2015 Project Descriptions

NDnano Undergraduate Research Fellowship (NURF) program

4/8/15 Update: Congratulations to the 2015 NDnano Undergraduate Research Fellowship Recipients!

2/9/15 Update: The 2015 NURF application process is now closed. Application material below is provided for reference only.

Listed below are the project descriptions for the summer 2015 NURF program. To apply:

  1. Review the project descriptions (below) and select a project of interest. There are nearly 30 projects to choose from!
  2. Complete the application. 2015 NURF application
  3. Email your completed application no later than February 6, 2015, to the project's faculty mentor(s) for consideration, and cc: Heidi Deethardt at ndnano@nd.edu.

Faculty mentors will follow-up with applicants as needed. Fellowship recipients will be notified by NDnano starting the first week of March.

Please note: Students are welcome to apply for more than one project. However, please list and prioritize on your application(s) all the projects to which you have applied. Undergraduate* students from any college or university are welcome to apply.

*For purposes of the NURF program, undergraduates are students who will not yet have completed their undergraduate studies at the start of their summer fellowship.

Questions? Check out our FAQs. Or feel free to contact Heidi Deethardt at ndnano@nd.edu

Thank you for your interest in NDnano!

Back to overview and application instructions



Project: Development of remotely controlled scanning electron microscope for K-12 outreach

Faculty mentor: Prof. Gary H. Bernstein • Electrical Engineering • 225 Cushing Hall • 631-6269 • bernstein.1@nd.edu

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is one of the most important and visually compelling imaging techniques in all of micro- and nano-technology. In an SEM, a very narrow (about 2 nm) beam of electrons scans the surface of a sample. The emitted low-energy electrons, called “secondary electrons,” are collected in a point-by-point basis to form a very high-resolution, realistic image of the sample. It is common for an SEM to produce striking pictures of objects such as insects, materials surfaces, nanoparticles, etc. The student will learn the fundamentals of SEM and gain extensive hands-on experience using a modern, high-resolution instrument. Over the summer, the student will help to train new users, develop teaching materials, create a Windows interface for remote users, and work with K-12 teachers and students to expand the use of the instrument.


Project: Engineering multifunctional nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery in cancer

Faculty mentor: Prof. Basar Bilgicer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 165 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-1429 • bbilgicer@nd.edu


Multiple myeloma (MM), a B-cell malignancy characterized by proliferation of monoclonal plasma cells in the bone marrow (BM), is the second most common type of blood cancer in the U.S. Despite the recent advances in treatment strategies and the emergence of novel therapies, it still remains incurable. A major factor that contributes to development of drug resistance in MM is the interaction of MM cancer cells with the BM microenvironment. It has been demonstrated that the adhesion of MM cells to the BM stroma via a4b1 integrins leads to cell adhesion mediated drug resistance (CAM-DR), which enables MM cells to gain resistance to drugs such as doxorubicin (Dox)—a 1st line chemotherapeutic in the treatment of MM. To overcome this problem, the clinicians apply combination therapy, which is the simultaneous use of two complementary chemotherapeutic agents during treatment. One caveat of this treatment method has been that it is almost impossible to attain the critical stoichiometry at the tumor that is necessary to achieve this synergistic drug effect when conventional methods of chemotherapy is used. Here, we seek to overcome this challenge by using an engineering approach for targeted drug delivery. The overall objective of this proposed project is to engineer “smart” nanoparticles that will deliver and exert the cytotoxic effects of the chemotherapeutic agents on MM cells, and at the same time do it in such a manner to overcome CAM-DR for improved patient outcome. To enable this, we will engineer micellar nanoparticles that will be (i) functionalized with a4b1-antagonist peptides as well as Dox and carfilzomib drug conjugates, and (ii) designed to show the adhesion inhibitory and the cytotoxic effects in a temporal sequence. When the nanoparticles are delivered to the MM cells, as a first step they will interact with the cell surface a4b1 integrins and inhibit MM cell adhesion to the stroma, thereby preventing development of CAM-DR (see figure). In the second step, the chemotherapeutic agents will exert their synergistic cytotoxic effects after cellular uptake, as the nanoparticles will be designed to require a low pH environment such as the endocytic vesicles, to release active drugs. This way, the “smart” nanoparticles will act on the MM cells in a temporal fashion and prevent development of CAM-DR for improved patient outcome.


Project: Mechanics and mechanisms of bone fracture healing

Faculty mentor: Prof. Joel Boerckel • 142 Multidisciplinary Research Building • 631-1866 • jboercke@nd.edu

Mechanical engineers often break things to understand how they behave. Like any other structural material, we can understand a lot about bone by how it breaks. But unlike traditional engineering materials, we also get to watch it heal itself. This dynamically adaptive, self-regenerative property of bone tissue, which can heal completely without any scar formation, makes it one of the most interesting structural materials anywhere. The Boerckel lab is interested in understanding the mechanisms that underlie how bone cells mediate this adaptation, regeneration, and remodeling. In this project, a student will use mice genetically engineered to lack important proteins specifically in bone cells to identify new mechanisms of bone regeneration. The student will characterize two approaches of fracture induction in live mice: 3-point bending Guillotine device or surgical induction, and will then evaluate the time course of fracture healing of tissue-specific gene knockout mice.


Project: Non-Boolean computing using nanodevices

Faculty mentors: Prof. Gyorgy Csaba and Prof. Wolfgang Porod • Electrical Engineering
225A Cushing Hall • 631-3059 • gcsaba@nd.edu
203A Cushing Hall • 631-6376 • porod@nd.edu


Digital computers are excellent for crunching numbers, but they are not very efficient for many other tasks, such as image recognition and analyzing ‘big data’. It is believed that analog, non-Boolean devices could do much better. Our group explores new, ‘wave based’ computing paradigms that process information without using logic gates. We design and simulate circuits that are based on novel nanodevices such as spin-torque oscillators, spin-wave devices, analog circuits, and microelectromechanical systems. These devices generate wave-excitations, and the interference of the waves gives the result of the computation. If you join our group for the summer, you may either work on spin-wave devices (such as the one in the figure – this device does a Fourier transform using spin-wave interference) or on the simulation of oscillator-based computing circuits. In either case, you will design non-Boolean computing algorithms based on these devices. This project is suited for all undergraduate levels.


Project: Nano-structured arrays for sustainable water treatment technologies

Faculty mentor: Prof. Kyle Doudrick • Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences • 156 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-0305 • kdoudrick@nd.edu


There is a growing concern about the future of our drinking water supplies brought on by climate change driven drought and depleted drinking water sources resulting from population growth and unsustainable practices. To meet future drinking water demands, sustainable technologies for treating sources once considered unusable (e.g., direct potable reuse) will need to be developed. We define a “sustainable” technology as having a low energy cost (e.g., solar driven), a minimal negative impact on the environment (e.g., non-toxic by-products, use of abundant materials), and a positive influence on society (e.g., provides easier access to clean water). This project will focus on the development of nano-structured arrays for photoelectrochemical electrodes for the purpose of treating problematic water pollutants (e.g., nitrate, hexavalent chromium) using solar energy. Students will have the opportunity to learn at the intersection of environmental engineering, materials science, and nanotechnology. Anticipate learning new skills, including variety of nano-synthesis and materials characterization techniques. As a capstone to the project, students will get a chance to tell their “story” in the form of a journal publication.


Project: Biocomplexity and uncertainty: Science, technology, and ethics in the real-world case of metal nanoparticles in heavy commercial use

Faculty mentor: Prof. Kathleen Eggleson • NDnano and ESTEEM program • 208D Cushing Hall • 631-1229 • keggleso@nd.edu

The moment is 2015: The National Nanotechnology Initiative is well into its second decade. Thus, large-scale commercial use of the simplest nanomaterials, and development of a multitude of related products, has occurred over a number of years. At the same time, substantial uncertainty remains about the biological impacts, positive and negative, throughout the life cycles (cradle to grave, or conception to disposal/recycling) of novel products and formulations. Meanwhile, there is increased and widespread urgency to offer the next generation of scientists and engineers rigorous and explicit ethics education relevant to responsible practice. These factors will combine in timely NURF research investigating and translating findings and unknowns about metal nanoparticles in heavy commercial use. The goal will be development of a comprehensive real-world, real-time case framed upon the product life cycle, toward the development and initial offerings of a workshop for ethics education of STEM graduate students. The specific data, as well as the overarching themes of biocomplexity and uncertainty, will be important. This is an ambitious and multi-faceted research project suitable for adaptation into a senior/honors thesis. Student success will depend upon adept navigation, comprehension, and synthesis of published literature from multiple fields as well as creativity and big-picture thinking. This NURF project will allow for undergraduate participation in a collaborative (together with Northeastern University in Boston) research project funded by the National Science Foundation, “Ethics Education in Life Cycle Design, Engineering, and Management.” An abstract of the entire project is available: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1338682&HistoricalAwards=false. Over the summer, the selected NURF fellow will work with Dr. Kathleen Eggleson, Notre Dame’s Principal Investigator, on the a real-world case module and related one-week workshop for ethics education of science and engineering graduate students. 


Project: High performance ultra-lightweight solar cells

Faculty mentor: Prof. Patrick Fay • Electrical Engineering • 261 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-5693 • pfay@nd.edu

Recent advances in solar cell design and material quality resulted in significant advances in solar cell efficiency for high-performance applications. However, for many emerging applications the weight of the solar cell is also an important consideration. In addition to traditional applications such as powering satellites, new applications for solar cells are emerging, such as powering lightweight human-portable systems and unmanned high-altitude aircraft. In this project, the design space for ultra-lightweight, high-efficiency compound-semiconductor based solar cells will be explored. This project includes evaluation of the optical, electronic, and mechanical properties of ultra-thin lightweight solar cells based on epitaxial liftoff of multi-junction solar cells in III-V compound semiconductors.


Project: New polymer electrolytes for ion gating two-dimensional crystals

Faculty mentor: Prof. Susan Fullerton • Electrical Engineering • 317 Cushing Hall • 631-1367 • fullerton.3@nd.edu


Electronic devices that employ two-dimensional (2D) crystals represent the ultimate limit of scaling because these materials have thicknesses ranging from one atom (e.g., graphene) to a few molecular layers. One key requirement of these devices is a robust and reconfigurable gating method. In our group, we use electrolyte gating to induce a huge number of charges in 2D crystals, effectively enhancing device performance. Using this method, ions in the electrolyte are driven to the surface of the 2D material, and mirror charge is induced in the crystal (see Figure); however, there are several significant limitations with the electrolyte materials that are currently being used. The goal of this project will be to explore new polymer electrolyte materials that can overcome these limitations. The student will learn (1) how to prepare, handle, and deposit polymer electrolytes inside a glovebox, (2) make current-voltage measurements on devices, and (3) measure the thermal properties of the electrolyte. In addition to learning more about polymers and ion transport, the student will learn about 2D materials and their use in next-generation electronic devices. 


Project: Plasma jets for nanomaterials synthesis

Faculty mentor: Prof. David Go • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 372 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-8394 • dgo@nd.edu


Plasma jets are an emerging technology that have a wide variety of applications—from killing tumors and healing wounds to cleaning tumors and synthesizing new nanomaterials. This project targets using plasma jets for plasma electrochemistry to synthesize nanoparticles, focusing on how to control the interaction between the plasma jet and a liquid. A NURF student will conduct experiments that look at novel plasma configurations for plasma/liquid interactions and use simple simulations to predict the interaction thermodynamics. The student will work with a team of graduate students studying plasma science, but will have the opportunity to work independently and use their own creativity and imagination. Those who intend to continue the research for credit in the fall semester and have a high interest in going to graduate school will be given preference.


Project: Micro-maker system for custom printed electronics

Faculty mentor: Prof. David Hoelzle • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 141 Multidisciplinary Research Building • 631-2291 • dhoelzle@nd.edu

The ‘maker movement’ has become an important force in the resurgence in American innovation in the last few years, enabling everyone from the academic researcher to the garage tinkerer to design and fabricate their own products. The open-source ethos of the ‘maker movement’ has been one of the greatest propellers of its success. Currently, the ‘maker movement’ has taken hold at the meso-scale (such as the Makerbot) and in the digital realm (such as the Arduino and Raspberry Pi). This project looks at how to use standard ink-jet printers to enable the ‘micro-maker movement;’ the student will investigate the 2D and 3D layering of functional materials with sub 50 µm resolution. Ten week project objectives are to develop a printing platform for the printing of functional materials that is user friendly and widely dissemble to the broader maker community and demonstrate the fabrication of simple sensors with microscale features. Prime candidates for this project are students who have experience with computer programming, mechatronic design, and have a general knack for retrofitting hardware.  


Project: Restrahlen band optics with surface phonon polaritons

Faculty mentor: Prof. Anthony Hoffman • Electrical Engineering • 226B Cushing Hall • 631-4103 • ahoffma8@nd.edu

Semiconductor materials are used to generate and control light over a large portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. In the far-infrared, however, light interacts very strongly with vibrations in the semiconductor crystal, making conventional materials and techniques in this so-called “Restrahlen band” ineffective. One possible method of improving access to this portion of the spectrum is to use strongly confined surface waves on polar semiconductors to control and generate light. These surface waves, called surface phonon polaritons, are a combination of light and a crystal vibration. In this project, the student will explore how we can control the optical properties of surface phonon polaritons in the far-infrared. Work will include reflection and transmission spectroscopy in the laboratory and simple modeling. Interested students will also have the opportunity to fabricate samples in the Notre Dame Nanofabrication Facility. This project is appropriate for students with an interest in optics, semiconductors or nanotechnology.


Project: Toxicity studies of nanoparticles

Faculty mentor: Prof. Paul Huber • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 437 Stepan Hall • 631-6042 • phuber@nd.edu

We are using Xenopus (a species of aquatic frog) as a model organism for studying the toxicity of nanoparticles. The advantage is that the Xenopus egg is extraordinarily large, over 1.2 mm, and material can be easily injected. Thus, we circumvent the complication of nanoparticle uptake that can mask their biological activity. Indeed, embryos exposed to metal oxide nanoparticles present in the water environment develop normally for the most part; whereas, small amounts of nanoparticles injected directly into the egg trigger a number of developmental defects in the growing embryo. One of the most prominent outcomes is compromised cell-cell contact that has similarities to the metastasis of cancer cells.  The student involved in this project will determine whether modifications to these particles, such as encapsulation in a protein or polysaccharide coating, can eliminate or minimize the toxic activity of metal oxide nanoparticles such as TiO2 and ZnO, which are found in a large number of consumer products. 


Project: Perovskite solar cell

Faculty mentor: Prof. Prashant V. Kamat • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 223B Radiation Lab • 631-5411 • pkamat@nd.edu


In recent years, nanomaterials have emerged as the new building blocks to construct light energy harvesting assemblies.1 Efforts are being made to design high efficiency organic metal halide hybrid structures that exhibit improved selectivity and efficiency towards light energy conversion.2,3 This project will evaluate the performance of solid state methylammonium lead halide perovskite solar cells. The summer research involves solution processed thin perovskite films on various oxide films and constructin a solar cell. These cells will then be evaluated to establish their photovoltaic properties. The role of hole scavenger such as CuSCN, PEDOT, or 2,2´,7,7´-tetrakis-(N,Ndi-p-methoxyphenylamine) 9,9´-spirobifluorene (spiro-OMeTAD) deposited onto these photoactive films will also be evaluated. The overall goal is to extend the photoresponse of the thin film solar cell into the infrared and achieve solar conversion efficiencies greater than 15%.

1. Kamat, P. V., Quantum Dot Solar Cells. The Next Big Thing in Photovoltaics. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2013, 4, 908–918.
2. Christians, J. A.; Fung, R.; Kamat, P. V., An Inorganic Hole Conductor for Organo-Lead Halide Perovskite Solar Cells. Improved Hole Conductivity with Copper Iodide.
J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 758–764.
3. Manser, J. S.; Kamat, P. V., Band Filling with Charge Carriers in Organometal Halide Perovskites.
Nat. Photonics 2014, 8, 737–743.


Project: Nanostructure assemblies for light energy conversion

Faculty mentor: Prof. Prashant V. Kamat • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 223B Radiation Lab • 631-5411 • pkamat@nd.edu


Recent advances in the construction and characterization of graphene-semiconductor/metal nanoparticle composites in our laboratory have allowed us to develop multi-functional materials for energy conversion and storage. These next-generation composite systems may possess the capability to integrate conversion and storage of solar energy, detection and selective destruction of trace environmental contaminants, or achieve single-substrate, multi-step heterogeneous catalysis. This research project will involve synthesis of graphene-based assemblies for photocatalytic and photovoltaic conversion of light energy. The graphene oxide-semiconductor assemblies will be characterized by transmission electron microscopy, and the excited state processes will be evaluated using time-resolved emission and absorption techniques. The goal is to optimize the performance of graphene-based assembly and maximize the photoconversion efficiency.

1. Lightcap, I. V.; Kamat, P. V. Fortification of CdSe Quantum Dots with Graphene Oxide. Excited State Interactions and Light Energy Conversion. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 7109–7116.
2. Lightcap, I. V.; Murphy, S.; Schumer, T.; Kamat, P. V. Electron Hopping Through Single-to-Few Layer Graphene Oxide Films. Photocatalytically Activated  Metal Nanoparticle Deposition.
J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2012, 3, 1453-1458.
3. Lightcap, I. V.; Kamat, P. V. Graphitic Design: Prospects of Graphene-Based Nanocomposites for Solar Energy Conversion, Storage, and Sensing.
Acc. Chem. Res. 2013, ASAP article.


Project: Initial study and demonstration of terahertz adaptive wireless communication

Faculty mentor: Prof. Lei Liu • Electrical Engineering • 208C Cushing Hall • 631-1628 • lliu3@nd.edu

THZ beam steering and forming antennas for potential adaptive THz communications.

Over the last few decades, wireless communication systems experienced vast development and deployment with data rates approaching several tens of Gbps. To satisfy the increasing demand for higher speed information transmission and processing in modern society, potential terabit-per-second  (Tbps) wireless links based on terahertz (THz) band communication have been proposed for a wide range of applications, including 5G cellular network, Tbps wireless LAN (local area network), Tbps wireless PAN (personal area network), secure military communication, wireless nanosensor networks, and chip-to-chip high-speed interconnections. To establish a THz link, a device (either a transmitter or receiver) may need to scan its neighborhood by steering its antenna beam with a broader beam-width and low gain to localize the link target. Once a data packet is transmitted/received, the device should switch to a different mode with a narrower beam-width and higher gain for high-speed data communication. By dynamically beam steering and forming, atmospheric effects and terminal mobility can also be enabled. In our previous work, we have successfully demonstrated beam steering and forming THz antennas based on reconfigurable photo-induced Fresnel-zone plates (PI-FZPs) [1]. The FZPs were generated by illuminating a high-resistivity silicon wafer for wave-front spatial modulation using a digital light processing (DLP) projector, without any circuit or device fabrication [2, 3]. We propose to study and demonstrate initial THz adaptive wireless communication using a WR-1.5 VNA (vector network analyzer) and multiple beam-steering THz antennas. Both line-of-sight (LOS) propagation and non-line-of-sight (NLOS) propagation modes will be studied. In addition, multi-path channels and dynamic MIMO for advanced THz communications will be initially investigated. This project will offer the participant an excellent opportunity to work with NDnano's state-of-the-art facilities, as well as to gain hands-on experiences on solid-state THz sources, detectors, quasi-optical systems and measurements. Furthermore, we expect that the completion of this work will lead to high-quality journal publications.

1. M. I. B. Shams, Z. Jiang, S. Rahman, J. Qayyum, P. Fay, and L. Liu, “A 750 GHz dynamic beam-steering and forming antenna based on photo-induced Fresnel-zone plates,” IEEE Trans. THz Sci. Tech., in review, 2014.
2. L. Cheng, L. Liu, “Optical modulation of continuous terahertz waves towards reconfigurable quasi-optical terahertz components,”
Optics Express, vol. 21, no. 23, pp. 28657-28667, 2013.
3. M. I. B. Shams, Z. Jiang, S. Rahman, J. Qayyum, H. G. Xing, P. Fay, and L. Liu, “Characterization of THz antennas using photo-induced coded aperture imaging,”
Microwave and Optical Technology Lett., in press, 2015.


Project: Fabrication of polymer nanofibers with anomalous thermal conductivity

Faculty mentor: Prof. Tengfei Luo • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 371 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-9683 • tluo@nd.edu

Atomic structure of a chain of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicon-based polymer widely used in thermal management, which is a key issue in microelectronics. Inset: A fundamental unit consisting of PDMS chain.

Amorphous polymers are known as thermal insulators with a thermal conductivity of ~0.1–0.3 W/mK. However, they can be more thermally conductive than many metals if we can reform them into highly aligned nanofibers (thermal conductivity > 50 W/mK). This suggests that polymers can be used to replace metals in many heat transfer devices and equipment, such as in electronic packaging and heat exchangers, with the additional advantages of reduced weight, chemical resistance, and lower cost. In this project, undergraduate researchers will fabricate polymer fibers with nanometer diameters by ultra-drawing fibers from polymer melt. They will also characterize the nanofibers using electron microscopes and X-ray scattering, and measure thermal transport properties using scanning thermal microscopy. 



Project: Nanoparticle synthesis for fabrication of 3D solid-state batteries

Faculty mentor: Prof. Paul McGinn • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 178 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-6151 • pmcginn@nd.edu


Solid-state batteries (SSBs) may be a key enabler for electric cars. A solid electrolyte can overcome many shortcomings of present technology, including offering wider electrochemical voltage ranges, better chemical compatibility, and improved safety. Progress is needed to overcome electrolyte limitations and lack of economical processing, while delivering sufficient energy density for automotive application. In planar SSBs, utilization of the entire thickness of the cathode layer is problematic due to diffusion limitations. 3D structures offer significant advantages in this regard. The goal is to process optimized solid electrolytes via nanoparticle synthesis routes to produce a thin electrolyte with tailored porous structures that will allow for easy ion transport throughout the electrodes to make full use of the active material.


Project: Nano-optics of electronic molecules

Faculty mentor: Prof. Alexander Mintairov • Electrical Engineering • B4/B5 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-7688 • mintairov.1@nd.edu

Illustration showing the technique of using near-field scanning optical microscopy for luminescence measurements of semiconductor quantum dots.

Correlation between particles in finite quantum systems leads to a complex behavior and very unusual new states of matter. One remarkable example of such a correlated system is expected to occur in a dilute electron gas confined in a quantum dot, where the Coulomb interaction between electrons rigidly fixes their relative positions like those of the nuclei in a molecule. These electron molecules, called Wigner Molecules (WMs), can be varied experimentally using various combinations of semiconductor materials, numbers of electrons, electrostatic potentials, and magnetic fields. Thus, these WMs present a novel and compelling field for fundamental and applied research that could have considerable impact on the electronic and optical devices of the future. Our group at Notre Dame has recently discovered strong emission from such WMs. The student working on this project will be ushered into the infinitesmal world of near-field optical microscopy, where nanostructures are studied that are orders of magnitude smaller than can be seen in a conventional light microscope. Working with the faculty mentor and a physics graduate student, the student will learn to use combined single-electron- and nano-optical control of quantum states in these WMs, which has never been done before. An important result of these experiments may lead to the identification of molecular states that are suitable for quantum computing.  


Project: Nanoparticle contrast agents for spectral (color) X-ray imaging

Faculty mentor: Prof. Ryan K. Roeder • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 148 Multidisciplinary Research Building • 631-7003 • rroeder@nd.edu

Spectral CT projection showing hafnium oxide (green), platinum (blue) and gold (red) nano particles dispersed in water within the wells of an acrylic imaging phantom.

For the last century, X-ray imaging has been the primary means of non-invasive imaging, enabling physicians to diagnose and treat disease and injury. Radiography was revolutionized in the 1970s by the advent of computed tomography (CT), which enabled three-dimensional imaging. A similar revolution in X-ray imaging is presently taking shape with the development of spectral (color) CT. In both radiography and CT, image contrast is derived from the differential attenuation of X-rays by different materials or tissues, resulting in ubiquitous grayscale images. However, X-rays exhibit a spectrum just like visible light, but the energy spectrum of X-rays has not been resolved in imaging due to technological limitations. Recent advances in energy-sensitive X-ray detectors have made spectral CT commercially feasible by unmixing the energy-dependent attenuation profile of different materials (see Figure). This transformational technology will enable scientists and physicians to differentiate various materials, tissues, and fluids, where not previously possible by X-ray imaging. Thus, the impact could be far-reaching, affecting any preclinical and clinical X-ray imaging for the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease and injury. However, spectral differences in physiological fluids and soft tissues are sufficiently small that contrast agents are needed to take full advantage of spectral CT. The most appropriate combinations of contrast agents for spectral CT are not known and unavailable even for preclinical research. Therefore, students on this project will investigate the use of multiple nanoparticle contrast agents for spectral (color) X-ray imaging at concentrations suitable for use in vivo in preclinical animal models for breast cancer.


Project: Light transmission spectroscopy: A new bio-molecular tool

Faculty mentors: Prof. Steve Ruggiero and Prof. Carol Tanner • Physics
208 Nieuwland Hall • 631-5638 • ruggiero.1@nd.edu
218 Nieuwland Hall • 631-8369 • ctanner@nd.edu


Nanoparticles are common in nature as well as in many industrial applications. Engineering at the nanoscale is now becoming part of a wide range of activities, including the design of electronics and new materials. Although we may not realize it, we are surrounded by manmade and naturally occurring nanoparticles present in our air, water, food, medicines and even sometimes our cells. As such, nanoparticles have a huge impact, both good (i.e., pharmaceuticals) and bad (i.e., toxic materials, viruses, bacteria), on human and environmental health. Our new platform technology, Light Transmission Spectroscopy (LTS), has the ability to identify and accurately measure in real time the size, shape, and number of nanoparticles ranging in size from 1 to 3000 nm in diameter suspended in fluid. It has an overall performance that far exceeds previous technologies. This general tool for nanoparticle analysis has already spawned a new technique for environmental DNA identification and protein geometrical analysis. Our latest project is using the instrument as a research tool to determine the difference between cancer and normal human cells based on the size distributions sub-cellular particles. LTS represents a true game-changer in medical diagnostics, biological research, and the general advance of human health.


Project: Interdisciplinary research of chemical sensor development for fluid dynamic applications

Faculty mentor: Hirotaka Sakaue • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 106 Hessert Laboratory • 631-4336 • sakaue.1@nd.edu


This project is an interdisciplinary topic on chemistry and fluid dyanamics. A student will participate on a chemical sensor development and its characterization using spectrometer and pressure/temperature-controlled device.The developed senor will be tested in unsteady flow. No special background is required, although a care must be taken to use chemicals and experimental apparatus. These will be instructed before working on the project.



Project: A screen for siRNA nanoparticle pesticides to target mosquito vectors of human disease

Faculty mentor: Prof. Molly Duman Scheel • Biology/Eck Institute for Global Health • 127 Raclin-Carmichael Hall • 631-7194 • mscheel@nd.edu

Aedes aegypti, the principal mosquito vector of viruses that cause yellow fever, chikungunya, and dengue, the most widespread and significant arboviral disease in the world, is a container-breeding mosquito that is closely associated with humans and their urban dwellings. Immature mosquitoes of this species are often concentrated in natural and artificial water-filled containers in urban environments and are susceptible to control efforts. Larviciding, the application of microbial or chemical agents to kill mosquito larvae before they are reproducing adults that vector human disease, is a key component of integrated A. aegypti control strategies worldwide. However, given the frequent development of pesticide resistance and rising concerns about the off-target effects of pesticides, the current larvicide repertoire will soon reach its expiration date. It is, therefore, critical to identify new environmentally safe larvicidal agents for use in integrated A. aegypti control programs. Our recent studies have demonstrated that larval ingestion of chitosan nanoparticles delivering small interfering RNA (siRNA), which can be designed to be species-specific, can be used for selective targeting of A. aegypti larval genes. The proposed research program will test the hypothesis that ingested siRNAs can be utilized as mosquito larvicidal agents. The larvicidal potential of hundreds of orally ingested siRNAs corresponding to putative A. aegypti larval lethal genes will be assessed in a large-scale screen. The initial batch-testing of siRNAs will facilitate high throughput screening, after which the larvicidal potential of individual siRNAs will be assessed in more detail. The experimental plan will facilitate the identification of siRNA larvicides that generate the highest levels of mortality, function throughout the larval period, can be used for control of multiple A. aegypti strains, and have little homology to genes in non-targeted species. Furthermore, siRNA larvicides corresponding to multiple target sequences within each larval lethal gene of interest will be identified, which will help to combat larval resistance arising from a point mutation in any one target sequence. The anticipated outcome of this research will be the discovery of many new species-specific siRNA larvicides for control of A. aegypti. The initial laboratory characterization of these siRNAs will generate diagnostic concentrations for monitoring A. aegypti susceptibility to the larvicides in field tests, which will be conducted in future studies, during which nanoparticle delivery strategies will be optimized. Given that many of the genes to be targeted in this investigation are conserved in other insects, this study will inform the design of siRNA nanoparticle larvicides for species-specific control of additional container-breeding insect vectors of human disease.


Project: Nanostructures for chemical detection and imaging 

Faculty mentor: Prof. Zachary Schultz • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 244 Nieuwland Hall • 631-1853 • schultz.41@nd.edu


Spectroscopic signals associated chemical bonds provide a direct route to label-free monitoring of molecular behavior. In biological systems, optical microscopy is useful for detecting various macromolecular assemblies with varying chemical or structural properties. Commonly, fluorescent tags are used to identify biomolecules in the complex environment found in cells. An alternative approach is to use the signal enhancements associated with gold and silver nanoparticles for characterization. Our research uses the local electromagnetic fields resulting from the excitation of conduction band electrons in metal nanostructures to enhance Raman scattering from molecules in close proximity. This electromagnetic field enhancement, referred to as surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), provides a sensitive, label-free probe of chemical environments. We use these enhancements for both imaging and trace analyte detection. We have coupled tip-enhanced Raman scattering (TERS) with nanoparticle probes to obtain chemical, structural, and spatial information simultaneously. We can monitor chemical interactions within cell membranes, detect trace levels of molecules in fluids, as well as monitor the electric fields associated with catalytic reactions. In addition to applications, we are interested investigating the fundamental interactions between nanostructures.


Project: Nanoelectronics from two-dimensional materials

Faculty mentor: Prof. Alan Seabaugh • Electrical Engineering • 230A Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-4473 • seabaugh.1@nd.edu

Students in this project will build and test electron devices constructed from single-layer materials like graphene. These materials are of wide interest for energy-efficient transistors, ionic switches, memories, solar energy converters, or batteries. A wide range of projects are possible depending on student interest: modeling, fabrication, characterization, and circuit design.


Project: Ultra-low energy computation

Faculty mentor: Prof. Gregory Snider • 275C Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-4148 • snider.7@nd.edu

Layout of adiabatic microprocessor for ultra-low power dissipation.

Anyone who owns a laptop knows that power dissipation and the associated heat are a problem for the microelectronics industry. As electronic devices scale down in size, they use less power (and hence energy), but is there a lower limit to the energy that must be dissipated by each device? Recent experimental measurements have demonstrated our ability to measure energy dissipation in the range of a ~15 yJ (1 yJ is 10-24 J), and we are building CMOS circuits to operate in this range. Projects in the group of Professor Gregory Snider will explore the limits of ultra-low power computing, and designing, building, and measuring circuits that test these limits, and clock circuits that can recycle the energy used in computation. The projects will include building circuits and amplifiers for energy measurements of the CMOS circuits as well as the actual measurements. The project will also include the design of the next generation of the adiabatic circuits. A student involved in these projects will gain experience in programming, CMOS design, and device measurement techniques.


Project: Picometer-diameter pore-based protein sequencing

Faculty mentors: Prof. Gregory Timp and Prof. Tetsuya Tanaka
316 Stinson-Remick • 631-1272 • gtimp@nd.edu
49 Galvin Life Sciences • 631-2334 • ttanaka@nd.edu


The primary structure of the protein—the linear sequence of amino acids (AAs) that comprise it—dictates the three dimensional (tertiary) structure that determines its function. However, the methods for sequencing long proteins suffer from post-translational modification and are relatively insensitive. In this project, undergraduate students will measure the performance of picometer-diameter pores, namely picopores, through an ultra-thin, inorganic membrane and interpret electrical signals associated with single-protein molecules translocating through the pore for sequencing the AAs. Prior experience with low-noise electrical measurements, wet labs, or coding with MATLAB, GENEIOUS, C++ and/or Labview is preferred.


Project: Synthetic tissue engineering using live-cell lithography

Faculty mentors: Prof. Gregory Timp and Prof. Tetsuya Tanaka
316 Stinson-Remick • 631-1272 • gtimp@nd.edu
49 Galvin Life Sciences • 631-2334 • ttanaka@nd.edu


In vivo tissue is comprised of a heterogeneous, dense population of cells organized hierarchically in three dimensions (3D) with an embedded vasculature. But so far, tissue engineering approaches have failed to recapitulate such a vascular network and a heterogeneous hierarchy of cells. Therefore, thick engineered tissue develops a necrotic core in only a few hours. To resolve this problem, a heterogeneous population of cells needs to be hierarchically organized in 3D with microvascular networks. We have demonstrated the capability to precisely assemble and co-culture a hierarchy of cells of human origin to form microvascular networks (figure). In this project, undergraduate students will build structures that resemble a blood arterioles and perfuse it with whole blood to study hypertension. Prior experience in optics, wet labs, cell culture and MATLAB, C++ and/or Labview coding is preferred.



Project: Modelling aging

Faculty mentor:  Prof. Dervis Vural • Physics • 384G Nieuwland Hall • 631-6977 • dvural@nd.edu

Aging remains one of the fundamental open problems of modern biology. Although there exists a number of qualitative perspectives on mechanisms damaging basic cell functions, nearly nothing is known about how these microscopic failures manifest on the macroscopic scale of tissues, organs and ultimately the organism. The goal of this project is to bridge microscopic failures to their macroscopic manifestations, by theoretically and experimentally establishing the role of interdependence and interactions between damage-prone cells in complex tissues. 


Project: Efficient upconversion in solar cells

Faculty mentor: Prof. Mark Wistey • Electrical Engineering • 266 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-1639 • mwistey@nd.edu

Upconversion allows solar cells to make use of wasted low-energy photons. But upconversion efficiencies are stubbornly low, mostly due to nonradiative recombination or poor electrical and/or optical coupling with the host cell. In this project, the student will study a new route to efficient upconversion in solar cells that is likely to break 50% efficiency as well as make much better use of red twilight hours near dusk and dawn. Using a core-shell nanostructure for two-step upconversion, excited electrons can be prevented from falling back to the intermediate state. We have shown that the limiting step in upconversion is the second absorption step, from the conduction band of the core up to that of the host. The student will apply our group’s recent findings on highly mismatched semiconductor alloys to maximize the bound-to-continuum absorption, and develop a model showing the maximum efficiency available from the upconversion technique.


Project: Engineering induced pluripotent stem cell-derived human cardiac tissues

Faculty mentor: Prof. Pinar Zorlutuna • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 370 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-8543 • pzorlutu@nd.edu

The ability to develop healthy and diseased tissues from the same cell source would be a powerful tool to understand disease pathophysiology. With the advances in tissue engineering research, now it is possible to produce healthy and diseased tissues, called engineered model tissues, using human cells. Engineering model tissues is a promising new tool for the parametric study of complex events happening during the development and the pathology of organs. These model tissues are not intended to understand the systemic effects concerning a particular phenomenon, but i) they enable investigating local events happening at a specific site, (in this case in heart muscle tissue) in a much more controlled, isolated and high-throughput manner; not always are systemic influences favorable, as they may, in some cases, mask or even antagonize the actual local events. ii) They allow direct testing on human tissue-like structures, which would be invaluable for discovering preventive approaches or treatments. Such efforts could benefit the animal studies immensely given the fact that on average 1 out of 10 animal studies that make it to clinical trials actually pass the clinical trials and the discordance between animal and human studies is potentially due to the failure of animal models to mimic clinical disease adequately (Perel et al., BMJ, 2006). Recently, there have been multiple high-profile publications in journals such as Nature on using engineered tissues (or so called organoids) for understanding the development and diseases of complex organs such as the brain (Lancaster et al., Nature, 2013). The aim of this project is to study cellular communication during myocardial infarction using a tissue engineered human heart tissue model that will be designed and fabricated using hydrogel-based biomaterials, microfabrication techniques and human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived heart cells. Using microfluidics and microfabrication techniques, precise control over the microenvironmental conditions, such as fluid flow, bioactive factor gradients, and spatial control of the heart cell types within the engineered tissue will be achieved. Prior experience in cell/tissue culture is preferred.


Project: Spatially patterned microfabricated co-cultures to study cancer development and progress

Faculty mentor: Prof. Pinar Zorlutuna • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 370 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-8543 • pzorlutu@nd.edu

Tumor microenvironment is crucial for understanding tumor growth and metastasis, and for discovering preventive approaches and therapies. In vivo animal models often fail to provide a platform for designing experiments to study multiple parameters simultaneously in a controlled fashion due to the heterogeneity and complexity of this microenvironment, while conventional two-dimensional studies fail to recapitulate it. Therefore, cancer research has started to utilize a newly developing research field, biomimetic three-dimensional engineered tissue models. The goal of this study is to use tissue engineering and microfabrication techniques to study cell-cell and cell-environment interactions in cancer development and progress. Previous research experience is preferred.

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