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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:


A light-weight silicon pixel detector for the CMS detector at the Large Hadron Collider

Research categories:  Electronics, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Physics & Astronomy
Professor: Andreas Jung
Preferred major(s): Physics (minor or experience in Electrical and/or Mechanical Engineering)
Desired experience:   Experience with labview is of advantage as well as a general understanding of at least one programming language. Existing experience with analysis of data and interpretation, e.g. linear regression / trend analysis.
Number of positions: 1

The Large Hadron Collider will be upgraded to provided a unprecedented number of hadronic interactions, which will be used to search for any deviation from the standard model theory of particle physics. In order to withstand the large number of hadronic interaction also the CMS detector needs to be upgraded. The proposed summer research project contributes to the upgrade of the forward pixel detector in the very heart of the CMS detector.

Candidates join my lab/group working on data taking and testing of silicon detector prototypes and their support prototypes in our local two-phase CO2 cold box setup. The project includes data taking, preparation & hands-on assembly of prototypes, as well as data analysis. There is also possibilities to carry out the thermal finite element analysis needed to simulate the thermal behavior of our prototypes. Experience with labview is of advantage as well as a general understanding of at least one programming language. Most important is being enthusiastic for the research project.


Evaluation of the 1:2:1 Curriculum Project

Research categories:  Educational Research/Social Science, Other
School/Dept.: Chemistry and Engineering Education
Professor: George Bodner
Preferred major(s): chemistry or biochemistry
Number of positions: 1

We are trying to understand the impact of a total revision of the chemistry courses taken by biology majors. Does it improve performance, attitude, retention or transfer of knowledge? Does it help students link more like a practicing biologist/chemist?


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.
Number of positions: 1

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


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.
Number of positions: 16-20

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 that asks about your “understanding of your role in a project that you have identified”, you may discuss up to three NCN projects that most interest you. For each NCN project, be sure to tell us 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.


Preparative and Imaging Mass Spectrometry

Research categories:  Chemical
School/Dept.: Chemistry
Professor: Julia Laskin
Preferred major(s): Chemistry or Chemical Engineering
Desired experience:   Analytical chemistry with labs, physical chemistry with labs
Number of positions: 1

Two projects are available in my laboratory. The first project is focused on the development of preparative mass spectrometry as a tool for the controlled synthesis of layered thin films and doping 3D materials with cluster ions. This project addresses fundamental challenges related to the development of new materials for energy conversion and storage. the second project is focused on the development of mass spectrometry imaging for quantitative mapping of numerous compounds in biological samples.


Structure and Function of Signaling Proteins involved in Cancer and Heart Failure

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical
School/Dept.: Biological Sciences
Professor: John Tesmer
Preferred major(s): Biochemistry, Biology, or Chemistry
Desired experience:   Organic and Biochemistry lab experience preferred.
Number of positions: 2

There are two possible projects:

1) Structure and function of P-Rex1, a driver of metastasis

P-Rex1 is a guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) for Rho GTPases. Rho GTPases are small G proteins which exist in inactive (GDP bound) or active (GTP bound) forms. They regulate cell migration, cell proliferation and transcription etc. Both Rho GTPases and P-Rex1 are over-expressed in different cancers and hence are important targets for chemotherapy. P-Rex1 is different from other RhoGEFs in that it is synergistically activated by the heterotrimeric G protein βγ subunits (Gβγ) and a phospholipid, PIP3. We are interested to find out how binding of Gβγ and PIP3 activate P-Rex1. Our strategy is to express and purify different P-Rex1 domains and the Rho GTPase Rac1 from E. coli and Gβγ from insect cells. We will then try to form stable complexes of Gβγ and IP4 with P-Rex1 and Rac1. This will be followed up by attempts to crystallize these complexes with the long term goal of obtaining an atomic structure.

The student will be involved in expression and purification of P-Rex1 and Rac1 proteins from E. coli. The protein purification methods involves different chromatography techniques, most common being affinity and size exclusion. This lab experience will help the student to understand how recombinant proteins are expressed and principles of protein purification and crystallization.
Overall picture of the project: The proteins purified by the student will be used for the structure determination of the complex which will give insight into how P-Rex1 is regulated.

2) Elucidation of the membrane binding mechanism of a receptor kinase

G protein-coupled receptor kinase (GRK) phosphorylates activated GPCRs on the cell surface. Different phosphorylation patterns of the receptor turn on distinct downstream pathways and lead to various functional outcomes. Therefore, GRK mediated receptor phosphorylation plays important roles in dictating the downstream pathway of receptor signaling. One critical step in the phosphorylation process is the association of GRKs with the cell membrane. Previous studies revealed that GRK5 contains specific binding sites for phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2). PIP2 anchors GRK5 to the membrane and facilitates its interaction with the receptor. The main goal of this project is to determine an atomic structure of GRK5 in complex with PIP2. Molecular details of how GRK5 orientates itself towards the cell membrane and how GRK5 changes its shape when in contact with PIP2 will help elucidate the molecular mechanism of GRK5 mediated receptor phosphorylation.

The SURF student will work with a postdoctoral fellow in the lab and learn protein purification and high-throughput crystal screening, and if sufficient progress is obtained crystal condition optimization and X-ray diffraction data collection.


Supernova Forensics

Research categories:  Physical Science
School/Dept.: Physics and Astronomy
Professor: Danny Milisavljevic
Preferred major(s): Physics or Astronomy
Number of positions: 1

I'm seeking a motivated and enthusiastic student to join my team of supernova sleuths investigating the catastrophic deaths of massive stars. Our comprehensive multi-wavelength, multi-phase approach of reverse engineering supernovae is unraveling the complicated final stages of stellar evolution, and providing exciting new ways to understand how stars explode and evolve into remnants that seed interstellar space with the raw materials needed for stars, planets -- and potentially life. The successful student will acquire an interdisciplinary, widely applicable skill set analyzing data obtained by premier space-borne and ground-based facilities (including the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the 6.5m Magellan and MMT telescopes) through research that will contribute towards the three-dimensional reconstruction of supernova explosions.

More information:


Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Change

Research categories:  Environmental Science
School/Dept.: EAPS
Professor: Matthew Huber
Desired experience:   Quantitative skills, preferable with a background in physics and programming. Some knowledge of broader environmental issues important and atmospheric/ocean/hydrological systems desirable.
Number of positions: 1

Various research projects are available on the Indo-Asian monsoon, the urban heat island effect, land-use change, human heat stress, and agricultural impacts of climate change. Research will involve computer modeling and data analysis. Familiarity with linux/unix and some program is required. Most projects will focus on tropical regions and developing nations.


The ecology of infectious disease in freshwater systems

Research categories:  Life Science
School/Dept.: Department of Biological Sciences
Professor: Catherine Searle
Preferred major(s): Biological sciences or similar field
Desired experience:   Basic laboratory techniques including pipetting, dilutions, and sterile technique are desired. A basic understanding of major ecological concepts is also desired (e.g., BIOL 28600).
Number of positions: 1

The Searle lab primarily studies the ecology of infectious disease in freshwater systems. We aim to understand how changes to natural communities (e.g., the loss or gain of species) impact disease risk in these systems. During the summer, we will be performing multiple studies including 1. experiments to understand the effects of eutrophication on the susceptibility of zooplankton to disease, 2. surveys and experiments to quantify the effects of invasive zooplankton on epidemics in native species, and 3. field surveys of amphibian disease. The student will work closely with the Searle lab’s technician and/or graduate students to develop their own project within one of these research themes. Exact projects will be determined based on the interests of the student.