2017 Project Descriptions

Application instructions

Update:  The 2017 NURF application process is now closed. Application information is provided for reference only.

1) Review the summer 2017 NURF project descriptions (below) and select a project of interest.

2) Complete the APPLICATION, and save the file with your last name and your first name as the first words in the file name.
(Ex: Smith-Barb-2017 NURF Application)

3) Email your completed application and current resumé (Ex: Smith-Barb-resumé) to the project’s faculty mentor(s) for consideration, and cc: Heidi Deethardt at ndnano@nd.edu. The application deadline is 8:00 am (Eastern) on Monday, February 13, 2017.

Interested NDnano faculty will follow-up with selected applicants directly.  Award notifications will begin in early 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 for which you have applied.

Want to learn more? View the project summaries written by the 2010, 2011, 2012, 201320142015, and 2016 NURF recipients.

Frequently Asked Questions


Project: Engineering multifunctional nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery in cancer

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Basar Bilgicer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205C McCourtney Hall • 631-1429 • bbilgicer@nd.edu

Bilgicer NURF Image 2017
Figure 1. Nanoparticles will be designed to first inhibit the adhesion of MM cells via a4b1-antagonist peptides, and then deliver cytotoxic doxorubicin and carfilzomib drug combination after being endocytosed. The temporal action of the nanoparticles will overcome prevent the cell-adhesion mediated drug resistance (CAM-DR).

Modern cancer therapeutics are typically developed to aim at key pathways and proteins that are critical to the survival and progression of malignant cells. Nevertheless, they are still associated with undesirable side effects due to non-specific toxicity that non-targeted tissue and organs experience. In recent years, nanoparticle (NP) based drug delivery systems that carry drugs to tumors in the body have greatly improved the efficacy of traditional therapeutics while decreasing the associated systemic toxicities. NPs with a diameter of 10-200 nm can selectively target and preferentially home at the tumor site via the enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect. More complex NPs, such as multiple drug carriers (for combination therapy) and coatings of targeting elements for receptors on cancer cells, have also been engineered to improve the overall outcome by overcoming problems associated with tumor tissue targeting and penetration, drug resistance, cellular uptake and circulation half-life. We use NPs to target multiple myeloma (MM), a B-cell malignancy characterized by proliferation of monoclonal plasma cells in the bone marrow (BM) and 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 α4β1 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 over come 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 are 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 as to overcome CAM-DR for improved patient outcome. To enable this, we will engineer micellar nanoparticles that will be (i) functionalized with α4β1-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 α4β1 integrins and inhibit MM cell adhesion to the stroma, thereby preventing development of CAM-DR (Fig. 1). 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: Microporous membrane reactors for antibody digestion and characterization

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Merlin Bruening • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 140C McCourtney Hall • 631-3024 • mbruenin@nd.edu

Bruening NURF Image 2017

Antibodies are the fastest growing class of therapeutic drugs. Due to the complex composition and biosynthesis of these drugs, quality control is vital to ensure that antibodies are effective and do not induce side effects such as an immune response. Mass spectrometry is the most powerful tool for antibody characterization, but it usually requires antibody digestion into smaller pieces that are amenable to characterization. This research aims to use membrane reactors to control antibody proteolysis and create a few large peptides that enable rapid detection of antibody modifications such as oxidation, phosphorylation, and glycosylation. Controlled digestion may also identify changes in protein conformation or the formation of disulfide bonds. The project will likely include immobilization of enzymes in membranes, performing digestion reactions and mass spectrometry, and interpreting mass spectrometry data. The research is particularly appropriate for students in chemical engineering, chemistry, or biochemistry.


Project: Micro-fabricated negative-index metamaterial lenses for passive near-horizon beam-steering

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Jonathan Chisum • Electrical Engineering • 226A Cushing Hall • 631-3915 • jchisum@nd.edu

Chisum NURF Image 2017
Figure 1. Rectangular, triangular and hexagonal unit-cells for perforated media which provide for permittivity ranging from 0.1-1.0εr.

As the demand for mobile data continues to grow at exponential rates the wireless industry is looking toward the millimeter-wave regime (50-90 GHz) to access untapped spectrum (up to 20 GHz of contiguous spectrum) to meet this demand. One of the key challenges of millimeter-wave systems is the increased path loss (20log(f)) at high frequencies compared with current sub-6 GHz wireless networks. A proposed solution is to employ highgain antenna arrays that compensate for the path loss but have a corresponding narrow beamwidth. To maintain a wireless link with a mobile device beam-steering is employed. Traditional beam-steering uses active phased arrays that incur high cost and power dissipation. An alternative to active phased array beam-steering antennas is the passive Luneberg lens which boasts zero power dissipation, low loss, and high gain. However, the Luneberg lens is a 3D (spherical) gradient index lens traditionally requiring elaborate machining of concentric shells of dielectric. Due to the difficulties of fabrication, this lens has traditionally only been realized in bands below 20 GHz. Recently, the method of transformation optics has been presented as a means of physically distorting an electromagnetic structure and maintaining its functionality by spatially varying the permittivity throughout the structure. This has enabled the design of flat lenses but they require so-called gradient index optics. Over the past year, we have developed a process for manufacturing gradient index optics targeting the millimeter-wave bands from 30-150 GHz. The approach is known as perforated media, as shown in the figure above. With such a structure, we can vary the permittivity in a 2D plan (a wafer), and by stacking multiple wafers we can vary the permittivity throughout a 3D structure. So far, our approach is able to achieve only “ordinary media” (εr>=1.0), which enforced certain limits on the maximum angle that a beam can be steered. To steer a beam to the horizon, permittivity must be allowed to exceed the ordinary limit. By integrating vertical metallization in the etched voids, we can incorporate the so-called “thin-wire” metamaterial unit-cell into our structure and achieve εr<1.0 and even εr<0. This provides additional flexibility to achieve near-horizon beam-steering. Working in NDnano’s state-of-the-art nanofabrication facility, and in conjunction with one or multiple graduate students, the student will perform design simulations, mask design, pattern generation, lithography, etching, and measurement in support of three technical objectives for this project:

1. In conjunction with the faculty advisor and graduate student mentor, develop the theory for the design of the negative permittivty unit cell
2. Simulate the design in a full-wave electromagnetic solver (e.g., Ansys HFSS)
3. Fabricate and measure the new negative (or reduced) permittivity unit cell in the cleanroom

Not only will the work in this project complement ongoing research, but it will also provide an enabling technology for many follow-on projects. A rising junior or senior with electrical engineering background is expected but qualified candidates from all levels will be considered. Given the nature of microfabrication tasks, the undergraduate student will team with at least one graduate student to provide continuity and additional effort applied to the task.


Project: Steep-slope ferroelectric transistors

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Suman Datta • Electrical Engineering • 271 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-8835 • sdatta@nd.edu

Datta NURF Image 2017
Ferroelectric Logic Transistor. Working principle of a negative-capacitance steep slope field-effect transistor (NC-FET) with a ferroelectric material as a gate insulator, and comparison of its transfer characteristics with a conventional FETs.

The recent experimental detection of negative differential capacitance in ferroelectric dielectrics [1] rekindles our hopes that the phenomenon can be harnessed to push transistor scaling and energy-efficient nanoelectronics. The unstable negative capacitance of the ferroelectric has been predicted before [2, 3], but its direct measurement is elusive. However, one can stabilize the negative capacitance of ferroelectric by putting it in series with the positive channel capacitance of the transistor. Recently in our group, we have developed a novel ferroelectric dielectric that is integrated directly within the gate stack of a silicon transistor to form a ferroelectric field-effect transistor. In this proposed project, the researchers will have an opportunity to characterize the Ferro FETs in detail and participate in developing device physics based simulation models of the resulting Ferro FETs. The student should have taken an undergraduate course in semiconductor device physics or equivalent. Preference will be given to students who have some experience in electrical characterization of transistors, diodes, capacitors, inductors, etc.


[1] Khan, A. I. et al. Nature Mater. 14, 182–186 (2015)
[2] Bratkovsky, A. M. & Levanyuk, A. P. Phys. Rev. B 63, 132103 (2001)
[3] Ershov, M. et al. IEEE Trans. Electron. Dev. 45, 2196–2206 (1998)


Project: Ferromagnetic semiconductor nanostructures

Faculty mentors:
Prof. Jacek Furdyna • Department of Physics • 309 Nieuwland • 631-6741 • furdyna@nd.edu
Prof. Xinyu Liu • Department of Physics • 332 Nieuwland • 631-9787 • xliu2@nd.edu
Prof. Margaret Dobrowolska • Department of Physics • 332 Nieuwland • 631-6962 • mdobrowo@nd.edu

Furdyna NURF Image 2017

Our research program involves the investigation of ferromagnetic semiconductors, such as GaMnAs. Interest in these materials is motivated by the fact that they combine both the electronic properties of a semiconductor and the magnetism of a ferromagnet, and thus open the possibility of manipulating and storing information in a single monolithic structure. It is clear that as the dimensions of a ferromagnetic semiconductor device are reduced to nanometer scale, its magnetic properties will change dramatically. In the summer of 2017, we therefore plan to focus on a systematic investigation of this aspect of ferromagnetic semiconductors. In Fig. 1 (right), we show an example of a thin ferromagnetic semiconductor film fabricated lithographically into nanometer scale elements. We plan to carry out basic structural, electrical and magnetic properties of structures of this type; and, in certain cases, also to carry out ferromagnetic resonance (FMR) measurements on selected specimens. Examples of FMR spectra obtained on specimens such as those shown in Fig. 1 are shown on the right of Fig. 1. Note the conspicuous change that has emerged in the spectra obtained as the sample was reduced. The additional peaks represent spin wave resonances, and provide basic information about magnetic surface pinning effects that occur as the size of our elements is reduced to nanometer scale. The student involved in our research will assist us in the design and fabrication, and in structural, magnetic and electrical measurements on ferromagnetic semiconductors we produce in our molecular beam epitaxy laboratory. Background in physics or electrical engineering will be sufficient for a meaningful involvement in this project.


Project: High-throughput spray coating of membranes for applications in desalination and waste chemical recovery

Faculty mentors:
Prof. David Go • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 140 McCourtney Hall • 631-8394 • dgo@nd.edu
Prof. William A. Phillip • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205F McCourtney Hall • 631-2708 • wphillip@nd.edu

Go NURF Image 2017

The technical objectives of this project are to optimize and characterize a new spray coating system developed in the SST Research Lab for the high-throughput processing of membranes. We have developed a piezoelectric-based spray system and developed a high-throughput coating system for membranes. This research will focus on optimizing the process conditions (spray rate and duration, number of coatings, solution chemistry). The student will conduct spray experiments and membrane characterization and draw conclusions about optimal manufacturing process in collaboration with graduate student or post-doc. Applicants from any science and engineering discipline are acceptable, although those with a background in chemistry and/or electrical engineering are preferred. The student must be willing to work primarily on experiments in a very detailed and systematic manner.


Project: Nanostructured polysulfone polyelectrolyte copolymer membranes for fuel cells

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Ruilan Guo • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205E McCourtney Hall • 631-3453 • rguo@nd.edu

Guo NURF image 2017

Sulfonated polysulfone copolymers with controlled nanophase-separated morphology hold great potential as alternatives to benchmark Nafion® for polyelectrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) due to their much better proton conductivity at low relative humidity (RH) levels and thermal stability. Previous research has shown that long hydrophilic (ionic) sequences or a high degree of sulfonation are needed to form well-connected proton conducting nanochannels that enable high proton conductivity at low RH. However, it invariably comes at the expense of high water uptake and excessive membrane swelling, resulting in deterioration of the dimensional stability and mechanical robustness. This project aims to exploit an innovative supramolecular strategy to address this water management challenge in PEM membranes via introducing triptycene-based building blocks into polymer backbones. It is expected that supramolecular interactions of chain threading and interlocking induced by triptycene units can effectively suppress water swelling while maintaining high water uptake, which is critical to provide high proton conductivity under low RH conditions. Specifically, both random and multiblock copolymers of systematically varied compositions will be developed in this project to investigate how supramolecular interactions of triptycene units govern the formation of proton-conducting nanochannels as well as proton transport properties. The project will start with the synthesis of triptycene diol monomer, which will be copolymerized with commercial sulfonated monomer to produce both random and multiblock copolymers. Comprehensive characterizations of the copolymers will be conducted to confirm the chemical structure (NMR ad FTIR) and access their thermal and mechanical properties (DSC, TGA, tensile test, etc.). Membrane fabrication and acidification will then follow to prepare free standing, defect-free films for water swelling measurement, morphology characterization (AFM, TEM) and proton conductivity measurements (impedance spectroscopy). A student in materials science, chemical engineering, or chemistry is preferred, and having previous experience in a chemical laboratory would be helpful.

Project: Polymer membranes with tunable microporosity for gas separations

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Ruilan Guo • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205E McCourtney Hall • 631-3453 • rguo@nd.edu

Guo NURF image 2017

Polymers with well-defined microporosity are highly desired for gas separation membranes, wherein high microporosity enables fast gas transport while the finely tuned pore size regulates selective transport via size sieving. Recently there have been markedly increasing research interests in developing microporous polymers for gas separation membranes, such as polymers with intrinsic microporosity (PIMs). However, the reportedly super high gas permeability of microporous polymers is always accompanied by low selectivity, mainly due to the lack of precise control over pore size distribution in these polymers. Moreover, physical aging induced deterioration of permeability remains as one of the biggest challenges for microporous polymer membranes. This project will focus on constructing highly rigid ladder-like polymers using a shape-persistent building block based on pentiptycene-containing structural units. The novelty of this new type of microporous polymers lies in the truly intrinsic microporosity defined configurationally by the shape of the pentiptycene units, which offers unique opportunity to tailor the microcavity architecture in the membranes and simultaneously provide superior resistance towards physical aging by taking advantage of the rigid framework of pentiptycene moieties. The project will involve the synthesis of pentiptycene-based monomers with various bridgehead substituent groups, polymerization of tetrafunctional pentiptycene monomers with commercial comonomers, membrane fabrication/characterization, and pure-gas permeation tests. A student in materials science, chemical engineering, or chemistry is preferred, and having previous experience in a chemical laboratory would be helpful.

Project: Phononic nanoparticles for low-loss, tunable nanophotonics in the mid- and far-IR

Faculty mentors:
Prof. Anthony Hoffman • Electrical Engineering • 226B Cushing Hall • 631-4103 • ajhoffman@nd.edu
Prof. Ryan K. Roeder • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 148 Multidisciplinary Research Building • 631-7003 • rroeder@nd.edu

Hoffman Roeder NURF Image 2017

Phononic nanoparticles are a new class of optical materials with untapped potential for realizing new mid- and far-infrared detection and sensing nanotechnologies that are functionally analogous to ultraviolet and near-infrared plasmonic nanotechnologies but with even greater sensitivity. Phononic nanotechnologies have potential applications in analytical chemistry, biomedicine, environmental science, homeland security, astrophysics, and geology. However, basic scientific knowledge of the governing structure-property relationships for engineering the optical properties of phononic nanoparticles are not well understood or developed. Therefore, students on this project will investigate the optical properties of candidate phononic materials using both modeling and experimental characterization of synthesized nanoparticles. As such, this interdisciplinary research experience will cut across both materials science and optical science.


Project: Perovskite photovoltaics

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Prashant V. Kamat • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 235 Radiation Lab • 631-5411 • pkamat@nd.edu

Kamat NURF Image 2017

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.2-5 This project will evaluate the performance of solid state cesium lead halide perovskite solar cells. The summer research involves synthesis of semiconductor nanocrystals and dissolution processed thin perovskite films on various oxide films and constructing solar cells. These cells will then be evaluated to establish their photovoltaic properties. The overall goal is to tune the photoresponse of the thin film solar cell through mixed halide composition and improve the solar conversion efficiencies. The student will be involved in the preparation of perovskite films, spectroscopic and material characterization, solar cell fabrication and performance evaluation. Applicants with chemistry/physics background at sophomore level are preferred.

Additional Resources
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.; Christians, J. A.; Kamat, P. V., Intriguing Optoelectronic Properties of Metal Halide Perovskites. Chem. Rev. 2016, 116, 12956–13008.
4. Christians, J. A.; Miranda Herrera, P. A.; Kamat, P. V., Transformation of the Excited State and Photovoltaic Efficiency of CH3NH3PbI3 Perovskite upon Controlled Exposure to Humidified Air. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2015, 137, 1530–1538.
5. Yoon, S. J.; Draguta, S.; Manser, J. S.; Sharia, O.; Schneider, W. F.; Kuno, M.; Kamat, P. V., Tracking Iodide and Bromide Ion Segregation in Mixed Halide Lead Perovskites during Photoirradiation. ACS Energy Lett. 2016, 290-296.


Project: Nanostructure assemblies for sensing application

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Prashant V. Kamat • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 235 Radiation Lab • 631-5411 • pkamat@nd.edu

Kamat NURF Image 2017

Recent advances in the construction and characterization of graphene-semiconductor/metal nanoparticle composites in our laboratory has 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. The student will be involved in the preparation of graphene-based semiconductor nanoassembly, spectroscopic and material characterization, and test the assemblies in sensing applications. Applicants with chemistry/physics background at sophomore level are preferred.

Additional Resources
1. 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.
2. Lightcap, I. V.; Kamat, P. V. Graphitic Design: Prospects of Graphene-Based Nanocomposites for Solar Energy Conversion, Storage, and Sensing. Acc. Chem.Res. 2013, 46, 2235–2243.
3. Bridewell, V. L.; Karwacki, C. J.; Kamat, P. V., Electrocatalytic Sensing with Reduced Graphene Oxide: Electron Shuttling between Redox Couples Anchored on a 2-D Surface. ACS Sensors 2016, 1, 1203-1207.


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

Luo NURF Image 2017
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: Fabrication of solid-state batteries

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

McGinn NURF Image 2017

Solid state batteries (SSBs) may be a key enabler for electric vehicles. 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 provide more economical processing while still delivering sufficient energy density for automotive application. ND researchers are developing ceramic materials (Li7La3Zr2O12) and low-cost processing methods to provide for high-power, solid-state, lithium-ion batteries for use in EVs. A key factor to drive down costs is the development of scalable, ceramic fabrication techniques. The goal of this project is the chemical processing and sintering of nanosized electrolyte and electrode powders for development of composite electrode microstructures to yield high-performance batteries. Liquid phase sintering of electrolytes has been developed to reduce required processing temperatures. Composite electrodes will be developed to permit co-sintering of electrode-electrolyte structures. The student will synthesize (chemical processing) and characterize (X-ray diffraction, dilatometry) nano-sized powder of battery component materials (electrolytes, eletrodes). Slurries for tape casting will be prepared and sintered. Cast tapes will be characterized (impedance spectroscopy). Batteries will be fabricated from tapes (glove box work). Preferred disciplines: materials science, chemical engineering, chemistry.


Project: Custom‐built reaction chambers and in situ monitoring tools

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Svetlana Neretina • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 370 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-6127 • sneretina@nd.edu

Neretina NURF Image 2017

The reactions carried out in a liquid media have, thus far, been performed in either a three neck flask or a beaker. The goal, however, is to veer away from the use of standard glassware and, instead, carry out syntheses in enclosed reaction chambers that offer a more controlled reaction environment, versatility and in situ diagnostics. The final system will be able to: (i) flow a series of reactants into and out of a reaction chamber using syringe pumps without ever exposing the structures to air, (ii) heat an anchored substrate as well as the surrounding liquids, and (iii) perform a sparging procedure prior to reactions involving easily oxidized metals. The system will use a Teflon‐based reaction vessel instead of glassware because Teflon provides both chemical compatibility with the reactions being performed and machinability. The latter property is crucial in that it allows for the use of O‐ring seals, threaded connectors and internal components with more complex geometries (e.g., a substrate holder). The student will work under the supervision of Dr. Svetlana Neretina and her graduate students. Preferred disciplines(s): mechanical engineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science and machining.


Project: Noise measurements in nanoscale single-electron devices

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Alexei Orlov • Electrical Engineering • 227 Stinson-Remick Hall • 631-7383 • aorlov@nd.edu

Orlov NURF Image 2017
Comparison of electrical characteristics for two SET devices fabricated at ND nanofabrication facility using different surface treatment techniques at 0.4K. The drastic reduction of noise is clearly visible in B.

Single electron tunneling transistors (SET) are quantum mechanical devices that are capable of detecting a tiny displacement of charge (much less than one electron!) in a nearby nanostructure coupled to it. But this unique capability of an SET sensing device is limited by noise. Noise is a fascinating phenomenon where the physical system exhibits random fluctuation of its parameters, which in the case of sensors like SET, ultimately limits its ability to act as a detector. By carefully designing parameters of the SETs, one can improve their immunity by orders of magnitude. But what are the underlying physical mechanisms that lead to a drastic difference in performance, like shown in the figure (right)? Projects in the group of Professor Alexei Orlov study the connections between SET fabrication steps and resulting device performance, and explore the limits imposed by various sources of noise on the performance of the SET devices. The projects will include building circuits (amplifiers and filters) for noise measurements at different temperatures (from room temperature, 300K down to a very low, 0.3K) as well as the actual measurements of SETs and data analysis. A student involved in these projects will gain experience in hardware design and implementations, device measurement and data analysis techniques, and some programming. Students will work on the experimental measurements, data analysis, construction of circuits, and writing control programs. Students with backgrounds in physics, electrical engineering, and computer science are preferred. Some knowledge of programming, data analysis and soldering is helpful.


Project: Elucidating fundamental transport properties of copolymer-derived charge mosaic membranes

Faculty mentor:
Prof. William A. Phillip • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205F McCourtney Hall • 631-2708 • wphillip@nd.edu

Phillip NURF Image 2017
Top: Typical structures of three size-selective membranes. Bottom: Micrographs of charge-patterned membranes.

Nanoporous membranes based on self-assembled copolymer precursors are an emerging class of promising separation and purification devices, which will find application in water purification, pharmaceutical, and biofuel processing applications, due to the ability of researchers to control the nanostructure and chemistry of these multifunctional materials. To date, the most successful methodology for directing the assembly of nanostructured copolymer-based membranes has been the self-assembly and nonsolvent induced phase separation (SNIPS) procedure. This membrane fabrication protocol combines the thermodynamically driven self-assembly of copolymers in solution with the oft-used nonsolvent induced phase separation membrane fabrication technique. In addition to being facile and scalable, the versatility of the SNIPS process makes it an attractive membrane fabrication methodology. In particular, the membrane nanostructure and chemistry generated by the SNIPS process can be tuned by varying a number of engineering parameters. Recently, it was demonstrated that this flexibility could be exploited to generate charge-mosaic membranes based on the copolymer material platform. Charge mosaics contain both positively-charged and negatively-charged domains that traverse the thickness of the membrane. This structure enables both the cation and anion from a dissolved salt to permeate through the membrane without violating the macroscopic constraint of electroneutrality, and results in membranes that permeate dissolved salts more rapidly than solvent or neutral molecules. Unfortunately, the fundamental knowledge regarding how these membranes function is lagging. As such, the objective of this project is to identify the key material relationships that control the interplay between membrane nanostructure, functionality, and transport properties for charge mosaics membranes. The student researcher will be asked to fabricate membranes using the SNIPS process, and elucidate how the nanoscale structure and chemistry of the membranes impact the observed transport properties through experimental water flow and solute throughput tests. Chemical, mechanical, and environmental engineers are well-suited to undertake this research project.


Project: Nanoparticle contrast agents for quantitative molecular imaging with CT

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

Roeder NURF Image 2017

Molecular imaging with computed tomography (CT) could offer a single, low-cost and widely available modality for combined molecular and anatomic imaging at high spatiotemporal resolution. Nanoparticles (NPs) comprising high-Z metals, such as Au, have gained recent interest as X-ray contrast agents due to enabling the delivery of a greater mass payload compared with molecular contrast agents used clinically. Concomitant developments in photon-counting spectral CT are also transforming the capabilities of CT by providing quantitative multi-material decomposition. Therefore, students on this project will investigate the design, synthesis, and application of NP contrast agents for quantitative molecular imaging with CT. Core-shell NPs are designed for strong X-ray contrast, biostability, multimodal/multi-agent imaging, and targeted delivery. Applications include quantitative molecular imaging of multiple probe/tissue compositions, specific cancer cell populations (e.g., HER2+ breast cancer cells, cancer stem cells, etc.), tumors, associated pathologies (e.g., microcalcifications), drug delivery, and biomaterial degradation using both conventional CT and photon-counting spectral CT. Students will also interact with collaborators at the IU School of Medicine in South Bend and/or the Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago.


Project: Chemical sensor for fluid dynamic and environmental applications

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

Sakaue NURF Image 2017

This project is an interdisciplinary topic on chemistry and fluid dynamics. A chemical sensor gives luminescent output related to physical or chemical quantities, such as oxygen pressure, temperature, pH, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. It can be coated or sprayed onto a fluid dynamic or environmental object for testing. The sensor consists of a luminescent probe, porous material, polymer, and solvent. These components influence the characteristic outputs of this sensor in terms of its signal level, signal sensitivity, and response time. It is desired to find the relationship among those components and characteristic outputs to create an optimum sensor for various testing. The student will be involved in the development of a chemical sensor and its characterization using a spectrometer and pressure/temperature-controlled device. The sensor will be tested in a shock tube. A student from chemistry, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, or aerospace engineering is preferred.


Project: Polymer electrolytes for advanced rechargeable batteries

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Jennifer Schaefer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205G McCourtney Hall • 631-5114 • jschaef6@nd.edu

The objective of the research is to investigate solid polymer electrolytes for use in lithium and/or magnesium rechargeable batteries. Such electrolytes have the potential to increase battery safety due to their lower volatility and higher thermal stability compared with commercial electrolytes. Current polymer electrolytes suffer from low ionic conductivities that result in low battery charge/discharge rates, which preclude their use in commercial devices. This project will investigate ion transport mechanisms in novel single‐ion conducting polymer electrolytes. The student will prepare materials and characterize the electrochemical and thermal properties of these new materials. Prior lab experience and a background in chemical engineering, chemistry, materials science, or a closely related field is preferred.


Project: Dendrite growth in rechargeable lithium metal batteries

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Jennifer Schaefer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205G McCourtney Hall • 631-5114 • jschaef6@nd.edu

Widespread commercialization of high energy density rechargeable lithium metal batteries has been prevented for decades due to lithium dendrite growth. Lithium metal electrodeposits unevenly in many conditions, leading to growth of lithium dendrites that can short-circuit the battery and result in fire or explosion. The parameters affecting lithium dendrite growth are still not well understood. This project will investigate the effects of polymer electrolyte characteristics on dendrite nucleation timescales. The student will prepare polymer electrolyte films, fabricate lithium metal batteries, and conduct short‐circuit testing. Prior lab experience and a background in chemical engineering, chemistry, materials science, or a closely related field is preferred.


Project: Identifying nanostructure in medieval manuscripts

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Zachary Schultz • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 140D McCourtney Hall • 631-1853 • zschultz@nd.edu

Schultz NURF Image 2017
An example analysis of a 15th centure manuscript is shown. A magnification of the blue “B” is shown in the inset illustrating the molecular diverstity present. From the Raman spectrum shown, the mineral pigment associated with the color can be identified as azurite. 

The use of different molecular species has been used to provide color in illuminated works of art since ancient times. Distinct mineral particles, as well as organic dyes mixed with minerals are combined to provide color and decorate books and other manuscripts. The identity and composition of pigments may be linked to guilds and specific artisans. Interestingly, chemical differences associated with structure appear to play a key role in the observed properties. Using modern chemical characterization techniques, this project seeks to understand the correlation between molecular species and craftsmanship used to produce illuminated manuscripts dating from the middle ages. Interested students will be trained and use a variety of non-destructive spectroscopic techniques (e.g., Raman spectroscopy, hyperspectral darkfield imaging, and others) to examine and characterize the molecular properties in actual medieval manuscripts. This project is in collaboration with the Snite Museum of Art and the Notre Dame Nuclear Science Lab. This project is open to students at all levels, but familiarity with spectroscopy is helpful.


Project: Automated testing of tunnel field-effect transistors

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

The student will work with graduate students and post docs to advance the development of tunnel field-effect transistors (TFETs). These transistors are more energy efficient than the Si MOSFET. The student will use a Cascade autoprober, which allows step and repeat probing of devices on chip, and learn an integrated measurement software called Wavevue for control and analysis of the data. The goal of the project is to develop automated measurement routines and methods to extract key performance measures for the transistors, and then generate automated reports that students can use to document progress. The student will learn transistor testing, measurement automation, and data analysis to understand the physics of TFETs. Preferred discipline(s), expertise, lab skills, etc. Applicants with the ability to learn software, an interest in semiconductor devices and automated current-voltage and capacitance-voltage testing, and the ability to solve problems are preferred.


Project: Energy recovery for ultra-low energy computation

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Gregory Snider • Electrical Engineering • 270 Fitzpatrick Hall • 631-4148 • gsnider@nd.edu

Layout of adiabatic microprocessor for ultra-low power dissipation.

Description: 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. Students will work on the construction of circuits, writing control programs, and making measurements. Students in electrical engineering, physics, and computer science students are preferred. Some knowledge of programming and soldering is helpful.


Project: Ecological control theory

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

Vural NURF Image 2017
Figure 1. Schematics of Evolutionary Control. Our goal is to develop a theory that will allow manipulating biosocial evolution by topological and parametric perturbations. The fundamental object we aim to control is not populations, but the structure of interactions.

Evolutionary control has a long history starting with agricultural domestication and culminating into contemporary genome editing technologies. However, this history is largely limited to controlling individual species. We view ecological and biosocial networks as the new circuit board, and evolution as a manufacturing process capable of fabricating eco-machines. Evolutionary control promises terraforming worlds, degrading pollution, and manufacturing astonishing compounds. This is a theoretical / computational project that aims to establish an analytical framework to steer the evolution of multiple populations that strongly interact with one other. Specifically, we wish to theoretically understand how to manipulate the connectivity of networks representing ecological or biosocial webs, which range from bacterial biofilms to rainforests. The project particularly focuses on ecological control under noisy or incomplete knowledge of the existing interactions and population levels of species. The project requires mathematical and computational dexterity. Applicants are expected to be familiar with matlab, differential equations / dynamic systems, and elementary probability theory.


Project: Targeting therapeutic nanoparticles through supramolecular affinity

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Matthew J. Webber • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205B McCourtney Hall • mwebber@nd.edu

We are motivated to advance the practice of therapeutic nanotechnology by capturing several of the benefits of antibody targeting while avoiding some known complications. Antibodies are used for targeting due to high affinity and biological tissue-specificity. There are, however, downsides to antibody use in nanomedicine that could present issues in application moving forward: (i) Antibodies are fundamentally opsonins, a bio-recognizable signal that promotes cell-mediated uptake and clearance of foreign particles (e.g., viruses) by the reticuloendothelial system. Can we use alternative high-affinity targeting groups that would not be subjected to active biological clearance? (ii) A typical therapeutic nanoparticle (diameter ~50-100 nm) endowed with antibodies (hydrodynamic diameter of ~10 nm) would be expected to have its surface properties and function altered by addition of this bulky appendage; furthermore, there is limited area on the nanoparticle surface to attach such a large targeting group. Can we design targeting based on minimal groups that have comparable affinity while limiting impact on the properties of the functional nanoparticle? Using ultra-high affinity supramolecular interactions as a type of “molecular Velcro,” our group envisions a new therapeutic nanoparticle targeting axis built on minimal small molecule affinity motifs that serve as drivers of localization, in lieu of large targeting antibodies, while at the same time not sacrificing any affinity relative to an antibody-antigen interaction. An undergraduate working on this project will be expected to learn techniques for formulating synthetic nanoparticles to contain drugs and quantifying drug release using a combination of spectroscopy and chromatography. Additionally, this individual will be tasked with validating this mechanism for targeting in vitro through microscopy of fluorescent nanoparticles on cultured cells. Disciplines related to chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, or bioengineering are encouraged to apply. A minimum of some prior laboratory coursework is expected.


Project: Engineering responsive peptide-based drug nanocarriers

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Matthew J. Webber • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205B McCourtney Hall • mwebber@nd.edu

We are motivated to improve therapeutic specificity of self-assembling drug nanocarriers by endowing them with units that can promote a change in assembly state as a function of the presence of disease-relevant analytes and biomarkers. Typical nanocarriers for drug delivery demonstrate equilibrium-driven release. This is inefficient at best, and at worst can result in the accumulation of drug off-target in the body where it can elicit side-effects. Can we use disease-specific indicators to facilitate increased drug release specifically at the site of disease, toward non-equilibrium, responsive drug delivery? Peptide self-assembly affords one means to create nanostructures, and by virtue of these being based on non-covalent interactions, the energy barrier that must be overcome to induce a change in assembly state is modest relative to a system constructed covalently. Furthermore, peptide nanostructures can be designed with control over shape, interfacial curvature, and aspect-ratio. Our objective in this project is thus to incorporate analyte-sensing chemical units within a peptide backbone such that presence of the specific analyte drives a change from an assembled peptide-based drug carrier to a disassembled monomeric form accompanied by burst release of a drug. An undergraduate working on this project will be expected to learn techniques in solid-phase peptide synthesis, conduct routine characterization to study changes in material properties as a function of analyte concentration, and quantify the loading and release of drugs from these nanostructures using a combination of spectroscopy and chromatography. Disciplines related to chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, or bioengineering are encouraged to apply. A minimum of some prior laboratory coursework is expected.


Project: Effects of acidity and salinity on polymer drug-delivery complexes

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Jonathan K. Whitmer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 122A Cushing Hall • 574-631-1417 • jwhitme1@nd.edu

A host of interesting phenomena, both biological and technological, involve the complexation of charged polymers; these may be long polymers with well-defined secondary structure, such as proteins1, linear polyelectrolytes, or multi-branched species2. A particularly interesting phenomenon within polyelectrolyte solutions is coacervation3,4, a liquid-liquid phase separation where polymer-enriched liquid droplets are formed within a dilute phase5. Coacervation is a puzzling process where two primarily aqueous phases become immiscible6. Aggregates (coacervates) formed in mixtures of oppositely charged polyelectrolytes are known as complex coacervates5,7,8. Coacervates occur in many natural systems9,10, and have found application in microencapsulation11,12 and extraction13 processes, as their ultra-low surface tension allows them to readily assimilate nanoparticles or drug payloads within aqueous suspension. Coacervation is intimately related to the process of layer-by-layer deposition, where films up to micrometers in thickness are built by iterative surface adsorption of polyelectrolytes. Such films are of interest as solid electrolytes in lightweight batteries14,15, fuel-cell electrodes14,16, protective coatings16, and drug micro-encapsulation17. This topic inspires student projects involving characterization of coacervates through molecular dynamics simulation. These are focused on the use of complex coacervates in the delivery of therapeutic compounds to specific biological targets, as the highly charged, condensed environments they facilitate can act to stabilize and protect molecular and macromolecular species.

1. Using a customized version of the LAMMPS open-source molecular simulation package25, the student will examine the role of pH in the complexation of long polyions in the presence of added salt. Of particular note are the connections between molecular structure and effective pKa in dilute and concentrated solutions, as this quantity determines the useful phase window for coacervates as a host material for drug delivery applications.
2. A second project involves the influence of the highly charged environment provided by a complex coacervate in stabilizing drugs -- in particular protein based therapies -- against deactivation and degradation. The student will explicitly determine how these environments affect the pKa and native structure of therapeutic compounds using coarse-grained and fully atomistic models.

It is preferable (but not required) for students interested in this project to have prior experience with writing computer code (C++ preferred) and with scripting languages such as python and bash to facilitate running computations on the Whitmer group cluster and CRC machines.



Project: Performance of functional metal-organic frameworks

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Jonathan K. Whitmer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 122A Cushing Hall • 574-631-1417 • jwhitme1@nd.edu

The beautiful and intricate geometries of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs),1 together with their impressive capacities for energy storage, 2-5 carbon sequestration6,7 and catalysis8,9 inspire their study in equal amounts. This array of applications is facilitated by the open structure of the MOF and the myriad choices of linking molecules. In this project, we will examine the properties of some recently synthesized open structures, including the ZnO2/pyridine carboxylate structures studied in the lab of Jason Hicks at Notre Dame.10 Of particular interest are the adsorption free energies and diffusion constants for compounds within these lattices, as they will influence operating conditions and capabilities of the MOF structure. During the project, the student will build molecular simulation models and learn techniques for statistically characterizing the properties of crystal lattices, in addition to thermodynamic integration and manifold reduction methods. The student will be expected to have some familiarity with writing computer codes, preferably in C++. Beyond this, only general knowledge of physics and chemistry is required.



Project: Predicting material elastic responses from molecular simulations

Faculty mentor:
Prof. Jonathan K. Whitmer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 122A Cushing Hall • 574-631-1417 • jwhitme1@nd.edu

Elastic materials exhibit a restoring force that opposes applied stress, resulting from a perturbation away from thermodynamic equilibrium. Materials may exhibit different types of elasticity depending on their character.1 Each opposed deformation defines an elastic modulus; liquid crystals may have three or more elastic moduli characterizing their response to curvature deformations in their ordering field;2 solids, both crystalline and amorphous, also have several elastic moduli, such as the bulk modulus, shear modulus and Young's modulus. Each of these moduli may be related to derivatives of the system's free energy relative to a variable characterizing the extent of deformation. The Whitmer group has three potential projects related to measurements of elastic properties in silico, which build on recent formalisms3-5 utilizing free energy perturbation simulations to extract the elastic coefficients of liquid crystals into the domain of two-dimensional membranes and three-dimensional solids. We aim to characterize the typical elastic properties of each phase, and validate our data against previous simulations and theoretical models. In particular, the three projects are:

  • Application of free-energy perturbations to atomistic models of liquid crystals to predict elastic constants in silico, and contribute to development of a high throughput workflow for elastic property screening.
  • The utilization of recently developed coarse-grained models of biological membranes to understand the enthalpic interactions and entropic packing alter the elastic behavior of a membrane. This project also seeks to demonstrate the effectiveness of "at-histogram" methods6 relative to fluctuation methods in determining surface tension and elasticity of membranes.
  • Ionic liquid crystals, salt species that self-assemble into phases with charged and uncharged domains, have recently been of interest as novel battery electrolytes. Here we will examine the response behavior of self-assembled phases in the ionic liquid crystal [C16mim][PF6], to obtain structure-property relationships that will be useful in processing these materials.

During the project, the student will work intensively on molecular simulation models and learn techniques of advanced sampling, in particular at-histogram methods7 used for the measurement of free energies. The student will be expected to have some familiarity with writing computer codes, preferably in C++. Beyond this, only general knowledge of physics and chemistry is required.

1. Landau, Lev D. and Lifshitz, E. M., Theory of Elasticity, volume 7, (Elsevier New York 1986), 3 edition.
2. P. G. de Gennes and Prost, J., The Physics of Liquid Crystals, volume 4, (Oxford University Press 1994), second edition, doi:10.1080/13583149408628646.
3. Joshi, Abhijeet A., Whitmer, Jonathan K., Guzman, Orlando, Abbott, Nicholas L., and de Pablo, Juan J., "Measuring liquid crystal elastic constants with free energy perturbations." Soft Matt., 10, 882-93 (2014), doi:10.1039/c3sm51919h.
4. Whitmer, Jonathan K., Chiu, Chi-cheng, Joshi, Abhijeet a., and de Pablo, Juan J., "Basis Function Sampling: A New Paradigm for Material Property Computation." Phys. Rev. Lett., 113, 190602 (2014), doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.190602.
5. Sidky, Hythem and Whitmer, Jonathan K., "Elastic properties of common GayBerne nematogens from density of states (DOS) simulations." Liquid Crystals, 0, 1-15 (0), doi:10.1080/02678292.2016.1201869.
6. Singh, Sadanand, Chopra, Manan, and de Pablo, Juan J, "Density of states-based molecular simula- tions." Annual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, 3, 369-94 (2012), doi:10.1146/annurev- chembioeng-062011-081032.
7. Singh, Sadanand, Chopra, Manan, and de Pablo, Juan J, "Density of states-based molecular simulations." Ann. Rev. Chem. Biochem. Eng., 3, 369-94 (2012), doi:10.1146/annurev-chembioeng-062011-081032.

Back to NURF overview