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:



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?


Characterization of Fiber Reinforced Composite Materials

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computational/Mathematical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Industrial Engineering, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: School of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Professor: Sangid Michael
Preferred major(s): AAE, ME, MSE, IE, ChE, CE, NE, CS
Desired experience:   Preferably junior standing
Number of positions: 2

We are looking for motivated, hard-working undergraduate students interested in experimental composite materials research. This position is on a team investigating fiber orientation and length measurements in thermoplastic composites. These long fiber composites have a direct application to replace steel and aluminum structural alloys in the aerospace and automotive industries. Our team is comprised of Pacific Northwest National Lab, Autodesk, Plasticomp, Magna, Toyota, University of Illinois, and Purdue. Applicants will work under the mentorship of a graduate student and faculty member. The position includes hands on specimen preparation, in the form of extracting and polishing samples for fiber orientation measurements and melting samples and isolating the pertinent fibers for length measurements.


Crystal Engineering of Organic Crystals

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

Crystallization of organic materials plays a central role in drug development. Mechanistic understanding of nucleation and crystal growth remains primitive and scantily developed despite decades of investigation. Of the same organic molecule, distinct crystal structures can be routinely formed. The intricacy of the so-called polymorphism largely originates from the rich and unpredictable supramolecular tessellations supported by intermolecular interactions. The subtleties in strength and directionality of the interactions are controlled by structural diversity and conformational flexibility of molecule. In fact, it is these molecular interactions that make organic crystal structures fascinating as it is unlikely to predict crystal structures of a given organic molecule a priori.

In this project, the student will learn how to grow drug crystals, characterize them, and connect the structural outcome with crystallization conditions. It is expected that the student will conduct both experimental and computational studies in order to understand formation mechanisms of drug crystals.

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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.


Hydrophobic Zeolites for Applications in Adsorption and Catalysis

Research categories:  Chemical
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: Rajamani Gounder
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering
Number of positions: 1

Zeolites are microporous materials whose internal pores and external properties can be functionalized to be hydrophobic. These materials open new opportunities for performing selective catalytic reactions in liquid water, and for selective separations of non-polar and organic molecules from polar and aqueous solvents. These are fundamental scientific issues that are relevant in the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to renewable chemicals and fuels, and for the conversion of natural and shale gas. This project will involve learning techniques to synthesize and functionalize hydrophobic zeolites and to characterize their hydrophobic properties.


Oil-in-water Emulsion Flows through Confined Channels

Research categories:  Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Preferred major(s): Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Physics
Desired experience:   Fluid dynamics, Programming experience
Number of positions: 1

The main goal of this project is to characterize transport of monodisperse and poly-disperse oil-in-water emulsions through confined channels by utilizing LAMMPS. A mesoscopic method called dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) will be used to capture the interaction of the droplets with hydrophilic and hydrophobic boundaries of the channel. We will quantify the transport properties of the emulsion for different scenarios, by varying the droplet size, surface properties of the channel, and addition of surfactants. Surfactant molecules are amphiphilic molecules, containing a hydrophobic tail and a hydrophilic head.


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 reserach 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 analyzeded by liquid chromatagraphy 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 knowldege is critical to rationally design metabolic pathways for production of renewable chemicals.