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:

Physical Science


2D nanostructures for energy application

Research categories:  Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Chemistry
Professor: Libai Huang
Preferred major(s): Chemistry, Chemical Engineering
Number of positions: 1

Energy transport will be studied across multiple length and time scales to in 2D semiconductors for solar energy applications. Exciton populations and dynamics following photoexcitation will be investigated using time-resolved spectroscopy.

The main goal of the SURF project will be on using 2D nanostructures as light absorbers for solar energy conversion devices such as solar cells. These 2D nanostructures are extremely efficient light absorbers and emitters. The student will carry out optical spectroscopy and microscopy measurements to study the electronic and optical properties of these materials. The student will also analyze data and present results at group meetings.


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: 3-4

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

1. Ion beams and plasma interaction with materials for various applications
2. Magnetic and Inertial Nuclear Fusion
3. Laser-produced plasma (LPP) and Discharge-produced plasma (DPP)
4. Nanostructuring of material by ion and laser beams
5. High energy density physics applications
6. Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS)
7. Plasma for biomedical applications
8. Extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography
9. Computational physics for nuclear fusion, lithography, and other applications

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.

Several undergraduate and graduate students working in CMUXE have won national and international awards and have presented their work in several countries including Australia, China, Germany, Ireland, Japan, and Russia.

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


Developing the high-speed noninvasive thermometry of reactive flows based on coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Innovative Technology/Design, Physical Science, Other
School/Dept.: ME
Professor: Mikhail Slipchenko
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Aerospace, Physics, Chemistry
Desired experience:   Physics and mathematics courses
Number of positions: 1

Acquiring the temperature information at high-speed on the order of 100s kHz is critical to understand the energy release and coupling to acoustic modes in hypersonic reacting flows. The undergraduate research assistant will be involved in development of the state-of-the-art laser system under supervision of the graduate research assistant and research faculty involving hands-on experience with aligning optical systems and generating complicated time sequences to operate the high-speed camera acquisition system. The undergraduate research assistant will gain unique experience in optics as well as participate in data acquisition and data analysis with potential high impact publication as the results. Such lab experience will help to establish research interest and motivate undergraduate research assistant to continue academic carrier.


Fluid Dynamics of Bacterial Aggregation and Formation of Biofilm Streamers

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Number of positions: 1

Bacteria primarily live within microscopic colonies embedded inside a self-secreted matrix of polymers and proteins. These microbial biofilms form on natural and man-made surfaces and interfaces and play important roles in various health and environmental issues. Previous experimental studies have indicated the significance of bacterial motility mechanisms in the colonization process and the subsequent biofilm formation. In particular, flagellar mediated swimming is crucial in approaching the surface and initiating the adhesion process. Understanding the swimming strategy of bacteria in confined geometries is shown to be a decisive factor in identifying the adhesion rate and elucidating the subsequent colonization process. However, majority of studies focused on the swimming behavior of motile cells in complex fluids have been conducted assuming the cells’ habitat to be an unbounded domain and thus, the boundary induced effects, such as surface trapping and wall accumulation, are poorly understood. The student will investigate the motion of microorganisms in complex fluids near boundaries.


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.


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).


Thermodynamics of Coherent Structures near Phase Transitions

Research categories:  Computational/Mathematical, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Ivan Christov
Preferred major(s): Engineering, Physics or Mathematics (any subareas of each)
Desired experience:   Knowledge of programming in MATLAB and/or a MATLAB-like high-level language (such as python). Experience writing own computer code and analyzing the numerical output. Basic understanding of partial differential equations. Basic understanding of thermodynamics and classical physics.
Number of positions: 1

Many phenomena in physics, engineering and material science can be addressed by "simple" mathematical models capturing only the essential behavior. Coherent structures are common to all areas of science, from synchronized oscillations of fireflies to Jupiter's red spot. "Simple" (also called phenomenological) models of phase transitions (abrupt changes in system behavior) also exhibit coherent structures and self-organized behavior. When large numbers of coherent structures interact in the presence of noise and/or external driving forces, a thermodynamic limit can be taken, describing the complex system by a single nonlinear partial differential equation for the "field" of coherent structures.

This project is aimed at numerically confirming analytical results obtained recently about such systems. The SURF student will work with the faculty member to further develop simple numerical simulations of partial differential equations using standard software such a MATLAB or Python tools such as numpy and scipy. The SURF student will generate simulations spanning a large parameter space and of sufficient size and accuracy to compute long-time (thermodynamic) averages suitable for comparison to the theory. If successful, the theory-numerics comparison will yield an important journal publication.

More information:


Turbulence characterization in Lake Michigan

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Construction, Environmental Science, Physical Science
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

This project aims to measure turbulence levels in Lake Michigan using an innovative combination of state-of-the-art flow measurement tools. The successful applicant will be in charge of coordinating a large field experiment involving multiple instruments that sample water velocity and turbulence levels at a coastal site in Lake Michigan. The motivation for this work is to improve our abilities to parameterize turbulence in large-scale, 3-D hydrodynamic ocean and lake models. The project will involve laboratory work setting up, testing, and modifying instruments, as well as days on the lake performing instrument deployment/recovery and intensive sampling.


Wideband GNSS Reflectometry Instrument Design and Signal Processing for Airborne Remote Sensing of Ocean Winds.

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science, Other
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): Electrical Engineering, Physics
Desired experience:   Linear Systems, Signal processing, computer programming (C, Python, MATLAB). Some experience building computers or electronics is desirable. A basic understanding of electromagnetism is also desirable.
Number of positions: 1

This research project will involve the assembly and test a remote sensing instrument to make measurements of the ocean wind field from the NOAA “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft. The fundamental operating principle of this new instrument is “reflectometry”, which is based upon observing changes in the structure of a radio frequency signal reflected from the ocean surface. These changes are related to the air-sea interaction process on the ocean surface and can be used to estimate the wind speed through empirical models. Transmissions from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), (e.g. GPS, Galileo, Glonass or Compass) are ideal signal sources for reflectometry, due to their use of a “pseudorandom noise” (RRN) code.

NASA will be launching the CYGNSS satellite constellation in November to globally monitor the tropical ocean and observe the formation of severe storms. CYGNSS will use a first generation GNSS-R instrument. This summer research project will produce a next-generation prototype taking advantage of the wider bandwidth of the Galileo E5 signal (~90 MHz vs. 2 MHz) for higher resolution measurements of the reflected signal.

In addition to hardware assembly and testing in the laboratory, this research project will also require the development of signal processing algorithms to extract essential information from the scattered signal. A “software defined radio” approach will be used, in which the full spectrum of the reflected signal is recorded and post-processed using software to implement the complete signal processing chain.

The goal of this summer research project is to deliver a working instrument, post processing software, and documentation to NOAA for flight on the hurricane aircraft during the 2017 hurricane season. There are two objectives of this experiment. The first is to demonstrate the feasibility of wideband E5 reflectometry measurements. The second objective is to collect the highest quality GNSS reflectometry data, under a wide variety of extreme meteorological conditions, to improve the empirical models that will be used for processing CYGNSS data and generating hurricane forecasts.

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.

More information: