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 2018 Research Symposium Abstracts.

2019 projects will continue to be posted through January!

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:

Physical Science

 

Adhesives at the Beach

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Environmental Science, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Department of Chemistry
Professor: Jonathan Wilker
Preferred major(s): Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Materials Engineering
Desired experience:   This project will involve aspects of marine biology (e.g., working with live mussels), materials engineering (e.g., measuring mechanical properties of adhesives), and chemistry (e.g., making surfaces with varied functionalities). Few people at any level will come in with knowledge about all aspects here. Consequently we are looking for adventurous students who are wanting to roll up their sleeves, get wet (literally), and learn several new things.

The oceans are home to a diverse collection of animals producing intriguing materials. Mussels, barnacles, oysters, starfish, and kelp are examples of the organisms generating adhesive matrices for affixing themselves to the sea floor. Our laboratory is characterizing these biological materials, designing synthetic polymer mimics, and developing applications. Characterization efforts include experiments with live animals, extracted proteins, and peptide models. Synthetic mimics of these bioadhesives begin with the chemistry learned from characterization studies and incorporate the findings into bulk polymers. For example, we are mimicking the cross-linking of DOPA-containing adhesive proteins by placing monomers with pendant catechols into various polymer backbones. Adhesion strengths of these new polymers can rival that of the cyanoacrylate “super glues.” Underwater bonding is also appreciable. In order to design higher performing synthetic materials we must, first, learn all of the tricks used by nature when making adhesives. Future efforts for this coming summer will revolve around work with live mussels. Plans for experiments include changing the water, surfaces, and other environmental conditions around the animals. Mechanical performance of the resulting adhesives will be quantified and compared. Microscopy and other methods will be used to further understand the factors that dictate how these fascinating biological materials can function under such demanding conditions.

 

Indoor Air Pollution Research: From Nano to Bio

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Life Science, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): Students from all majors are welcome to apply.
Desired experience:   Interest in studying contaminant transport in the environment, human health, air pollution, HVAC and building systems, microbiology, nanotechnology, and atmospheric science. Experience working in a laboratory setting with analytical equipment and coding with MATLAB, Python, and/or R. Passionate about applying engineering fundamentals to solve real-world problems.

Airborne particulate matter, or aerosols, represent a fascinating mixture of tiny, suspended liquid and solid particles that can span in size from a single nanometer to tens of micrometers. Human exposure to aerosols of indoor and outdoor origin is responsible for adverse health effects, including mortality and morbidity due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The majority of our respiratory encounters with aerosols occurs indoors, where we spend 90% of our time. Through the SURF program, you will work on several ongoing research projects exploring the dynamics of nanoaerosols and bioaerosols in buildings and their HVAC systems.

Nanoaerosols are particles smaller than 100 nm in size. With each breath of indoor air, we inhale several million nanoaerosols. These nano-sized particles penetrate deep into our respiratory systems and can translocate to the brain via the olfactory bulb. These tiny particles are especially toxic to the human body and have been associated with various deleterious toxicological outcomes, such as oxidative stress and chronic inflammation in lung cells. Bioaerosols represent a diverse mixture of microbes (bacteria, fungi) and allergens (pollen, mite feces). Exposure to bioaerosols plays a significant role in both the development of, and protection against, asthma, hay fever, and allergies.

Your role will be to conduct measurements of nanoaerosols and bioaerosols in laboratory experiments at the Purdue Herrick Laboratories, as well as participate in a field campaign at Indiana University - Bloomington in collaboration with an atmospheric chemistry research group. You will learn how to use state-of-the-art air quality instrumentation and perform data processing and analysis in MATLAB.

More information: https://www.brandonboor.com/

 

Lake Michigan Ecosystem Modeling

Research categories:  Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Environmental Science, Mechanical Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Cary Troy
Preferred major(s): Civil, Environmental, or Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   Proficiency in Matlab; Good communication skills, written and oral; Exposure to differential equations

This is an NSF-funded project examining the role of turbulence in the Lake Michigan ecosystem. Particularly, the project is quantifying the interactions between water column turbulence and the ability of invasive quagga mussels to filter nutrients and plankton out of the water column. The SURF research will involve the development of a 1-D biogeochemical model that models the temporal and vertical distribution of nutrients (e.g. phosphorus), phytoplankton, and zooplankton in Lake Michigan. The successful SURF applicant will be responsible for the coding and development of the model in Matlab, as well as potentially participating in data collection on Lake Michigan and the analysis of this data.

 

Multiphase Fluid Flows in Tight Spaces

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Ivan Christov
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Computational Science
Desired experience:   1. Thorough understanding of undergraduate fluid mechanics. 2. Programming experience with high-level language such as Python or MATLAB. 3. Experience with shell/command-line environments in Linux/Unix; specifically, remote login, file transfers, etc. 4. Experience researching difficult questions whose answers are not found in a textbook. 5. Desire to learn about new fluid mechanics phenomena and expand computational skillset.

Multiphase flows are fluid flows involving multiple fluids, multiple phases of the same fluid, and any situation in which the dynamics of an interface between dissimilar fluids must be understood. Examples include water displacing hydrocarbons in secondary oil recovery, a mixtures of particle-laden fluids being injected into a hydraulically fractured reservoirs ("fracking"), introduction of air into the lungs of pre-maturely born infants to re-open their liquid-filled lungs and airways, and a whole host of other physico-chemical processes in biological and industrial applications.

The goal of this SURF project will be to study, using computational tools such as ANSYS Workbench and/or the OpenFOAM platform, how multiphase flows behave in tight spaces. To accomplish this goal, the SURF student will work with a PhD student. Specifically the dynamics of interfaces between different phases and/or fluids will be studied through numerical simulation, and the effect of the flow passage geometry will be addressed. Some questions that we seek to address are whether/how geometric variations can stabilize or destabilize an interface and whether/how geometry affects the final distribution of particles in particle-laden multiphase flow passing through a constriction/expansion. Applications of these effects to biological and industrial flows will be explored quantitatively and qualitatively.

More information: http://tmnt-lab.org

 

Optimization of Quantum Circuits for Noisy Environments

Research categories:  Electronics, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: ECE
Professor: Andrew Weiner
Preferred major(s): Electrical Engineering, Physics or any closely related major
Desired experience:   (a) Experience using Matlab or Python for instrument control is strongly preferred. (b) Electricity and Magnetism coursework preferred

Our research group works on encoding and processing quantum information in the frequency domain. The platform we work with – biphoton frequency combs (BFCs) – are photon pairs that are entangled in time and energy (frequency). We use commercial hardware like phase modulators and pulse shapers for quantum state preparation and manipulation. Some recent demonstrations include measurement of high dimensional frequency-bin entanglement and tunable quantum gates, among others. Our current efforts are focused on developing quantum circuits to simulate the dynamics of molecules.

The SURF student’s contribution would be as follows:
(1) Develop an instrument control interface to automate the process of quantum state preparation. In particular, we often use commercial pulse shapers to “carve” BFCs from a continuous down conversion spectrum. However, carving a BFCs requires precise positioning of frequency bins in order to ensure that one passes energy-matched (anti-correlated in frequency) comb line pairs. The student would automate this process by interfacing with the pump laser, pulse shaper, and single photon detectors and implementing appropriate instrument control.

(2) What we often measure in our quantum experiments is coincident single photon detection events or, simply, coincidences. However, the number of coincidences depends on factors like loss in the experimental system, the timing jitter of single photon detectors, and the resolution of the timing electronics. The student will carry out a systematic study to evaluate the effect of these factors on the coincidence rate out of a quantum circuit and make recommendations on how to optimize the detection system for high coincidence rates or high coincidence-to-accidental ratios (analogous to signal to noise ratio).

 

Photonic Component Design for Quantum and Classical Information Processing

Research categories:  Electronics, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: ECE
Professor: Andrew Weiner
Preferred major(s): Electrical Engineering, Physics or any closely related major
Desired experience:   (a) U.S. citizenship, (b) Electricity and Magnetism coursework preferred

Photons are ideal carriers of quantum information because they are robust against decoherence and are compatible with fiber optic networks. Our research group works on encoding and processing quantum information in the frequency domain. One limitation of conventional or bulk optical equipment is that these devices have high optical losses, which is a major issue for applications in the quantum regime. We recently designed photonic integrated circuits to implement elementary quantum gates and carry out operations like parallel single qubit rotations.

The SURF student’s contribution would be as follows:
(1) Design and simulate photonic elements (microresonators for generation of Kerr and quantum frequency combs, pulse shapers, etc.) for our next round of chip fabrication. The student will be given performance specifications and be expected to use analytical expressions, as well as FDTD and/or FEM simulation tool, and come up with recommendation for appropriate device geometries.

(2) Characterize on-chip optical devices/systems and relate actual performance in our first batch of chips to the original design specifications. Depending on the student’s level of experience, he/she will collect data from our testbed, compare it to the design specifications, and draw appropriate inferences from the data.

 

Processing of innovative satellite remote sensing data for ocean and snow remote sensing

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): ECE, AAE, Physics, EAPS
Desired experience:   Good programming skills, signal processing (ECE 301 or AAE301). Experience with software defined radio (USRP) will be a plus.

Reflectometry is a new approach to Earth remote sensing in microwave frequencies, using reflections of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS, e.g. GPS, Galileo, etc ...) signals from land and ocean surfaces as illumination source in a bistatic radar configuration. Through observing measurable changes in the properties of these signals, various features of the reflecting surfaces can be inferred.

Ocean surface winds is the most developed application for GNSS-Reflectometry (GNSS-R), with the launch of the CYGNSS constellation by NASA in 2016. CYGNSS data has been collected during the 2017 and 2018 Hurricane seasons, showing some capability for wind field measurements at a high spatial resolution. New models and algorithms are required, however, to optimally process these data and extract wind vectors with high sensitivity, especially at the higher wind speeds present in hurricanes. Development of these new models and algorithms requires the collection of high-quality data under carefully controlled conditions along with in situ training data provided by independent sources. With this goal in mind, Purdue has developed a wideband GNSS-R signal recorder which will be flown on the P-3 “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft operated by NOAA. This aircraft is capable of operating in extremely high winds and penetrating the Hurricane eye wall, in order to collect data inside developing tropical cyclones. GNSS-R data collected in this experiment will be compared with wind speed observations from other instruments on the P-3 aircraft, other satellite data, and model results. These comparisons will be used to develop and improved model for the extraction of ocean winds from CYGNSS and future satellite missions.

Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) is a representation of the total water stored in the snow pack. This is an important climate variable for the prediction of fresh water supplies as well as applications such as hydroelectric power. A new application of GNSS-R is measuring SWE as a change in phase of the reflected signal, a result of the slower propagation of the signal through the snow layer. Spaceborne measurements of SWE using GNSS-R have never been conducted. Special collections of CYGNSS data were conducted this year, in which raw signals (no on-board processing or compression) were collected in arcs spanning snow-covered regions in the Himalayan mountains.

SURF projects are proposed to support these two research goals for CYGNSS data. Both will involve extensive programming and data processing, using a “software defined radio” method that essentially implements all signal processing in software to operate on the full-spectrum of the recorded signal.

Applicants should have very strong programming skills, some knowledge of basic signal processing.

 

Remote sensing of soil moisture and forest biomass using P-band Signals of Opportunity: Model development and experimental validation

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): ECE, AAE, Physics, ABE
Desired experience:   Basic signal processing (AAE 301 or ECE 301 or equivalent) desired. Students should know how to use basic hand tools, and be willing to work outdoors in agricultural or forest environments. A drivers license and reliable access to a car is required for field work.

Root Zone Soil Moisture (RZSM), defined as the water profile in the top meter of soil where most plant absorption occurs, is an important environmental variable for understanding the global water cycle, forecasting droughts and floods, and agricultural management. No existing satellite remote sensing instrument can measure RZSM. Sensing below the top few centimeters of soil, often through dense vegetation, requires the use of microwave frequencies below 500 MHz, a frequency range known as “P-band”. A P-band microwave radiometer would require an aperture diameter larger than 10 meters. Launching such a satellite into orbit will present big and expensive technical challenge, certainly not feasible for a low-cost small satellite mission. This range for frequencies is also heavily utilized for UHF/VHF communications, presenting an enormous amount of radio frequency interference (RFI). Competition for access to this spectrum also makes it difficult to obtain the required license to use active radar for scientific use.

Signals of opportunity (SoOp) are being studied as alternatives to active radars or passive radiometry. SoOp re-utilizes existing powerful communication satellite transmissions as “free” sources of illumination, measuring the change in the signal after reflecting from soil surface. In this manner, SoOp methods actually make use of the very same transmissions that would cause interference in traditional microwave remote sensing. Communication signal processing methods are used in SoOp, enabling high quality measurements to be obtained with smaller, lower gain, antennas.

Under NASA funding, Purdue and the Goddard Space Flight Center have developed an airborne prototype P-band remote sensing instrument to demonstrate the feasibility of a future satellite version. Complementing this technology development, a field campaign will be conducted for its third year the Purdue Agricultural research fields. This campaign will make reflected signal measurements from towers installed over instrumented fields. Measurements will be obtained over bare soil first, and then throughout the corn or soybean growth cycle. Complementing these remote sensing measurements, a comprehensive set of ground-truth data will also be collected for use in developing models and verifying their performance.

In Spring 2019 an additional experiment, using a small Unpiloted Aerial Vehicle (UAV), will be conducted in a forested area in collaboration with the School of Forestry and Natural Resources (FRN).

Work under this project will involve installing microwave electronic equipment in the field, writing software for signal and data processing, and making field measurements of soil moisture and vegetation properties.

Students interested in this project should have good programming skills and some experience with C, python and MATLAB. They should also have a strong background in basic signal processing. Experience with building computers or other electronic equipment will also be an advantage. Students should be willing to work outdoors and have an interest in applying their skills to solving problems in the Earth sciences, environment, or agriculture.

The project will involve regular travel to and from the local research field, so students should have a driving license and access to a car.

 

ThermoConc as a Building Envelope for Electricity Generation and Space Heating and Cooling

Research categories:  Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Ming Qu
Preferred major(s): Material engineering or mechanical engineering
Desired experience:   1. Good skills with experiments and data acquisition; 2. Good writing and presentation skills; 3. Solid background in thermoelectric theory.

NSF research project aims to create a new strategy to reduce building energy consumption while enhancing thermal comfort by using thermoelectric concrete envelope to heat or cool indoor space without the need of additional power source. The student will help to characterize the new TE Concrete and evaluate the performance of ThermoConc both theoretically and practically.