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:



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.


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.


Experimental Optics of Quantum Emitters

Research categories:  Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Professor: Zubin Jacob
Preferred major(s): Physics or Electrical Engineering
Desired experience:   One course on electromagnetic waves. Experimental experience in machining, optics, instrument control, microcontroller programming, instrument-matlab interfaces etc. is very useful.

This project deals with understanding optical properties of quantum emitters. The undergraduate student will work in the Birck Nanotechnology Center Experimental laboratory in Quantum Optics. This work can lead to novel light sources with quantum properties beyond traditional lasers. It is expected that the student will have considerable interest in daily experimental work in understanding lenses, mirrors, aligning lasers, machine-shop 3D printing etc. etc. The interested student will work with a team of motivated PhD students and post-doctoral scholars for a productive summer. More details can be found at


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.


Micro/nano scale 3D laser printing

Research categories:  Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Xianfan Xu
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   Junior or Senior standing, GPA > 3.5

The ability to create 3D structures in the micro and nanoscale is important in many fields including electronics, microfluidics, and tissue engineering and is an emerging area of research and development. This project deals with the development and testing of a setup for building microscopic 3D structures with the help of a femtosecond laser. A method known as two photon polymerization is typically used to fabricate such structures in which a polymer is exposed to laser and at the point of the exposure the polymer changes its structure. Moving the laser in a predefined path helps in getting the desired shape and the structures are then built in a layer by layer fashion. The setup incorporates all the steps from a designing a CAD model file to slicing the model in layers to generating the motion path of the laser needed for fabricating the structure. In order to make a solid and stable structure, investigation of better materials and optimization of the process parameters is needed. Besides, possible improvements to the control algorithms used in the setup can be done to increase the efficiency of the process and build the structures faster.


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).


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.