Research Projects

This is a list of research projects that may have opportunities for undergraduate students. You can browse all the projects, or view only projects in the following categories:

Material Science and Engineering


3D Printed Nanostructures: Thermal and Thermoelectric Applications

Research categories:  Chemical, Electronics, Innovative Technology/Design, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Amy Marconnet
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Chemical, Materials, or Electrical Engineering
Desired experience:   Courses in chemistry, heat transfer, and fluid mechanics. Experience with programming arduino or raspberry pi type systems. Familiarity with CAD software and general computer programming skills.
Number of positions: 1 or 2

Nanostructured materials are enabling technological advances, but fabrication costs can mitigate performance improvements. Solution synthesis of nanoparticles is a low-cost, high-throughput method for generating nanostructures. Combined with inkjet and\or 3d printing technology these nanoinks can be formed into on demand devices. In this project, students will develop a technique for printing thermoelectric devices and metallic heater/electrode lines for thermal analyses.


Bio-inspired phase transforming cellular materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Pablo Zavattieri
Preferred major(s): CE, ME, AAE, MSE, IE
Desired experience:   - Background in mechanics of materials is a must. Background and some experience on mechanical tests is desired, but not necessary. - CAD software
Number of positions: 1 or 2 depending on available funding

In this project we will investigate some concepts of bioinspired phase transforming cellular materials (PXCM).The main advantage of PTCMs over traditional cellular materials used for structural applications is that energy dissipation on these materials do not rely on plastic deformation, therefore, these material recover its original shape after the load has been released.

In particular we will focus on the exploration of 3D new designs and bio-inspired mechanisms. The research tasks will be related to the design, mechanics, fabrication (3D printing) and final mechanical testing.


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: 3-5

The Center for Materials Under Extreme Environment (CMUXE) is looking for undergraduate research students for the following areas:

1. Materials modification and nanostructuring by energetic ion beams
2. Nanostructuring by ultrafast lasers
3. High energy density physics in ultrafast laser laboratory
4. Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy
5. Experimental and computational studies of non-thermal plasmas for biological applications
6. Computational modeling of physics processes for various plasma applications; in laser, discharge, and fusion devices

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.

Position is open to undergraduates in all engineering and science disciplines. High level commitments and participation in group meeting are compulsory. Interested candidates are encouraged to visit the center website below for further information.


Characterization of Fiber Reinforced Composite Materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Sangid Michael
Preferred major(s): AAE, ME, MSE, IE, ChE, CE, NE, CS
Desired experience:   Preferably junior standing
Number of positions: 2

We are looking for motivated, hard-working undergraduate students interested in experimental composite materials research. This position is on a team investigating fiber orientation and length measurements in thermoplastic composites. These long fiber composites have a direct application to replace steel and aluminum structural alloys in the aerospace and automotive industries. Our team is comprised of Pacific Northwest National Lab, Autodesk, Plasticomp, Magna, Toyota, University of Illinois, and Purdue. Applicants will work under the mentorship of a graduate student and faculty member. The position includes hands on specimen preparation, in the form of extracting and polishing samples for fiber orientation measurements and melting samples and isolating the pertinent fibers for length measurements.


Crystal Engineering of Organic Crystals

Research categories:  Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Industrial & Physical Pharmacy
Professor: Tonglei Li
Preferred major(s): chemistry, chemical engineering
Number of positions: 1

Crystallization of organic materials plays a central role in drug development. Mechanistic understanding of nucleation and crystal growth remains primitive and scantily developed despite decades of investigation. Of the same organic molecule, distinct crystal structures can be routinely formed. The intricacy of the so-called polymorphism largely originates from the rich and unpredictable supramolecular tessellations supported by intermolecular interactions. The subtleties in strength and directionality of the interactions are controlled by structural diversity and conformational flexibility of molecule. In fact, it is these molecular interactions that make organic crystal structures fascinating as it is unlikely to predict crystal structures of a given organic molecule a priori.

In this project, the student will learn how to grow drug crystals, characterize them, and connect the structural outcome with crystallization conditions. It is expected that the student will conduct both experimental and computational studies in order to understand formation mechanisms of drug crystals.

More information:


Development of Theranostic Drug Delivery Systems for Cancer Treatment

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Industrial & Physical Pharmacy
Professor: Tonglei Li
Preferred major(s): chemistry, chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, biological engineering
Number of positions: 1

Drug delivery for cancer therapy is far from being satisfactory. A significant portion of potential drug compounds fail to enter the clinic because they cannot be formulated and delivered by existing approaches. Many clinically used formulations are poorly designed, bearing significant adverse effects and limiting treatment efficacy. Over the last few years, nanotechnology has been embraced for developing novel drug delivery systems to combat diseases such as cancer and infection. In our laboratory, we have been developing multicomponent nanocrystals to deliver cytotoxic agents along with bioimaging probes to treat and detect tumors. In this project, the delivery system will be fully tested in vitro and in vivo in order to understand the pharmacokinetic and biodistribution properties and to further improve the formulation design. In particular, the student will be learning and conducting cellular uptake experiment and help graduate students in their animal studies. It is expected that the student will gain a basic understanding of drug delivery for cancer and comprehend the current challenges in cancer therapy. The student will also learn the underlying design principles of our delivery system and, hopefully, provide meaningful suggestions for improvement.


Grain Boundary Migration in NiO-MgO Alloys

Research categories:  Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: MSE
Professor: John Blendell
Preferred major(s): MSE
Desired experience:   Hands-on laboratory experience, characterization experience, XRD, optical, SEM
Number of positions: 1

The NiO-MgO system shows a transition in the faceting behavior with composition due to changes in the interfacial energy anisotropy. The effect of interface energy anisotropy on grain boundary mobility and overall microstructural development has not been studied and models of the effects are not well developed. The investigation of this effect requires fine grained, high purity, fully dense samples. There are many challenges involved in the production of the necessary samples. This ranges from the production of alloyed powders with the minimum final particle and agglomerate size to producing sintered samples with minimum grain size.

This project will focus on the production of high purity, fully dense NiO-MgO solid solution samples of varying compositions. A powders synthesis technique using a citrate route has been developed and the student will study the effect of processing conditions on the particle size. In addition, the student will determine the effect of different sintering techniques (pressureless, hot-pressing, SPS, and flash sintering) on the final grain size and density. The student will also study the effect of different atmospheres on the sintering process. The project will involve experimental work with powder processing, sintering and material characterization.


Transverse Impact Testing of Body Armor

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Weinong Chen
Preferred major(s): School of Mechanical Engineering, School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Desired experience:   An ideal candidate is one who: has experience with mechanical design and is interested in understanding high-rate deformation of materials and material systems. He/she must also be comfortable working in an environment that requires shooting body armor systems with projectiles that are commonly encountered by police officers in the line of duty. During the summer, the student will work closely with a graduate student who will be leading the experimentation. If interested, a brief tour of the facility can be given before agreeing to work on the project.
Number of positions: 2

The Dynamic Mechanics Research Laboratory is interested in investigating the effect of the rate of deformation on the properties of materials and structures. The goal of this project is to determine the effect of projectile/bullet impact onto woven armor systems, typically composed of either Kevlar or Dyneema.
As a SURF intern, your project is to assist and eventually lead a series of testing procedures aimed at describing the deformation and damage incurred in bullet-resistant body armor when impacted via ballistic projectiles. Basic understanding will be gained of high strain-rate (ballistic transverse impact), along with actual testing in this regime.


nanoHUB Research in Nanoscale Science and Engineering

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; Physics; Computer Science
Desired experience:   Serious interest in and enjoyment of programming, programming skills in any language, physics coursework.
Number of positions: 15-20

Join the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) team and help build the growing set of resources being used in all Top 50 Colleges of Engineering (US News & World Report rankings) and by over 300,000 annual users in 172 countries. nanoHUB provides over 340 simulation tools that users run from a web browser in a scientific computing cloud. You will work with one of the NCN collaborative investigators, such as Professors Gerhard Klimeck, Ale Strachan, or Peter Bermel.

SURF students learn the Rappture ( toolkit that makes it quick and easy to develop powerful, interactive, web-based applications. These skills are utilized by working with nanotechnologists to put their applications and supporting information on As part of our team, you will be engaged in the National Science Foundation-funded effort that is connecting theory, experiment and computation in a way that makes a difference for the future of nanotechnology and the future of scientific communities. Other undergraduate researchers before you have each been able to literally impact thousands of nanoHUB users (for an example, see; join their legacy and create something that will build your own skills and will help others.