Research Projects

This is a list of research projects that may have opportunities for undergraduate students. You can browse all the projects, or view only projects in the following categories:



Mobile molecular diagnostics for global health

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Electronics
School/Dept.: Biomedical Engineering
Professor: Jacqueline Linnes
Desired experience:   Experience with basic electrical engineering courses as well as microcontrollers such as Arduino is preferred.
Number of positions: 1

We are utilizing cell-phone powered valves and resistive heating to develop portable, instrument-free, molecular diagnostics that are as easy to use as a digital pregnancy test. With mobile molecular diagnostics, users can perform tests anywhere in the world and then be connected to centralized healthcare settings for immediate referral and counseling. Students on this project will perform mentored, independent research focused on reverse engineering modern digital pregnancy tests (lateral flow tests) as well as developing optimizing in-house built cell phone-powered LED-based lateral flow test readers.


Bio/Pharmaceutical Lyophilization

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Industrial Engineering, Innovative Technology/Design, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: Alina Alexeenko
Preferred major(s): AAE, ME, CE, BME, Physics
Desired experience:   Fluid dynamics coursework, programming experience.
Number of positions: 2

Freeze-drying, also called lyophilization, is widely used in manufacturing of injectable pharmaceuticals, vaccines, biotech products, food and probiotic cultures. The research involves first-principles modeling of fluid dynamics and heat transfer in industrial lyophilizers and validation of models by comparison with experimental data collected in lab and pilot production settings. The summer undergraduate researcher will be involved in developing computational models and analyzing experimental data.


Biomanufacturing via 3D Inkjet Printing

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Bumsoo Han
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Number of positions: 1

This project aims to develop scalable three-dimensional (3D) fabrication methods of functional biomaterials via inkjet printing. Although numerous novel biomaterials are recently developed, their fabrication methods are still limited to batch processes, which are very difficult to scale up for rapid fabrication and precise control of their structures at multiple scales. In order to address this challenge, we are studying the fluid mechanics and polymerization kinetics of polymer materials during inkjet printing processes. Students are expected to perform independent experiments or assist graduate students/postdocs to perform experiments. Specifically, characterize both mechanical and thermal properties of polymers, analyze fluid mechanics during injection, and determine the optimal operating conditions.


Biomechanics of Collective Cell Migration

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Bumsoo Han
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Desired experience:   ME or BME Junior with course work related to solid, fluid or bio-mechanics. Experience with wet lab is preferred but not required.
Number of positions: 1

Cell migration is a key cellular behavior during many important physiological and pathological processes such as wound healing and cancer metastasis. During this process, cells are thought to communicate with each other and often migrate as a group rather than individuals. This kind of behavior is called "collective cell migration." Particularly, experimental study to understand mechanical interactions among the cells and between the cells and the matrix are primary focus of this project. Students are expected to perform independently and/or assist graduate students to perform experimental research including time-lapse microscopy, digital image analysis, and biomechanics analysis.


Cationic Amphiphilic Polyproline Helices for Antibacterial Activity

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Life Science, Other
School/Dept.: Chemistry
Professor: Jean Chmielewski
Preferred major(s): Chemistry
Number of positions: 1

The passive uptake of genes, polypeptides, particles and, at times, small molecules into cells is prohibited due to their inability to adequately cross the membrane bilayer. We have designed a class of molecules, cationic amphiphilic polyproline helices (CAPHs) that have been shown to effectively translocate mammalian cell membranes and display potent antibacterial activity. The goals of the proposed research are to probe the specific structural features within CAPHs that allow for efficient cell uptake and antibacterial action, while developing a mechanistic model for CAPH activity. Additionally we will seek to harness the remarkable cell penetrating and antimicrobial characteristics of CAPHs to target elusive pathogenic bacteria within mammalian cells.

With the knowledge that diverse CAPHs result in effective cell penetration, subcellular localization and antibacterial activity in vitro and in cyto, and with the mechanistic insight that resulted from these studies, we propose to address the following questions:
1. What effect does further structural modification of CAPHs have on cell penetration and subcellular localization, and how are these data linked to antibacterial activity in vitro and in cyto?
2. What is the mechanism of antibacterial activity and cell penetration of the designed CAPHs?


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: 3-5

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

1. Materials modification and nanostructuring by energetic ion beams
2. Nanostructuring by ultrafast lasers
3. High energy density physics in ultrafast laser laboratory
4. Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy
5. Experimental and computational studies of non-thermal plasmas for biological applications
6. Computational modeling of physics processes for various plasma applications; in laser, discharge, and fusion devices

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.

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


Developing Brain Computer Interface for Hands-Free Movement Control

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Electronics
School/Dept.: Biomedical Engineering
Professor: Zhongming Liu
Preferred major(s): Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science
Desired experience:   Signal and System, Digital Signal Processing, Pattern Analysis, Machine Learning
Number of positions: 2

The student will be involved in developing a real-time brain computer interface system. Through this system, a human subject's brain signal will be acquired and analyzed in realtime to decode the subject's intention to move an object in a 2-D plane without involving his/her hands. The system will serve as a prototype for a new-generation medical device to facilitate disabled patients in motor control by only using their minds.


Development of Theranostic Drug Delivery Systems for Cancer Treatment

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, Nanotechnology
School/Dept.: Industrial & Physical Pharmacy
Professor: Tonglei Li
Preferred major(s): chemistry, chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, biological engineering
Number of positions: 1

Drug delivery for cancer therapy is far from being satisfactory. A significant portion of potential drug compounds fail to enter the clinic because they cannot be formulated and delivered by existing approaches. Many clinically used formulations are poorly designed, bearing significant adverse effects and limiting treatment efficacy. Over the last few years, nanotechnology has been embraced for developing novel drug delivery systems to combat diseases such as cancer and infection. In our laboratory, we have been developing multicomponent nanocrystals to deliver cytotoxic agents along with bioimaging probes to treat and detect tumors. In this project, the delivery system will be fully tested in vitro and in vivo in order to understand the pharmacokinetic and biodistribution properties and to further improve the formulation design. In particular, the student will be learning and conducting cellular uptake experiment and help graduate students in their animal studies. It is expected that the student will gain a basic understanding of drug delivery for cancer and comprehend the current challenges in cancer therapy. The student will also learn the underlying design principles of our delivery system and, hopefully, provide meaningful suggestions for improvement.


Inside the carrot root microbiome

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
Professor: Lori Hoagland
Desired experience:   Coursework in microbiology, molecular biology, soil biology and/or plant pathology.
Number of positions: 1

The root microbiome represents the dynamic community of microorganisms associated with plant roots. Root microbiota affect plant fitness and productivity in a variety of ways that operate along a continuum from beneficial to parasitic. Our understanding of how root microbial communities are assembled and factors that influence the nature of their interaction with plants are still are in their infancy. This project seeks to address these knowledge gaps by quantifying how soil management and plant genotype affect the composition of the carrot microbiome and affect plant fitness under pathogen stress. A combination of culture dependent and independent techniques will be used to determine the identify and activity of microbes associated with carrot roots.


Paper-based devices for global health diagnostics

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Mechanical Systems
School/Dept.: Biomedical Engineering
Professor: Jacqueline Linnes
Preferred major(s): Biomedical Engineering/Mechanical Engineering
Desired experience:   Experience with course work related to fluid/bio-mechanics and/or wet lab is preferred but not required.
Number of positions: 1

The future of point of care testing will enable disease detection anywhere in the world, even in remote and low-resource settings. However, these sample-in answer-out tests will require simple operation and must be able to function without electricity. To address these challenges, we are using paper-based fluidic valves and rapid prototyping techniques such as laser cutting and microfluidic origami to develop portable, instrument-free, microfluidic devices. Students on this project will perform mentored, independent research focus on characterizing fluid mechanics during capillary action and will develop active and passive valves to direct fluid flow wicking through paper-based diagnostic devices.

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Quantification of metabolic rates in photosynthetic organisms for production of renewable chemicals

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: John Morgan
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering or Biochemistry
Desired experience:   knowledge of biochemistry, enzyme kinetics, mass balances
Number of positions: 1

The overall research aim is to understand how metabolic pathways in photosynthetic organisms respond to changes in environmental stimuli. In this project, the student will participate in experiments in which microalgae are fed isotopically labeled substrates. The rates of conversion of these intermediates will be analyzed by liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry. The specific aim of this project is the understanding of how photosynthetic metabolism responds to environmental changes such as light wavelength and intensity. This knowledge is critical to rationally design metabolic pathways for production of renewable chemicals.


iGEM Project 2015: Canary in the Cornfield

Research categories:  Agricultural, Bioscience/Biomedical, Life Science
School/Dept.: ABE and BME
Professor: Jenna Rickus
Preferred major(s): Biological Engineering or Biomedical Engineering
Desired experience:   prior participation in the iGEM club or activities is preferred.
Number of positions: 3

This year’s iGEM project is focused around designing a natural indicator for plant stressors in an industrial agriculture setting. A major problem in the world exacerbated by the increasing global population is food security. Currently, about 40 percent of crop losses are due to pests and disease. If farmers can realize and address these problems early, they may be able to mitigate losses. All plants have natural responses to both pathogenic and environmental stressors. If these responses can be indicated by an external change in the plant, it would act as an early warning system for the plants around it. For instance, if a diseased plant were to change color, it would notify the farmer of disease in an area of the field, enabling targeted termination of diseased crops while prompting increased preventative measures for the surrounding crops. The project revolves around the identification of natural biochemical response systems, the design of genetic circuits to be transformed into the plant via agrobacterium that would cause the plant to have an external indication and amplification of the internal response, and evaluation of the effectiveness of these genetic devices. As a SURF project, we are looking for students to manage different parts of this design process, including researching the biochemical responses to various stressors, determining the proper genetic parts to create the desired response, design and prediction of function of a genetic circuit from the parts, and implementation of the parts/circuit into actual plant tissue.

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