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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:

Physical Science


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.

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.


Experimental Characterization and Thermal Modeling of Dynamic Heat Loads on Microscale Two-Phase Cooling Systems

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Computational/Mathematical, Electronics, Innovative Technology/Design, Material Science and Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Justin Weibel
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Chemical, or Aerospace Engineering
Desired experience:   Students interested in thermal fluids are encouraged to apply. Course work in fluid mechanics and heat transfer is highly recommended. A basic understanding of MATLAB programming is preferred.

High-performance electronic devices generate large amounts of waste heat and rely on effective cooling systems to dissipate these heat loads and maintain safe operating temperatures. Microscale two-phase cooling strategies that allow liquid coolant to boil during the heat removal process offers a promising solution. However, dynamic operation of the electronic devices can trigger two-phase flow instabilities that compromise the cooling performance; these instabilities and their effect on device operation are not well understood. In this project, a SURF student will work with a PhD student in the Cooling Technologies Research Center ( Opportunities are available for students with interests in modeling and/or experimental work. Microscale two-phase flow experiments will be used investigate the effects of various dynamic heating profiles on the flow behavior, using high-speed visualizations and other measurement techniques. Experimental data will be used to model the effect of cooling performance on electronic devices.


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.

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


Laser Diagnostics Applied to Reacting Fluid Flows for Propulsion Devices

Research categories:  Aerospace Engineering, Mechanical Systems, Physical Science
School/Dept.: Mechanical Engineering
Professor: Terry Meyer
Preferred major(s): Mechanical, Aerospace, or Chemical Engineering; Physics; Chemistry

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.


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:


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).


Remote sensing of soil moisture using P-band Signals of Opportunity: Model development and experimental validation.

Research categories:  Agricultural, Aerospace Engineering, Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Electronics, Environmental Science, Physical Science
School/Dept.: AAE
Professor: James Garrison
Preferred major(s): ECE, Physics, Geophysics, With appropriate coursework: AAE, ABE, Civil, Geomatics,
Desired experience:   Signal processing; Programming: C, Python, MATLAB; Electronic hardware experience preferred; Drivers license and access to car required.

Root Zone Soil Moisture (RZSM), defined as the water profile in the top meter of soil where most plant absorption occurs, is an important environmental variable for understanding the global water cycle, forecasting droughts and floods, and agricultural management. No existing satellite remote sensing instrument can measure RZSM. Sensing below the top few centimeters of soil requires the use of microwave frequencies below 500 MHz, a frequency range known as “P-band”. A P-band microwave radiometer would require an aperture diameter larger than 10 meters. Launching such a satellite into orbit will present big and expensive technical challenge, certainly not feasible for a low-cost small satellite mission. This range for frequencies is also heavily utilized for UHF/VHF communications, presenting an enormous amount of radio frequency interference (RFI). Competition for access to this spectrum also makes it difficult to obtain the required license to use active radar for scientific use.

Signals of opportunity (SoOp) are being studied as alternatives to active radars or passive radiometry. SoOp re-utilizes existing powerful communication satellite transmissions as “free” sources of illumination, measuring the change in the signal after reflecting from soil surface. In this manner, SoOp methods actually make use of the very same transmissions that would cause interference in traditional microwave remote sensing. Communication signal processing methods are used in SoOp, enabling high quality measurements to be obtained with smaller, lower gain, antennas.

Under NASA funding, Purdue and the Goddard Space Flight Center have developed an airborne prototype P-band remote sensing instrument to demonstrate the feasibility of a future satellite version. Complementing this technology development, a field campaign in the Purdue Agricultural research fields is being planned. This campaign will make reflected signal measurements from towers installed over instrumented fields. Measurements will be obtained over bare soil first, and then throughout the corn or soybean growth cycle. Complementing these remote sensing measurements, a comprehensive set of ground-truth data will also be collected for use in developing models and verifying their performance.

Work under this project will involve installing microwave electronic equipment in the field, writing software for signal and data processing, and making field measurements of soil moisture and vegetation properties.

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. Preference will be given to students who have an interest in applying their skills to solving problems in the Earth sciences, environment, or agriculture.

NOTE: The project will involve regular travel to and from the local research field, so students should have a drivers license and reliable access to a car.


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.


Supernova Forensics

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

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:


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.