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:

Material Science and Engineering


A dual-tuned, metamaterial-enhanced radiofrequency coil for MRI and phosphorus-31 spectroscopy

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Electronics, Innovative Technology/Design, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, School of Electrical & Computer Engineering
Professor: Joseph Rispoli
Preferred major(s): Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Desired experience:   CAD modeling, soldering, circuit characterization

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners can be used to acquire real-time localized metabolic information. This technique, known as magnetic resonance spectroscopy, can quantify the concentration of specific metabolites incorporating NMR-active nuclei. In this project, we will build a radiofrequency coil that will detect both typical proton (1H) and phosphorus-31 (31P) spectra using Purdue's 7T MRI scanner. The coil design will include metamaterial periodic structures to boost 31P sensitivity.

For this project, the SURF student will be part of the Magnetic Resonance Biomedical Engineering Lab (MRBEL) and work with Prof. Rispoli and a dedicated graduate student advisor. The SURF student's role will be to contribute to the final coil design (given electromagnetic modeling results from the graduate student advisor), to create a CAD model of the mechanical former, to prototype the former using our lab's 3D printer, to construct the required electrical circuitry on the former, and to validate the device on the 7T scanner. Familiarity with CAD software (Inventor/SolidWorks), soldering, analog circuits, metamaterials, and/or radiofrequency/microwave circuits is desired but not required.

More information:


A light-weight silicon pixel detector for the CMS detector at the Large Hadron Collider

Research categories:  Electronics, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Physics & Astronomy
Professor: Andreas Jung
Preferred major(s): Physics (minor or experience in Electrical and/or Mechanical Engineering)
Desired experience:   Experience with labview is of advantage as well as a general understanding of at least one programming language. Existing experience with analysis of data and interpretation, e.g. linear regression / trend analysis.

The Large Hadron Collider will be upgraded to provided a unprecedented number of hadronic interactions, which will be used to search for any deviation from the standard model theory of particle physics. In order to withstand the large number of hadronic interaction also the CMS detector needs to be upgraded. The proposed summer research project contributes to the upgrade of the forward pixel detector in the very heart of the CMS detector.

Candidates join my lab/group working on data taking and testing of silicon detector prototypes and their support prototypes in our local two-phase CO2 cold box setup. The project includes data taking, preparation & hands-on assembly of prototypes, as well as data analysis. There is also possibilities to carry out the thermal finite element analysis needed to simulate the thermal behavior of our prototypes. Experience with labview is of advantage as well as a general understanding of at least one programming language. Most important is being enthusiastic for the research project.


Characterization of strain localization and associated failure of structural materials

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

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.


Developing Cost-Effective Thermoelectric Materials for Civil Infrastructure Applications

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Luna Lu

The objective of this funding request is to support one (1) undergraduate student participating in Dr. Lu’s research in developing cost effective thermoelectric (TE) materials during Summer 2017. TE materials offer great promise for energy efficient power generation in civil infrastructures, such as waste heat recovery from HVAC systems and building envelopes etc. However, current applications are significantly limited by the high cost and toxicity of existing TE materials.

The recruited undergraduate students will work directly with a PhD student and supervised by Dr. Lu. The candidate will benefit from working in an interdisciplinary research group and will be exposed to state-of-art nanofabrication and analytical tools. The specific responsibilities include synthesizing and characterization of nanomaterials and devices.

The applicant should have technical background in materials science and engineering, civil engineering, chemistry, chemical engineering or a related area. The applicant should be highly motivated, able to work in team, and have good oral and written communication skills.


Effects of Aging Treatment on the Microstructure, Surface and Mechanical Properties of Food and Pharmaceutical Relevant Materials

Research categories:  Agricultural, Environmental Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: ABE
Professor: Teresa Carvajal
Preferred major(s): ABE, MSE, ChE, ME
Desired experience:   Physical Chemistry, Thermodynamics, Material properties such as Mechanical Stress and Response of Materials, Mohr's circles, Organic Chemistry, Polymers Statistics. Overall, very motivated student eager to innovate.

Characterization of the physicochemical, surface and mechanical properties in a wide range of soft materials (food and pharmaceuticals) will be conducted. Of interest, the environmental conditions during manufacturing and storage that could change the properties of materials leading to potential detrimental changes on the performance and quality in the food or pharmaceutical product. The study is directed to the question of what stimulates aging on the microstructures, which might contribute to stability and performance during processing. The microstructure-level controlling surface interactions will be also addressed by using various analytical tools. The bulk properties such as powder flow behavior will be characterized such that structure-property-processing relationships can be established.


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.


Metal Nanofoam Fabrication and Characterization

Research categories:  Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: David Bahr
Preferred major(s): MSE
Desired experience:   Minimum 1 year chemistry. Prefer some experience with microscopy or materials testing.

Metallic nanofoam structures (with ligament and pore diameters on the order of 100 - 400 nm) have been formed using templates formed from electrospinning. Starting with a polymer precursor, we oxidize and then reduce a non-woven fibrous mat to create a 3D metal foam. Metal foams have extremely high strength to weight ratios, we aim to increase this by creating core-shell foams (where we deposit additional metals onto the ligaments). The student on this project will be responsible for materials processing, carrying out electron microscopy to characterize the structures, electroplating the foams, and quantifying the structure of the foam. The work will be primarily experimental, and requires a working knowledge of chemistry and materials characterization tools.


Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) / nanoHUB

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

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 Python, 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. Faculty advisors come from a wide range of departments: ECE, ME, Civil E, ChemE, MSE, Nuclear E, Chemistry and Math, and projects may be multidisciplinary. To learn about this year’s research projects along with their preferred majors and requirements, please go to the website noted below.

If you are interested in working on a nanoHUB project in SURF, you will need to follow the instructions below. Be sure you talk about specific NCN projects directly on your SURF application, using 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 for Essay #2, where you describe your specific research interests, qualifications, and relevant experience, you may discuss up to three NCN projects that most interest you. Please rank your NCN project choices in order of interest. For each project, specify the last name of the faculty advisor, the project, why you are interested in the project, and how you meet the required skill and coursework requirements.

For more information and examples of previous research projects and student work, click on the link below.


Surface Enhancement using Severe Plastic Deformation

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Innovative Technology/Design, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Materials Engineering
Professor: David Bahr
Preferred major(s): MSE, ME, or AAE
Desired experience:   Mechanical behavior courses, mechanical testing laboratory experience.

Modifying the surface of metals using shot peening, burnishing, and other plastic deformation processing is common in industry. However, we have limited ability to predict performance of how shot peened materials change properties due to complex interactions between residual stresses and microstructural changes. This project, tied to an industrial consortium, will focus on developing a combined model that predicts both recrystallization and residual stresses using a combination of experimental measurements and predictive computational models in common engineering alloys. The student will gain experience in preparing samples for metallographic inspection, performing hardness testing and optical microscopy, and using basic finite element simulations.


Thermal Conduction in Heterogeneous Media

Research categories:  Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Chemical, or Materials Engineering
Desired experience:   Courses in heat transfer and/or fluid mechanics, experience in the machine shop, and experience with Matlab is advantageous

The operating temperature of commercial grade electronic chips used in laptops, modems/routers, gaming consoles, hand-held devices such as smartphones, tablets, and supercomputers can reach dangerous levels (>80 C) as computing tasks intensify. If unchecked, this can lead to material degradation and hamper the performance of the device. Thermal interface materials (TIMs) are used for efficient heat dissipation from junction to ambient in such devices as contact thermal resistances impede efficient heat conduction to the outer surface, to be dissipated to the surroundings. Examples of different types of TIMs are pastes/grease, gels, pads, metallic TIMs, phase change materials and thermal adhesive tapes. Thermal pastes contain high conductivity filler particles in a polymer matrix. Prior research has explored filler particle chemistry (e.g., ceramic, metal, carbon black), morphology, filler loading or volume fraction, state of dispersion and fabrication strategies (i.e., functionalization, particle alignment, self-assembly) to fully exploit the high conductivity property of the microscopic filler and the highest reported value is in the range of 5-10 W/m-K.

Industry grade thermal pastes generally contain high loading of particles in the polymer matrix. Beyond a certain loading known as the percolation threshold, thermal conductivity is known to increase and to evaluate this enhancement, an experimental study involving cylindrical particles-filled epoxy is proposed. Effective thermal conductivity of different types of particle arrangements, up to the percolation threshold, will be measured using an infrared (IR) microscope. Conduction patterns in the different arrangements will be assessed for better thermal management. For the purpose, a rig that can hold the particle-epoxy medium needs to be fabricated. Additionally, novel experimental rig designs may be required depending on the specific choice of materials for various arrangements of the particles within the epoxy.


Using Vesicular Dispersions for Stabilizing Suspensions of Dense Particles Against Sedimentation

Research categories:  Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: David Corti
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Materials
Desired experience:   Thermodynamics and Physical Chemistry

For many applications of colloidal dispersions or suspensions, such as inks and paints, the dispersed particles must remain suspended for long times, to maintain their expected performance. While this is often accomplished by preventing the agglomeration (sticking together) of the particles, which remain suspended by Brownian motion, the dense particles that are often used in some inks, may still settle rapidly even if they are prevented from agglomerating. We previously developed a general method for preventing dense particles from settling by using close-packed vesicular dispersions of the double-chain surfactant DDAB (didodecyldimethyl-ammonium bromide). In this project, the SURF student will help investigate the ability of DDAB vesicles prepared at different salt concentrations to stabilize high density particles. In addition, the student will help study the thermophysical properties and phase behavior of DDAB solutions as a function of the salt concentration. Working with a Ph.D. candidate, who specializes in this area, the student will learn various experimental techniques for characterizing colloidal and vesicular dispersions, including densitometry and polarizing light microscopy. The student should have a good understanding of basic Thermodynamics and physical chemistry.