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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 2017 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 dual-tuned, metamaterial-enhanced radiofrequency coil for MRI and phosphorus-31 spectroscopy

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Electronics, Innovative Technology/Design, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, School of Electrical & Computer Engineering
Professor: Joseph Rispoli
Preferred major(s): Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Desired experience:   CAD modeling, soldering, circuit characterization

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners can be used to acquire real-time localized metabolic information. This technique, known as magnetic resonance spectroscopy, can quantify the concentration of specific metabolites incorporating NMR-active nuclei. In this project, we will build a radiofrequency coil that will detect both typical proton (1H) and phosphorus-31 (31P) spectra using Purdue's 7T MRI scanner. The coil design will include metamaterial periodic structures to boost 31P sensitivity.

For this project, the SURF student will be part of the Magnetic Resonance Biomedical Engineering Lab (MRBEL) and work with Prof. Rispoli and a dedicated graduate student advisor. The SURF student's role will be to contribute to the final coil design (given electromagnetic modeling results from the graduate student advisor), to create a CAD model of the mechanical former, to prototype the former using our lab's 3D printer, to construct the required electrical circuitry on the former, and to validate the device on the 7T scanner. Familiarity with CAD software (Inventor/SolidWorks), soldering, analog circuits, metamaterials, and/or radiofrequency/microwave circuits is desired but not required.

More information:


Assessing Nutrient Usage during Harmful Algal Blooms

Research categories:  Chemical, Environmental Science, Life Science
School/Dept.: COS
Professor: Greg Michalski
Preferred major(s): Chemistry, Biology, natural resources
Desired experience:   basic chemistry/biology lab experience

Harmful algal blooms are a serious environmental, economic, and human health issue. They occur when cyanobacteria undergo rapid growth when nutrient availability and physical conditions coincide. There rapid growth and decay can release toxic compounds that is harmful to organism including humans. The project will probe the mechanism of N uptake versus N fixation using isotope techniques. The student will collect field samples, conduct incubation experiments, and analyze chemical and isotopic tracers.


Developing impurity free route to synthesize semiconducting nanoparticles for thin-film photovoltaic applications

Research categories:  Chemical
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: Rakesh Agrawal
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering

Solution processing of thin films is required for low cast fabrication of semiconducting devices which includes thermoelectric and photovoltaics devices. Solution processing will allow us to use roll-to-roll printing process for these materials which will increase not only the throughput of production but also the material utilization, which will result in cost reduction of final product. One of the ways to achieve this kind of processing involves synthesis of nanoparticles and then dispersion of those in various solvents making an ink for coating.

This Project will involve development of a new impurity free route for synthesis of semiconducting nanomaterials like Copper Indium Sulfide (CIS), Copper Indium Gallium Sulfide (CIGS) for photovoltaic applications. Current processes of synthesizing these nanoparticles have some issues associated with it which impacts the efficiencies of photovoltaic devices. So these issues will be address while developing a new route to achieve high efficiency devices.

Student working on this project will mainly focus on various reaction parameters and chemistries affecting the nanoparticle properties. He/she will be able to learn and use various material and optoelectronic characterization techniques during this project. He/she will also assist in fabricating entire photovoltaic device which ultimately will be used in measuring the performance of synthesized nanoparticles.


Enhancing Transgene Expression and Retention by Co-delivery of DNA Vectors with Modified Histones

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: Chongli Yuan
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering/Biochemistry

Conventional transgene delivery/therapy approaches currently lack the safety, efficiency and durability required for many research, industrial and/or clinical applications. Understanding how to create and maintain active gene expression will have broad-ranging impacts by facilitating transgene delivery and tailored expression in plants and animals.

The participating student with make recombinant histone proteins with defined modifications and examine their respective contributions in affect transgene expression efficiency both in short- and long term.


How strongly do oysters stick?

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Life Science, Material Science and Engineering
School/Dept.: Chemistry
Professor: Jonathan Wilker

Up through the 18th century intertidal oyster reefs provided a major determinant of sea life along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Billions of shellfish aggregated into reef structures tens of meters deep and several square kilometers in area. In doing so, oysters created habitat for other species, filtered large volumes of water, and protected the coast from storms. Since the late 1800s overfishing, pollution, and disease have reduced stocks substantially. During this time oyster harvests from once-bountiful locations such as the Chesapeake Bay have declined by 98% or more. A great deal of effort is currently being invested to reintroduce oysters to their earlier habitats.

Despite the vital role played by oysters in maintaining robust coastal ecosystems, we know few details about the chemistry of how these shellfish build reefs. Furthermore, we do not even have any data telling us how strongly the animals can attach.

Work this summer will include development of a method for determining the strengths with which oysters bond to surfaces. At the end of this summer we will both have the method in hand as well as adhesion 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:


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.

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 for Essay #2, where you describe your specific research interests, qualifications, and relevant experience, you may discuss up to three NCN projects that most interest you. Please rank your NCN project choices in order of interest. For each project, specify the last name of the faculty advisor, the project, 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

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.


Production of essential aromatic amino acids from cyanobacteria

Research categories:  Chemical, Life Science
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: John Morgan
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering
Desired experience:   CHE 205, CHE 348

The amino acids phenylalanine and tryptophan are valuable as feed additives. Currently they are produced from microbial fermentations from sugar. We are examining their direct photosynthetic production in cyanobacteria. Previously, our group has generated cyanobacterial strains that produce the amino acids. This project is do find the growth conditions that are optimal for maximizing amino acid production. The student will grow the cyanobacteria, measure the production of amino acids, and mathematically model to determine optimal conditions for high productivity.


Purdue AirSense: An Air Pollution Sensing Network for West Lafayette

Research categories:  Agricultural, Chemical, Civil and Construction, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Innovative Technology/Design, Mechanical Systems, Nanotechnology, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Civil Engineering
Professor: Brandon Boor
Preferred major(s): The position is open to students from all STEM disciplines.
Desired experience:   Proficient in Python, Java, MATLAB; experience with Raspberry Pi or Arduino.

Air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in the world and responsible for 7 million deaths each year. We are presently developing a new air pollution sensing network for the Purdue campus to monitor and analyze air pollutants in real-time. We are recruiting an undergraduate student to assist with the development of our Raspberry Pi-based air quality sensor module. You will be responsible for integrating the Raspberry Pi with air quality sensors, developing laboratory calibration protocols, building an environmental enclosure for the sensors, creating modules on our website for real-time data analysis and visualization, and maintaining state-of-the-art aerosol instrumentation at our central air quality monitoring site at the Purdue Agronomy Center for Research and Education (ACRE).


Role of Microbial Motility in Degradation of Dispersed Oil

Research categories:  Bioscience/Biomedical, Chemical, Computational/Mathematical, Life Science, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Arezoo Ardekani
Preferred major(s): Biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, biology, environmental engineering
Desired experience:   bacteria/cell culture laboratory and/or transport phenomena and/or microfluidic experiments

Microbial biodegradation processes play an important role in reducing the harmful
effects of a marine oil spill. The fate and transport of spilled hydrocarbons in the ocean depends on a combination of nonlinear effects such as environmental factors, ocean flows, chemical and physical properties of the crude oil, and the distribution of the oil-degrading microbial community. The over-arching goal of this research project is to quantify the role of motility of marine bacteria in the initial stage in biodegradation of oil through experiments and/or computational modeling.


Using Vesicular Dispersions for Stabilizing Suspensions of Dense Particles Against Sedimentation

Research categories:  Chemical, Material Science and Engineering, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Chemical Engineering
Professor: David Corti
Preferred major(s): Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Materials
Desired experience:   Thermodynamics and Physical Chemistry

For many applications of colloidal dispersions or suspensions, such as inks and paints, the dispersed particles must remain suspended for long times, to maintain their expected performance. While this is often accomplished by preventing the agglomeration (sticking together) of the particles, which remain suspended by Brownian motion, the dense particles that are often used in some inks, may still settle rapidly even if they are prevented from agglomerating. We previously developed a general method for preventing dense particles from settling by using close-packed vesicular dispersions of the double-chain surfactant DDAB (didodecyldimethyl-ammonium bromide). In this project, the SURF student will help investigate the ability of DDAB vesicles prepared at different salt concentrations to stabilize high density particles. In addition, the student will help study the thermophysical properties and phase behavior of DDAB solutions as a function of the salt concentration. Working with a Ph.D. candidate, who specializes in this area, the student will learn various experimental techniques for characterizing colloidal and vesicular dispersions, including densitometry and polarizing light microscopy. The student should have a good understanding of basic Thermodynamics and physical chemistry.