Research Projects

Projects for 2017 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 2016 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


3D Printed Hydraulic Systems

Research categories:  Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Sadegh Dabiri
Number of positions: 1

The project’s main goal is to build a light and compact portable hydraulics and fluids mechanics kit to build robots and machines to promote the use of fluid power in schools and as an outreach tool for community engagement. The student will help in building 3-D printed prototypes of various hydraulic components to assemble with the kit for advancing education in: 1) hydraulic systems and 2) general fluid mechanics phenomena. The kit and curriculum will be used in workshops held at local high schools and, or community events in the greater Lafayette area and possibly the neighboring region. The project provides a great opportunity for students to have hands-on experience in design and 3D printing components and learning about hydraulic systems.


Cylindrical shells based phase transforming cellular materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Pablo Zavattieri
Preferred major(s): Civil, ME, AAE Engineering
Desired experience:   Mechanics of Materials and Structures, CAD, Matlab/Phyton/C (some coding required)
Number of positions: 1-2

Active materials like shape memory, ferroelectric and magnetostrictive alloys obtain their characteristic properties due to phase transformations. In these materials, phase transformations occur by changing the packing arrangement of the atoms in a process that resembles multistable mechanisms switching between stable configurations. A similar behavior has been observed in folded proteins in which a change in configuration (e.g. from folded to unfolded) provides the mechanism through which biological materials obtain remarkable properties such as combinations of strength and toughness, superelasticity and shock energy dissipation, among others. Phase transformations can be extended to cellular materials by introducing materials whose unit cells have multiple stable configurations. Each stable configuration of the unit cell corresponds to a phase, and transitions between these phases are interpreted as phase transformations for the material. It has been demonstrated that phase transforming cellular materials (PXCMs) offer innovative advantages for energy dissipation without relying in the inelastic behavior of its base material making PXCMs attractive for many applications like: automobiles, protective gear, or buildings.

In this project we propose to develop a new type of PXCMs based on cylindrical shells. The new PXCMs will be designed using computer-aided design (CAD) modeling software and fabricated using a 3D printer in combination with other fabrication techniques. Compression and tension tests will be conducted on testing machines to evaluate the performance of these new PXCMs. The test results will then be analyzed using scripts in any number of computer languages (e.g. MATLAB, Python, or C).


Dual-tuned traps for common-mode current suppression in multi-nuclear MRI hardware cabling

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Electronics, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering
Professor: Joseph Rispoli
Preferred major(s): Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   CAD modeling, proficiency with hand tools and soldering, and a general understanding of AC circuits
Number of positions: 1

The research is important for conducting multi-nuclear magnetic resonance imaging experiments on humans, e.g., obtaining sodium MRI visualizations of the brain in addition to typical hydrogen-based MRI. The goal is to produce a prototype device that may be reproduced and used in multiple experiments, publish a paper demonstrating the results, and the design potentially may be adopted at other medical research sites.

The student would be tasked to design a removable cable trap to suppress common mode currents at two different radio frequencies. Common mode currents are those induced on the outside of a coaxial cable's shield, are not part of the desired MRI signal, and in some situations have caused injury to MRI subjects who were mistakenly in contact with the cable while scanning.

Execution of the project will require prototyping of a simple electrical circuit, and as such will require some work with wire, cable, electrical components, and soldering. However the greater challenge may be the mechanical design of the circuit, given the geometry will affect the operation and the device must easily be clipped on and off cables.

The student is expected to lead this project, under the guidance of a graduate student and faculty member. The student is also expected to prepare a poster presentation on the results, and author a research paper if the desired results are achieved.


Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Mechanical Systems, Other
School/Dept.: ME and CE
Professor: Shirley Dyke
Preferred major(s): CE, ME, AAE or Planetary Science
Number of positions: 1-2

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 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:
- design and build a prototype habitat for a permanent human settlement on the Moon as a preliminary proof of concept.
- develop concept experiments to assess critical issues such as the challenge of pressurizing rock openings or for a cavern to survive a meteorite impact.

Construction, assembly and experimentation will be done in the laboratory, using Purdue's expertise in the emerging field of real-time hybrid simulation (RTHS). RTHS uses sub-structuring, feedback control and real-time parallel computing to break a complex system into several computational and physical subsystems, realistically allowing testing of systems that are too large to fit in a laboratory.

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.


Internal gear pumps: advanced modeling and experimental validation

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Ag & Bio Eng. / Mech. Eng.
Professor: Andrea Vacca
Preferred major(s): AA / ECE / ME / ABE
Desired experience:   Fluid mechanics (required). Hydraulic control systems (preferred). Knowledge of C++ ; LabVIEW, CAD modeling
Number of positions: 1

The Purdue's Maha Fluid Power Research Center is the largest academic research lab in fluid power in the nation. During the last years, the research center is particularly dedicated in advancing the technology of positive displacement pumps, to achieve units more compact and energy efficient. This project particularly aims at improving the performance of Gerotor units. Gerotor units are particularly successive in automotive (as transmission or fuel injection pumps) and in fluid power (charge pumps). In this project, the student will join a team of graduate students to assist the development of CFD based fluid structure interaction models for the simulation of the gerotor units. During Summer 2016, a novel test rig will be developed at Purdue for the model validation. The student will also contribute developing the test rig and its data acquisition system.


Laboratory characterization of unsteady boundary layer turbulence and flow structure

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science, Other
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Cary Troy
Preferred major(s): Civil, mechanical, or aerospace engineering
Desired experience:   Should have taken a first course in fluid mechanics; Matlab experience is necessary; and experience on the water is desirable but not required. Students who are good working with their hands, tools, and the machine shop are also very welcome to our lab.
Number of positions: 1

The objective of this project is to produce and analyze preliminary data associated with unsteady, oscillatory boundary layers. Unsteady boundary layers are ubiquitous in the environment, including tidal flows, water waves, and the atmospheric boundary layer. They are also important in a variety of engineered flows over surfaces. The successful student applicant will be in charge of designing, setting up, carrying out, and analyzing experiments in two of our large-scale water flow facilities: (1) a 10m long research flume; (2) a 50m long wave basin, which is a brand new Purdue facility that has not been used. Students will perform measurements on turbulence and velocity structure using a range of state-of-the-art instruments, including acoustic doppler current profilers.


Laser Diagnostics Applied to Reacting Fluid Flows for Propulsion Devices

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Terry Meyer
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Aerospace, or Chemical Engineering; Physics; Chemistry
Desired experience:   Physics, chemistry, and mathematics courses
Number of positions: 1

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.


Life Cycle Analysis of Consumer Goods

Research categories:  Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Thomas Siegmund
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   A basic materials engineering course, a basic design course
Number of positions: 1

Materials are central to nearly all engineered systems humans use. Our selection of engineered solutions is dependent on and influenced by material availability and material selection.

Using examples of plastic vs. paper grocery bags, bottled vs. tap water, single serve coffee vs. drip coffee we will investigate material use choices, subsequent energy and CO2 balance. Based on these outcomes we will build new and improved design solutions.

More information:


Mechanics of Cutting

Research categories:  Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Thomas Siegmund
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Materials Engineering
Number of positions: 1

Cutting materials is an fundamental human activity. In this project we aim to develop, build and test an instrumented cutting experiments. We aim to measure the cutting forces and cutting blade wear. There is an industry relevant application as well.

More information:


Mobile Microrobotics

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Innovative Technology/Design, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: David Cappelleri
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering / Electrical & Computer Engineering
Desired experience:   Must be US citizen for this project. ME students should have programming and electronics experience.
Number of positions: 1

Mobile microrobots offer unprecedented capabilities for observing and interacting with the world that are not possible with conventional macro-scale systems. A critical issue in the design of mobile microrobots is the generation of wireless power and methods of converting that power into locomotion. We have successfully used externally applied magnetic fields for the power and actuation of individual magnetic mobile microrobots. We have also come up with novel tumbling microrobot designs to overcome the challenge of large surface forces at the micro-scale. In the case of multiple microrobots, all the robots in the workspace will be exposed to identical control signals. Thus, in order to achieve different behaviors from individual robots needed for advanced manufacturing tasks, there must be either significant variation in their design or in the magnetic control signals applied to each microrobot. Therefore, we are have also created a specialized control substrate for local targeting of the magnetic forces at a fine resolution to be able to independently control multiple microrobots at the same time.

In this project, the SURF student will work with graduate students and a post-doc to design and test new mobile microrobot designs with various in-house magnetic manipulation systems for advanced manufacturing and biomedical applications. The student should be proficient in C-based language programming, Matlab, image processing, hardware interfacing, and 3D printing.

More information:


Purdue AirSense: Creating a State-of-the-Art Air Pollution Monitoring Network for Purdue

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Educational Research/Social Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Industrial Engineering, Innovative Technology/Design, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): Any engineering, science or human health major.
Desired experience:   Motivation to learn about, and solve, environmental, climate, and human health issues facing our planet. Past experience: working in the lab, analytical chemistry, programming (Matlab, Python, Java, LabVIEW, HTML), electronics/circuits, sensors.
Number of positions: 1-2

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in the world and responsible for 7 million deaths each year. Poor air quality is a serious issue in rapidly growing megacities and inside the homes of nearly 3 billion people that rely on solid fuels for cooking and heating. Join our team and help create a new, multidisciplinary air quality monitoring network for Purdue - Purdue AirSense. You will have the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art air quality instrumentation and emerging sensor technologies to monitor O3, CO, NOx, and tiny airborne particulate matter across the campus. We are creating a central site to track these pollutants in real-time on the roof-top of Hampton Hall, as well as a website to stream the data to the entire Purdue community for free. 4-5 students will be recruited to work as a team on this project, which is led by Profs. Brandon Boor (CE) & Greg Michalski (EAPS).


Structural Stability of Cylindrical Steel Storage Tanks

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Lyles School of Civil Engineering
Professor: Sukru Guzey
Preferred major(s): Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering
Desired experience:   Statics, Dynamics, Mechanics of Materials, Structural Analysis
Number of positions: 1

Cylindrical steel storage tanks are essential parts of infrastructure and industrial facilities used to store liquids and granular bulk solids. 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. Failure of a tank may cause catastrophic consequences.

The internal hydrostatic pressure due to the stored liquid results in tensile circumferential stress in the steel plates forming the shell. Because the resultant circumferential stress is tension and not compression, the yielding and tensile rupture criteria are the main concern. Analysis and design principles to account tensile stresses due to hydrostatic pressure is well established (Azzuni and Guzey 2015).

External wind pressure is also a load effect for the design of cylindrical storage tanks. When a tank is empty, it is vulnerable to buckling due to external wind pressure. This buckling failure mode is addressed by increasing the overall stiffness of the structure by adding stiffener rings to the shell. However, current design specifications in North America and Europe are overly conservative for the sizing of the stiffener rings (Godoy, 2016). The current design rules for sizing the top stiffener ring is based on intuition and experience. Although some researchers suggested some analytical justifications (Adams, 1975), these justifications are based on a number of assumptions which are based on the yielding criteria of the stiffener ring and not the buckling criteria.

In this study we shall investigate analytical, semi-analytical and computational procedures to obtain a more robust and resilient design of cylindrical storage tanks due to external wind loading. We shall use classical thin shell theory to obtain an upper bound buckling capacity of cylindrical tanks under wind loading. We shall use Raleigh-Ritz methods to obtain a simple semi-analytical buckling expressions. In addition, we shall investigate the storage tanks using finite element analysis with the use of geometrically nonlinear analysis including imperfections (GNIA). With the GNIA we shall establish a lower bound buckling capacity of these tanks. Finally, we shall compare our results with the available experimental physical testing of the cylindrical tanks and suggest a new design procedure. 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.

Azzuni, E. and S. Guzey (2015). "Comparison of the shell design methods for cylindrical liquid storage tanks." Engineering Structures 101: 621-630.
L. A. Godoy (2016). "Buckling of vertical oil storage steel tanks: Review of static buckling studies." Thin-Walled Structures, 103: 1-21.
J. H. Adams (1975). "A study of wind girder requirements for large API 650 floating roof tanks." Refining, 40th mid-year meeting, American Petroleum Institute, 16-75.