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:

Mechanical Systems


Characterization of Bubble Detachment Process

Research categories:  Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Jun Chen
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   Good GPA in Mechanical Engineering; Strong interest in fluids research and hands-on experimental work; Basics of programming (C, Matlab, or Python).

Understanding the bubble detachment is crucial for studying cavitation and other engineering applications. Our research focuses on the quantitative characterization of this fast-varying process in lab experiments. The scope of this SURF project ranges from design and assembly of the experimental set up, taking high-speed photos, and applying particle image velocimetry to measure the detailed flow field at different phases. The student will gain first-hand multidisciplinary research experience by working with a group of faculty and graduate students.


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.


Development of a machine learning tool to optimize thermal transport

Research categories:  Computational/Mathematical, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Xiulin Ruan
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Materials Sciences
Desired experience:   Knowledge of heat transfer and nanotechnology is a plus but not required.

Many heat transfer applications, such as thermoelectric energy conversion, thermal barrier coatings, and thermal management of electronics, require the optimization of thermal conductivity of the material to reach minimum or maximum. Conventionally, such optimization was done by exhausting different structures and compositions of the materials, hence it is a time consuming and even impractical task. Here, we aim to develop a machine-learning based optimization tool to minimize the thermal conductivity of a nanostructure called superlattice. By modeling a limited number of material structures and learn from the results, machine-learning will guide the design to new structures with likely better properties. The goal is to reach the same optimum design by searching only a fraction of the entire design space. We will convert a in-house code to a nanoHUB simulation tool.


Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering
Professor: Shirley Dyke
Preferred major(s): ME, AAE, CE or Planetary Science
Desired experience:   Students interested in this project should have good programming skills and some experience in MATLAB and Simulink.

There is growing interest from Space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency in establishing permanent human settlements outside Earth. However, even a very cursory inspection of the proposals uncovers fatal flaws in their conceptual design. The buildings may not be able to support the load demands, which should include potential impact from meteorites and/or the seismic motions induced by such an impact, and perhaps most importantly, the materials used as cover for radiation protection may be radioactive themselves. Ongoing research interest focuses on mitigating astronauts' health and performance in space exploration and has neglected the largely unexplored needs regarding the habitat and infrastructure required on extraterrestrial bodies. Their design and sustainability represents a multidisciplinary engineering and scientific grand challenge for humanity. In a context of extreme environments, it is especially important to design buildings whether for habitation, laboratory or manufacturing, that are capable of responding to prevailing conditions not only as a protective measure, but also to enable future generations to thrive under such conditions.

Participating undergraduate researchers would be tasked to design and develop the following areas:
• a system resilience framework for analyzing, exploring and comparing the behavior and growth of various extraterrestrial habitat system designs subjected to working and extreme conditions
• an experimental platform to investigate the geological formation of sublunarean structures (lava tubes, as potential places for future habitats) and study the effect of different mechanical and geometrical parameters on the formation of the tubes in lunar conditions

We are looking for students to play key roles in this project, under the guidance of a graduate student and faculty members. The students are also expected to prepare a poster presentation on the results, and author a research paper if the desired results are achieved.

More information:


Laser Diagnostics Applied to Reacting Fluid Flows for Propulsion Devices

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Terry Meyer
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Aerospace, or Chemical Engineering; Physics; Chemistry

Propulsion, transportation, and energy systems rely on the turbulent mixing and efficient chemical reaction of fuels and oxidizers. Such reactions can take place in the liquid, gas, or solid phases and are investigated using sophisticated imaging and spectroscopic techniques. The undergraduate research assistant will work with graduate students and research faculty to assemble and operate flow hardware, align and test optical diagnostic instrumentation, and help collect and analyze data acquired using such techniques. The flows are designed to simulate conditions that are present in a variety of practical devices. The student will gain valuable hands-on experience and theoretical background that will be of use in a variety of fields related to mechanical, aerospace, and chemical engineering, as well as gain insight into potential areas of research for graduate study.


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.


Purdue AirSense: An Air Pollution Sensing Network for West Lafayette

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Innovative Technology/Design, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): The position is open to students from all STEM disciplines.
Desired experience:   Proficient in Python, Java, MATLAB; experience with Raspberry Pi or Arduino.

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in the world and responsible for 7 million deaths each year. We are presently developing a new air pollution sensing network for the Purdue campus to monitor and analyze air pollutants in real-time. We are recruiting an undergraduate student to assist with the development of our Raspberry Pi-based air quality sensor module. You will be responsible for integrating the Raspberry Pi with air quality sensors, developing laboratory calibration protocols, building an environmental enclosure for the sensors, creating modules on our website for real-time data analysis and visualization, and maintaining state-of-the-art aerosol instrumentation at our central air quality monitoring site at the Purdue Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE).


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.


Seismic Design of Aboveground Storage Tanks

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Sukru Guzey
Preferred major(s): Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering
Desired experience:   Statics (CE 297 or similar), Dynamics (CE 298 or similar), Mechanics of Materials (Strength of materials) (CE 270 or similar)

Cylindrical steel storage tanks are essential parts of infrastructure and industrial facilities used to store liquids. There are millions of welded steel tanks in the world storing flammable and or hazardous liquids in the petroleum, petrochemical, chemical and food industries across the world. Mechanical integrity and safe operation of these tanks very important because failure or loss of containment of such tanks may have catastrophic consequences to the human life and the environment. There are many procedures given in design standards to withstand the possible load effects, such as the hydrostatic pressure of the stored liquid, the external wind pressure, internal and external pressures due to process, and seismic events.

Investigators have a relatively well understanding on the load effects due to the hydrostatic, wind, and external/internal pressures due to process during normal operating levels. However, behavior of large, aboveground, steel, welded, liquid storage tanks under the presence of seismic loads introduce several critical failure criteria to the structure not exhibited during normal operating levels. Although many researchers investigated the liquid containers under dynamic excitations, the research on this subject still active. The bottleneck of this research topic is the intricate interplay between the flexible thin-walled tank wall and bottom, liquid inside the container, and the reinforced concrete or soil foundation supporting the container. Although, are many relatively recent research efforts, there is still a gap to find a viable solution to this problem.

To address this gap, the aim of this work is to perform a study on seismic design of aboveground storage tanks. Dr. Guzey with a team of one doctoral student and one undergraduate SURF student, shall perform analytical and numerical studies to study the behavior of liquid containers under dynamics excitations. We shall conduct numerical experiments using different levels of complexity and fidelity of multi-physics of these containers and compare the results to available analytical solutions, physical tests and current design standards. The undergraduate SURF student will work under the mentorship of Dr. Guzey and a graduate student. The SURF student compile a literature review, perform numerical simulations using FEA computer program ABAQUS, and write scientific research papers and conference presentations.


Self-Learning Mobile Hydraulic Equipment

Research categories:  Agricultural, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Educational Research/Social Science, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Agricultural & Biological Engineering/Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Monika Ivantysynova
Desired experience:   Senior, MATLAB, statistics, Excel, proficiency in presentation skill, and a basic understanding of instrumentation. A knowledge in hydraulics is a plus.

Failures rarely occur at convenient times, especially on mobile equipment, such as excavators, tree skidders, agricultural tractors, mining equipment, airplanes, etc. Hydraulic failures in the field often cause costly repairs that also result in significant machine downtime. The failures can potentially be life-threatening. Manufacturers and equipment operators desire a solution to predict failures before they occur. This area of research is known as prognostics. The machine compares real-time data and stored data to determine the “health” of the hydraulic pumps and motors. The SURF student would assist the graduate student mentor in collecting machine data from mobile hydraulic machines and create an algorithm to determine the “healthy” state of the hydraulic pumps and motors. Data analysis, data clustering, and machine self-learning are topics that will be used in this research.

Please note: Research lab location is in Lafayette. Student is responsible for their own transportation.


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.