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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:

Life Science


Assessing Nutrient Usage during Harmful Algal Blooms

Research categories:  Chemical, Environmental Science, Life Science
School/Dept.: COS
Professor: Greg Michalski
Preferred major(s): Chemistry, Biology, natural resources
Desired experience:   basic chemistry/biology lab experience

Harmful algal blooms are a serious environmental, economic, and human health issue. They occur when cyanobacteria undergo rapid growth when nutrient availability and physical conditions coincide. There rapid growth and decay can release toxic compounds that is harmful to organism including humans. The project will probe the mechanism of N uptake versus N fixation using isotope techniques. The student will collect field samples, conduct incubation experiments, and analyze chemical and isotopic tracers.


How strongly do oysters stick?

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Chemistry
Professor: Jonathan Wilker

Up through the 18th century intertidal oyster reefs provided a major determinant of sea life along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Billions of shellfish aggregated into reef structures tens of meters deep and several square kilometers in area. In doing so, oysters created habitat for other species, filtered large volumes of water, and protected the coast from storms. Since the late 1800s overfishing, pollution, and disease have reduced stocks substantially. During this time oyster harvests from once-bountiful locations such as the Chesapeake Bay have declined by 98% or more. A great deal of effort is currently being invested to reintroduce oysters to their earlier habitats.

Despite the vital role played by oysters in maintaining robust coastal ecosystems, we know few details about the chemistry of how these shellfish build reefs. Furthermore, we do not even have any data telling us how strongly the animals can attach.

Work this summer will include development of a method for determining the strengths with which oysters bond to surfaces. At the end of this summer we will both have the method in hand as well as adhesion data.


Neural mechanisms of hearing in noisy environments

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Life Science
School/Dept.: BME/SLHS
Professor: Mark Sayles
Preferred major(s): Biology, Biomedical Engineering
Desired experience:   MATLAB would be a bonus, but is not required. Animal research experience would be a bonus, but is not required.

Listening in noisy environments can be challenging. The mammalian auditory system uses neural mechanisms involving tightly synchronized activity between the two ears to detect micro-second differences in timing between the two ears which can be used to boost the signal-to-noise ratio of auditory representations in the brain ("binaural hearing"). People with even mild hearing loss appear unable to take full advantage of these neural mechanisms, and therefore suffer disproportionately in noisy places. The reasons for this are unknown.

We hypothesize that normal binaural hearing requires a specific pattern of cochlear inputs to binaural brainstem neurons, and that hearing loss alters this pattern - resulting in an inability to use binaural information to de-noise important sounds such as speech. In this project, students will record activity from binaural neurons in the brainstem of small mammals (some with normal hearing, and some with hearing impairment), and quantify the ability of those neurons to de-noise acoustic signals presented in background noise. This will involve animal work. Experience with MATLAB would be beneficial, but is not required.


Production of essential aromatic amino acids from cyanobacteria

Research categories:  Chemical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: John Morgan
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering
Desired experience:   CHE 205, CHE 348

The amino acids phenylalanine and tryptophan are valuable as feed additives. Currently they are produced from microbial fermentations from sugar. We are examining their direct photosynthetic production in cyanobacteria. Previously, our group has generated cyanobacterial strains that produce the amino acids. This project is do find the growth conditions that are optimal for maximizing amino acid production. The student will grow the cyanobacteria, measure the production of amino acids, and mathematically model to determine optimal conditions for high productivity.


Role of Microbial Motility in Degradation of Dispersed Oil

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Life Science, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Preferred major(s): Biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, biology, environmental engineering
Desired experience:   bacteria/cell culture laboratory and/or transport phenomena and/or microfluidic experiments

Microbial biodegradation processes play an important role in reducing the harmful
effects of a marine oil spill. The fate and transport of spilled hydrocarbons in the ocean depends on a combination of nonlinear effects such as environmental factors, ocean flows, chemical and physical properties of the crude oil, and the distribution of the oil-degrading microbial community. The over-arching goal of this research project is to quantify the role of motility of marine bacteria in the initial stage in biodegradation of oil through experiments and/or computational modeling.


The ecology of infectious disease in freshwater systems

Research categories:  Life Science
School/Dept.: Department of Biological Sciences
Professor: Catherine Searle
Preferred major(s): Biological sciences or similar field
Desired experience:   Basic laboratory techniques including pipetting, dilutions, and sterile technique are desired. A basic understanding of major ecological concepts is also desired (e.g., BIOL 28600).

The Searle lab primarily studies the ecology of infectious disease in freshwater systems. We aim to understand how changes to natural communities (e.g., the loss or gain of species) impact disease risk in these systems. During the summer, we will be performing multiple studies including 1. experiments to understand the effects of eutrophication on the susceptibility of zooplankton to disease, 2. surveys and experiments to quantify the effects of invasive zooplankton on epidemics in native species, and 3. field surveys of amphibian disease. The student will work closely with the Searle lab’s technician and/or graduate students to develop their own project within one of these research themes. Exact projects will be determined based on the interests of the student.