior experiences with composites would be a benefit to the project but are not required.

Quick-cure polymer-based composites can be used for creating temporary shelters and other structures immediately after a disaster (i.e. earthquake, hurricane, etc.) Currently, it can take days to months to provide traditional types of temporary housing. The few temporary shelter options on the market are designed around concepts such as DRASH tents, modular construction, and trailers. Our research team has recently conducted studies on cured-in-place composites for infrastructure repair. This model polymer composite system could be developed into rapidly-deployable shelters that require few tools, could be towed, air-dropped, or stored, would be lightweight but strong and rigid. The SURF student will (1) investigate whether uncured composite can withstand the pressures necessary for inflation into shape, (2) assist in developing non-toxic UV-curable resin formulations and (3) characterize and understand how the mechanical, thermal, shelf-life and other material properties are influenced by the chemical formulation to determine structure/property/performance maps. Through this project, students will develop knowledge and important skills in material design and mechanical testing of composites.

 

Data Visualization and Analysis for IoT Based Smart Irrigation System

Research categories:  Agricultural, Civil and Construction, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Environmental Science, Other
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Dharmendra Saraswat
Preferred major(s): Agricultural Engineering, Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Computer Science or related disciplines
Desired experience:   Programming skills in any language with some experience in statistics is desired.

It is reported that currently almost 33 percent of the global population is affected by water scarcity and by 2030, this figure is expected to climb up to almost 50 percent. Around 60 percent of the water used for irrigation is wasted, either due to evapotranspiration, land runoff, or simply inefficient, primitive irrigation application methods. This realization has brought attention to smart irrigation – powered by the internet of things (IoTs) – that can be a better way of managing water stress on a global basis. In this project, the SURF student will customize commercially available software to analyze and visualize data, perform calculations/combine new data, run time-based calculations, plot functions for visual understanding and perform sophisticated analysis by combining data from several field nodes. The SURF student will work with Project Supervisor and a staff programmer.

 

Developing new techniques for NO3- isotope analysis

Research categories:  Chemical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: EAPS
Professor: Greg Michalski
Preferred major(s): Chemistry
Desired experience:   wet chemistry, analytical chemistry, research

Nitrate is a important compound in the atmosphere and biosphere. Its stable isotope composition of nitrate are informative about assessing sources of nitrate and processes that form it. However, current analysis techniques and slow and cost ineffective. Therefore developing new nitrate isotope analysis techniques that are fast, accurate, precise, and inexpensive is desirable. We are developing a new technique using Ti3+ to reduce NO3- into N2O for analysis by isotope ratio mass spectrometry

 

High Performance Concrete from Recycled Hydrogel-Based Superabsorbent Materials

Research categories:  Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: School of Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Desired experience:   Enthusiasm for chemistry and an interest in materials research. Prior experiences with cement and concrete would be a benefit to the project but are not required.

Concrete that is internally cured by water-swollen superabsorbent polymer (SAP) particles has improved strength and durability. Widespread adoption of SAP-cured concrete is hindered by the lack of commercial SAP formulations that maintain their absorbency in cement’s high-pH environment. Most commercial SAP formulations are designed for disposable diapers and other absorbent hygiene products (AHPs), which account for ~12% (3.4M tons) of all non-durable goods in landfills. Over 70% of a diaper’s weight is composed of absorbent materials – mainly cellulose and polyacrylamide(PAM)-based SAP particles – the latter being chemically equivalent to the SAP particles that perform well in concrete research. Thus, a sustainable strategy to create effective concrete curing agents is to recycle the absorbent materials from AHPs and reprocess for use in concrete. AHP recycling efforts are already underway, including a plant in Italy with a 10,000-tonne annual capacity for AHP recycling. However, synthetic strategies must be developed to convert recycled AHPs into absorbent particles that perform well in concrete. Hypothesis and Objectives: We hypothesize that the PAM and cellulose components of AHPs can be separated and chemically crosslinked to form particles that display high absorption capacity in alkaline environments. The SURF student will: (1) obtain recycled absorbent materials and characterize the structures of the materials including composition, particle morphology, and swelling behavior; (2) design and synthesize absorbent particles by combining different ratios of recycled absorbent materials with a crosslinking agent and grinding/sieving to create particles with dry sizes of 10-100 micron; (3) identify the dosages of absorbent particles required to create internally cured concrete with good workability and mechanical strength; and (4) perform cost-benefit analysis of concrete cured by recycled particles and commercial SAP.

 

High-Volume Treatment of Metal-Polluted Water

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Preferred major(s): Science or engineering students are welcome, including but not limited to chemistry, physics, geology, and the following engineering disciplines: chemical, civil, environmental, materials, mechanical.
Desired experience:   Enthusiasm for chemistry and an interest in materials research. Prior experiences with composites would be a benefit to the project but are not required.

Mining of coal and metallurgical ores has significantly impacted the land and groundwater quality in many semi-arid regions and there are great challenges to mitigate the impact of this legacy pollution. The impacted areas have a portion of their scarce water resources chemically contaminated and are lacking a cost-effective and comprehensive strategy to rehabilitate the fouled groundwater. Laboratory testing of polluted water will be passively treated with geotextile-like materials that have been surface modified with polymers and clay minerals designed to selectively sequester trace chemical pollutants. The novel engineered material will be designed to have high surface area in a structure that will minimally impact water transport. As the water passes over the material, the pollutant will be irreversibly bound to the surface. The SURF student will investigate chemical surface modification of polymer mesh materials to induce chemical binding of the select pollutants. Testing will include measuring the reduction in pollutants as a function of exposure time and determining the total binding capacity of the modified material mesh exposed to a mixture of pollutants and other species typically present in groundwater (i.e. organic/inorganic particulates).

 

Indoor Air Pollution Research: From Nano to Bio

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Life Science, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): Students from all majors are welcome to apply.
Desired experience:   Interest in studying contaminant transport in the environment, human health, air pollution, HVAC and building systems, microbiology, nanotechnology, and atmospheric science. Experience working in a laboratory setting with analytical equipment and coding with MATLAB, Python, and/or R. Passionate about applying engineering fundamentals to solve real-world problems.

Airborne particulate matter, or aerosols, represent a fascinating mixture of tiny, suspended liquid and solid particles that can span in size from a single nanometer to tens of micrometers. Human exposure to aerosols of indoor and outdoor origin is responsible for adverse health effects, including mortality and morbidity due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The majority of our respiratory encounters with aerosols occurs indoors, where we spend 90% of our time. Through the SURF program, you will work on several ongoing research projects exploring the dynamics of nanoaerosols and bioaerosols in buildings and their HVAC systems.

Nanoaerosols are particles smaller than 100 nm in size. With each breath of indoor air, we inhale several million nanoaerosols. These nano-sized particles penetrate deep into our respiratory systems and can translocate to the brain via the olfactory bulb. These tiny particles are especially toxic to the human body and have been associated with various deleterious toxicological outcomes, such as oxidative stress and chronic inflammation in lung cells. Bioaerosols represent a diverse mixture of microbes (bacteria, fungi) and allergens (pollen, mite feces). Exposure to bioaerosols plays a significant role in both the development of, and protection against, asthma, hay fever, and allergies.

Your role will be to conduct measurements of nanoaerosols and bioaerosols in laboratory experiments at the Purdue Herrick Laboratories, as well as participate in a field campaign at Indiana University - Bloomington in collaboration with an atmospheric chemistry research group. You will learn how to use state-of-the-art air quality instrumentation and perform data processing and analysis in MATLAB.

More information: https://www.brandonboor.com/

 

Lake Michigan Ecosystem Modeling

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science, Mechanical Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Cary Troy
Preferred major(s): Civil, Environmental, or Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   Proficiency in Matlab; Good communication skills, written and oral; Exposure to differential equations

This is an NSF-funded project examining the role of turbulence in the Lake Michigan ecosystem. Particularly, the project is quantifying the interactions between water column turbulence and the ability of invasive quagga mussels to filter nutrients and plankton out of the water column. The SURF research will involve the development of a 1-D biogeochemical model that models the temporal and vertical distribution of nutrients (e.g. phosphorus), phytoplankton, and zooplankton in Lake Michigan. The successful SURF applicant will be responsible for the coding and development of the model in Matlab, as well as potentially participating in data collection on Lake Michigan and the analysis of this data.

 

Processing of innovative satellite remote sensing data for ocean and snow remote sensing

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): ECE, AAE, Physics, EAPS
Desired experience:   Good programming skills, signal processing (ECE 301 or AAE301). Experience with software defined radio (USRP) will be a plus.

Reflectometry is a new approach to Earth remote sensing in microwave frequencies, using reflections of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS, e.g. GPS, Galileo, etc ...) signals from land and ocean surfaces as illumination source in a bistatic radar configuration. Through observing measurable changes in the properties of these signals, various features of the reflecting surfaces can be inferred.

Ocean surface winds is the most developed application for GNSS-Reflectometry (GNSS-R), with the launch of the CYGNSS constellation by NASA in 2016. CYGNSS data has been collected during the 2017 and 2018 Hurricane seasons, showing some capability for wind field measurements at a high spatial resolution. New models and algorithms are required, however, to optimally process these data and extract wind vectors with high sensitivity, especially at the higher wind speeds present in hurricanes. Development of these new models and algorithms requires the collection of high-quality data under carefully controlled conditions along with in situ training data provided by independent sources. With this goal in mind, Purdue has developed a wideband GNSS-R signal recorder which will be flown on the P-3 “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft operated by NOAA. This aircraft is capable of operating in extremely high winds and penetrating the Hurricane eye wall, in order to collect data inside developing tropical cyclones. GNSS-R data collected in this experiment will be compared with wind speed observations from other instruments on the P-3 aircraft, other satellite data, and model results. These comparisons will be used to develop and improved model for the extraction of ocean winds from CYGNSS and future satellite missions.

Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) is a representation of the total water stored in the snow pack. This is an important climate variable for the prediction of fresh water supplies as well as applications such as hydroelectric power. A new application of GNSS-R is measuring SWE as a change in phase of the reflected signal, a result of the slower propagation of the signal through the snow layer. Spaceborne measurements of SWE using GNSS-R have never been conducted. Special collections of CYGNSS data were conducted this year, in which raw signals (no on-board processing or compression) were collected in arcs spanning snow-covered regions in the Himalayan mountains.

SURF projects are proposed to support these two research goals for CYGNSS data. Both will involve extensive programming and data processing, using a “software defined radio” method that essentially implements all signal processing in software to operate on the full-spectrum of the recorded signal.

Applicants should have very strong programming skills, some knowledge of basic signal processing.

 

Reducing Ocean Pollution By Understanding the Formation and Stability of Shipboard Emulsions

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Preferred major(s): MSE, ChemE, EEE, and related fields of science and engineering
Desired experience:   Enthusiasm for chemistry, and interest in materials, environmental, or chemical engineering. Prior experience with emulsions would benefit the project but are not required.

Bilge water is a collection of waste fluids onboard a ship and is a major source of pollution in marine environments. All waste fluids onboard (including oil, grease, fuel, detergents, etc.) are collected in the ship’s bilge until it can be treated and released into the ocean. Treatment techniques remove some of the pollutants but have a difficult time removing oil when it is in the form of an oil-in-water “shipboard emulsion” with nanoscale droplets. Consequently, oils and detergents are released into the environment. The goal of this project is to study the formation and composition of bilge water emulsions to ultimately prevent emulsion formation and improve treatment techniques. In this project, the SURF student will create and characterize model bilge water emulsions with emphasis on understanding the formation mechanisms and stability of these emulsions. The SURF student will have the opportunity to learn many different characterization techniques specific to nanoscale oil-water emulsions, including optical microscopy, dynamic light scattering, zeta potential measurements, interfacial tension measurements and more, by working closely with a current Ph.D. student in MSE and faculty in MSE and EEE (Profs. Erk, Howarter, and Martinez).

 

Remote sensing of soil moisture and forest biomass using P-band Signals of Opportunity: Model development and experimental validation

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): ECE, AAE, Physics, ABE
Desired experience:   Basic signal processing (AAE 301 or ECE 301 or equivalent) desired. Students should know how to use basic hand tools, and be willing to work outdoors in agricultural or forest environments. A drivers license and reliable access to a car is required for field work.

Root Zone Soil Moisture (RZSM), defined as the water profile in the top meter of soil where most plant absorption occurs, is an important environmental variable for understanding the global water cycle, forecasting droughts and floods, and agricultural management. No existing satellite remote sensing instrument can measure RZSM. Sensing below the top few centimeters of soil, often through dense vegetation, requires the use of microwave frequencies below 500 MHz, a frequency range known as “P-band”. A P-band microwave radiometer would require an aperture diameter larger than 10 meters. Launching such a satellite into orbit will present big and expensive technical challenge, certainly not feasible for a low-cost small satellite mission. This range for frequencies is also heavily utilized for UHF/VHF communications, presenting an enormous amount of radio frequency interference (RFI). Competition for access to this spectrum also makes it difficult to obtain the required license to use active radar for scientific use.

Signals of opportunity (SoOp) are being studied as alternatives to active radars or passive radiometry. SoOp re-utilizes existing powerful communication satellite transmissions as “free” sources of illumination, measuring the change in the signal after reflecting from soil surface. In this manner, SoOp methods actually make use of the very same transmissions that would cause interference in traditional microwave remote sensing. Communication signal processing methods are used in SoOp, enabling high quality measurements to be obtained with smaller, lower gain, antennas.

Under NASA funding, Purdue and the Goddard Space Flight Center have developed an airborne prototype P-band remote sensing instrument to demonstrate the feasibility of a future satellite version. Complementing this technology development, a field campaign will be conducted for its third year the Purdue Agricultural research fields. This campaign will make reflected signal measurements from towers installed over instrumented fields. Measurements will be obtained over bare soil first, and then throughout the corn or soybean growth cycle. Complementing these remote sensing measurements, a comprehensive set of ground-truth data will also be collected for use in developing models and verifying their performance.

In Spring 2019 an additional experiment, using a small Unpiloted Aerial Vehicle (UAV), will be conducted in a forested area in collaboration with the School of Forestry and Natural Resources (FRN).

Work under this project will involve installing microwave electronic equipment in the field, writing software for signal and data processing, and making field measurements of soil moisture and vegetation properties.

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. Students should be willing to work outdoors and have an interest in applying their skills to solving problems in the Earth sciences, environment, or agriculture.

The project will involve regular travel to and from the local research field, so students should have a driving license and access to a car.

 

The Arequipa Nexus Sustainable Viticulture

Research categories:  Agricultural, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Environmental Science, Innovative Technology/Design
School/Dept.: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Professor: David Ebert
Preferred major(s): Flexible: Computer Science, Food Science, Agronomy, Environmental Science, GIS, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Desired experience:   We are looking for applicants with a strong background in either of the following: GIS (Geographic Information Systems), food sciences, agronomy (soil oriented), web development or python programming (e.g. HTML/JavaScript, Leaflet, D3). Students should have a GPA of 3 or higher. Applicants with Spanish fluency are encouraged to apply.

The Universidad Nacional de San Agustín (UNSA) in Arequipa, Peru and Purdue through Discovery Park’s Center for the Environment (C4E) have partnered to create a new research, education and innovation institute to work together on key challenges for a sustainable future for the citizens of Arequipa. The Nexus Institute applies collaborative, data-driven, interdisciplinary science, technology and innovation to help chart a new course toward a sustainable future. Our lab works with key stakeholder groups to develop data, provide (winery and vineyard farm) guidelines, simulation models, and decision support tools for vineyard management through state-of-the-art data sets, GIS and remote sensing, and environmental decision tools. We are also developing a system to provide farmers with more accurate information than previously possible, helping growers to optimize crop yields and minimize use of water and other resources. The system will be first tested in Peru to create precision agriculture-based viticulture test-beds.

 

Using Polymer Science to Make a Better Dirt Road

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: School of Materials Engineering
Professor: Kendra Erk
Desired experience:   Enthusiasm for chemistry and an interest in materials research. Prior experiences with soils would be a benefit to the project but are not required.

The majority of roadways in rural communities and developing countries are unpaved “dirt” roads, which typically become impassable and unsafe during inclement weather. Soil stabilization techniques can be used to increase the strength and durability of dirt roads, including mixing clays, resins, and polymer emulsions with soils to form a high-toughness composite. However, these techniques are only effective over weeks and months – not years – and composite performance is reduced by extreme weather events including droughts and floods. Thus, to increase the safety and well-being of individuals living in isolated communities both in the US and around the world, there is a critical need to design durable, low-cost dirt roads that are resilient to traffic and weather. During the course of this summer project, the SURF student will: (1) learn about the limitations of polymer-based stabilization methods for natural roadways in arid and semi-arid climates; (2) determine how the physical and chemical interactions of polymers in the presence of water, salts, and soils impact the mechanical properties and toughness of polymer-soil composites; and (3) develop material design strategies to create durable and self-healing polymer-based materials and coatings that can be applied to polymer-soil composites and, thus, to natural roadways. Through this project, students will develop knowledge and important skills in organic chemistry and synthesis as well as material design and mechanical testing of composites.

 

Using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to Monitor Crop Development

Research categories:  Agricultural, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science
School/Dept.: Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Professor: Keith Cherkauer
Preferred major(s): Agricultural Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering
Desired experience:   Knowledge of programming (e.g., MatLab or Python), electrical circuits, and digital imagery is desired but not required.

Global food production must continue to increase in order to support a growing world population. The integration of data science, sensors and automated sensing platforms into breeding programs allows science and engineering to work together to increase the speed and accuracy of seed selection for future development into commercial products. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) provide a platform to collect very-high resolution remote sensing image data from fields frequently during the growing season. The student selected for this project will work with an experienced team of graduate students and faculty to collect imagery and supporting ground reference data from multiple crop fields. They will learn how to setup ground targets, collect additional ground reference data (including soil moisture and leaf porosity measurements), manage large datasets, and process imagery to extract metrics per plot, which can be correlated to the specific seed variety in each plot within the field containing each experiment. As part of this project, the student will be responsible for collecting ground reference data and processing UAS imagery. They will use their data to assess the usefulness of one metric used for monitoring crop development that will be selected at the start of the summer.