The application process for summer 2021 is now closed. Materials are available for reference only.

Application Instructions

Chang Nurf 2019Fellowship recipient Alfred Chang

1) Review the summer 2021 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 2021 NURF Application)

3) By 8:00am Eastern on February 10, email your completed application and current resumé (saved with the same name convention -- Smith-Barb resumé) to the project’s faculty mentor(s) for consideration, and cc: NDnano faculty will follow-up with selected applicants directly. Award notifications will begin in early March.

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 are applying. Please include project title and faculty first/last name.


Review the Frequently Asked Questions or feel free to contact Heidi Deethardt

Please Note

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.

The University allows students to work a maximum of 40 hours per week during the summer (all campus jobs combined). This means that students cannot participate in the NURF program on a full-time basis and at the same time hold any other paid, on-campus, summer position. (Fellowships of less than 40 hours per week would be considered on a case-by-case basis.)

In addition, fellowship recipients who attend Notre Dame and have 2020-2021 on-campus, academic-year jobs may have restrictions on their NURF start date; contact Heidi Deethardt for more details. 

2021 NURF Project Descriptions

Project: Molecular and process design framework for the separation, recycling, and reuse of hydrofluorocarbon mixtures

Faculty mentors:
Professor Alexander W. Dowling • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 369 Nieuwland Hall • 574-631-4041 •

Professor Edward J. Maginn • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 250 Nieuwland Hall • 574-631-5687 •

Dowling Maginn NURF Image 2020Figure 1. The proposed framework integrates mixture physical property measurements, atomistic molecular simulations, process optimization, and demonstration to create innovative ionic liquid mixtures and separation processes that could enable global recycling of HFCs. The student researcher will work with a graduate student on molecular simulations and data analysis (Specific Aims 2 and 3).

Refrigerators and heat pumps use a substance called a refrigerant to transfer heat between two spaces. Prior to the late 1980s, refrigerants often contained chlorfluorocarbons, but these materials were phased out because of their high ozone depletion potential. Mixtures of hydrofluorocarbons appeared on the market as replacement. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) do not deplete the Earth's ozone layer, but many are potent greenhouse gases with much higher global warming potentials than CO2, prompting a concerted effort to phase out the use of high global warming potential HFCs. The phase out of these materials is complicated by the fact that there are thousands of tons of refrigerant mixtures that contain both low and high global warming potential compounds, and there is no viable method for separating and reclaiming the components. The separation of low and high global warming HFCs is complex because they are azeotropic or near-azeotropic materials, meaning they are chemically similar and behave like a single (pure) fluid. The goal of the project is to develop tools and processes that enable the separation of high and low global warming potential HFCs, allowing the recovery and reuse of the low global warming potential HFCs. To accomplish this goal, an integrated molecular and chemical process design framework will be developed to engineer novel ionic liquid-based HFC separation technologies. The approach will unify "top-down" computer-aided molecular design with "bottom-up" experimentally driven approaches to more efficiently identify new separation agents for HFC azeotropic mixtures. The engineering framework will be widely applicable to other chemical separation processes, including that of next-generation refrigerants such as hydrofluoro-olefins and hydrochlorofluoro-olefins.

The work is organized in four specific aims:

  1. Carry out pure and mixed gas solubility measurements of R-32, R-125 and R-134a in a wide range of ILs. (collaborator at KU)
  2. Conduct high throughput molecular simulations of IL solvents for HFCs. (Notre Dame)
  3. Systematically screen process designs and determine IL physical property targets via rigorous mathematical modeling and superstructure optimization. (Notre Dame)
  4. Demonstrate viability of most promising ionic liquid entrainers in lab-scale extractive distillation systems. (collaborators at KU)

As such, this research program presents an opportunity to make significant progress towards integrating molecular design and end-use application optimization. In contributing to this ambitious project, the student researcher will be asked to elucidate molecular-level phenomena governing complex IL and HFC interactions. Specifically, the student will work with a ND graduate researcher to conduct and analyze molecular simulations. Self-motivated, independent student researchers will have the ability to focus their research efforts on the aspect of the project that appeals to their skills and interests. Prior Python programming or *nix command line experience will be helpful, but comfort with any computer programming language is sufficient. Students in chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science are well-suited to undertake this research project.


Project: Data-driven approaches to elucidating molecular design principles for nanostructured membranes capable of separating similarly sized molecules

Faculty mentors:
Professor Alexander W. Dowling • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 369 Nieuwland Hall • 574-631-4041 •

Professor William A. Phillip • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205F McCourtney Hall • 574-631-2708 •

Dowling Phillip NURF Image 2020a. A schematic showing the physical and chemical properties of the membrane that can be tuned easily. Exploring how transport through chemically selective pores is affected when the physical and chemical interactions occur in confined geometries is critical to this project. b. Parameter estimation for a single filtration experiment. The mass of the material that permeated through the membrane was measured every 5s and is marked with red dots. Best fit parameters, directly to the nanostructural features of the membrane, were computed by minimizing difference between data and predictions.

The goal of the proposed research is to develop the fundamental scientific knowledge that informs the design and fabrication of nanostructured membranes with pore wall chemistries tailored to facilitate the separation of molecules with comparable sizes, especially rare earth elements (REEs). Membrane separations have demonstrated significant advantages in sustainability and energy efficiency. However, the majority of state-of-the-art membranes are size-selective and unable to distinguish between species of comparable molecular sizes. As such, there are significant opportunities for membranes that distinguish between molecules based on chemical, rather than steric, factors. Unfortunately, knowledge regarding the molecular design features that enable this class of transport mechanisms is lagging, which hinders the rational development of chemically selective membranes. Thus, there is a critical need to execute systematic, experimental studies on such membranes to elucidate the relationships between their nanostructure, surface chemistry, and selective transport mechanisms. Here, this engineering opportunity will be met by integrating membrane science and statistical learning paradigms into a convergent framework to develop the knowledge that guides the molecular design of these membranes. Self-assembled membranes that are amenable to post-assembly functionalization offer orthogonal control over membrane nanostructure and chemistry such that a diverse array of interfacial and transport phenomena can be interrogated. It is hypothesized that three molecular properties – solute-carrier affinity, spacer arm length, and pore diameter – control chemically selective transport mechanisms. Statistical learning and dynamic diafiltration experiments will be utilized to efficiently navigate this vast molecular design space and to elucidate the desired structure-property relationships up to 100 times faster than Edisonian searches.

The work is organized in three objectives:

  1. Identify molecular design strategies for copolymer membranes tailor-made to promote the efficient separation of REEs. This effort will generate a family of membranes with rationally-engineered nanostructures and pore wall chemistries.
  2. Develop a statistical learning framework to identify the dominant transport and interfacial phenomena from dynamic diafiltration experiments. Model-based design of experiments will be used to discern between model permutations in a proposed model hierarchy.
  3. Utilize statistical learning to guide the development of structure-property relationships for chemically selective transport mechanisms that are capable of separating REEs.

As such, this research program presents an opportunity to make significant progress toward elucidating the critical structure-property relationships for membranes capable of transporting target solutes based on chemical, rather than steric, factors, with applications well beyond REEs. In contributing to this ambitious, potentially transformative project, the student researcher will be asked to elucidate how the nanoscale structure and chemistry of the membranes impact the observed transport properties through experimental water flow and solute filtration tests. The student will also assist in developing new data analysis capability ultimately leading to new optimal design-of-experiments capabilities. Self-motivated, independent student researchers will have the ability to focus their research efforts on the aspect of the project that appeals to their skills and interests. Students in chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science are well-suited to undertake this research project.


Project: Exploring fundamental physics of a 3D triple junction using computational and experimental methods

Faculty mentors:
Professor David Go • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 140G McCourtney Hall • 574-631-8394 • Send applications to

Professor Seong-kyun Im • Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering & School of Mechanical Engineering (Korea University)

The technical objective of this National Science Foundation-sponsored project is to investigate the fundamental physics of the ‘3D effect’ on the electric field formed around a triple junction. A triple junction is when an insulator, a metal, and air all come to meet at one interface. When an electric field is applied across the media, the triple junction enhances the electric field and can enhance electron transport. In our work, we explore how triple junctions can enhance thermal-to-electrical energy conversion using pyroelectric-metal-air triple junctions. Previous research on triple junctions mainly focus on 2D configurations. Our experiments show that different and unexpected levels of enhancement are produced when creating the triple junction in different 3D geometries. An initial hypothesis is that there is a ‘3D effect’, but the physical fundamentals have not been deeply investigated yet. This project would be primarily conducted computationally in the hope of providing physical insight that supports the hypothesis. Experiments may also be conducted to complement simulations to verify some key findings. The role of the student is to help build and test models with 3D triple junctions using computational software such as COMSOL Multiphysics. They will work closely with a graduate student who is focused more on the energy conversion science and would have opportunities to do computational simulations, theoretical analysis, and potentially some experimental work. Applicants from any science or engineering discipline are acceptable, although those with a background in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering are preferred. Students interested in continuing the research throughout the school year will be given priority.


Project: Developing a mechanical system that can harvest high-frequency vibrations and use it to actuate a piezoelectric crystal to generate continuous spark discharges

Faculty mentors:
Professor David Go • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 140G McCourtney Hall • 574-631-8394 • Send applications to

Professor Seong-kyun Im • Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering & School of Mechanical Engineering (Korea University)

The technical objective of this National Science Foundation-sponsored project is to engineer a system using piezoelectric crystals to convert mechanical energy to directly produce an electric discharge or plasma that can be used for applications such as water purification or pollution mitigation. Our preliminary exploration [1] shows the potential of actuating a piezoelectric crystal with mechanical input up to tens of kHz, but we have not built a system that can successfully actuate the crystal at such high frequency. The specific key to this project is to develop a mechanical system that can efficiently transmit high-frequency vibrations to actuate piezoelectric plasma generation. The role of the student is to help design, build, and test a high-frequency vibration system. They will work closely with a graduate student who is focused more on the plasma generation science and would have opportunities to do experimental work, data analysis, and potentially some computational simulations. Applicants from any science and engineering discipline are acceptable, although those with a background in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering are preferred. Students interested in continuing the research throughout the school year will be given priority.

[1] Jaenicke, O.K., Hita Martínez, F.G., Yang, J., Im, S.K. and Go, D.B., 2020. Hand-generated piezoelectric mechanical-to-electrical energy conversion plasma. Applied Physics Letters, 117(9), p.093901.


Project: Engineering biomimetic materials to control stem cell morphogenesis

Faculty mentor:
Professor Donny Hanjaya-Putra • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering Graduate Program • 141 Multidisciplinary Research Building • 574-631-2291 •

HanjayaPutra1 NURF Image 2020

Blood and lymphatic vasculatures are two important components of the tumor microenvironments. Blood vessels supply nutrients important for tumor growth and serve as a conduit for hematogenous tumor spread, while the lymphatic vessels are used by the cancer cells to interact with the immune system as well as for lymphatic tumor metastasis. Consequently, the growth of blood and lymphatic vasculatures surrounding the tumor have been associated with tumor metastases and poor patient prognosis. The objective of this project is to understand what governs the formation of blood and lymphatic vessels from stem cells, how these processes are affected by the tumor microenvironment, and how we can use these insights to develop novel therapies. The student will synthesize and characterize biomaterials for in vitro evaluation using stem cells. The student is expected to maintain the stem cell culture, and study cell-materials interaction using microscopy and molecular biology techniques. Students with a background in mechanical engineering, chemical/bio-engineering, materials science, or biochemistry are encouraged to apply. Prior lab experience is preferred. 

Lymphatic Tissue Engineering and Regeneration. 
Laura Alderfer, Alicia Wei, Donny Hanjaya-Putra; Journal of Biological Engineering, 2018 Dec 17; 12.32. DOI

Controlled Activation of Morphogenesis to Generate a Functional Human Microvasculature in a Synthetic Matrix
Donny Hanjaya-Putra, Vivek Bose, Yu-I Shen, Jane Yee, Sudhir Khetan, Karen Fox-Talbot, Charles Steenbergen, Jason A. Burdick, Sharon Gerecht; Blood, 2011, Jul 21; 118(3):804-15. DOI

Spatial Control of Cell-Mediated Degradation to Regulate Vasculogenesis and Angiogenesis in Hyaluronan Hydrogels
Donny Hanjaya-Putra, Kyle T. Wong, Kelsey Hirotsu, Sudhir Khetan, Jason A. Burdick, Sharon Gerecht; Biomaterials, 2012, Sep; 33(26):6123-31. DOI

Integration and Regression of Implanted Human Vascular Networks during Deep Wound Healing
Donny Hanjaya-Putra, Yu-I Shen, Abby Wilson, Sudhir Khetan, Karen Fox-Talbot, Charles Steenbergen, Jason A. Burdick, Sharon Gerecht; Stem Cell Translational Medicine, 2013 Apr; 2(4):297-306. DOI


Project: Magneto-silica nanoparticles (MagSiNs) for combinatorial chemotherapeutics and gene delivery against metastatic cancers

Faculty mentors: 
Professor Paul Helquist • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 361 Stepan Hall • 631-7822 •

Professor Prakash D. Nallathamby • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 105C McCourtney Hall • 631-7868 •

We intend to target non-targetable cancer cells by tuning the magnetic field-induced force exerted by label-free magnetic nanomaterials at the cell membrane to selectively permeabilize the more compliant cancer cell membranes but not the stiff healthy cell membranes. Systemic delivery chemotherapeutics is toxic to all cells but more so to cancer cells due to the high metabolic rate of cancer cells. Targeted drug delivery using antibody tagged drug carriers reduces the dosage required to kill cancer cells and thereby mitigate the toxicity associated with systemic drug delivery. But the lack of unique targetable biomarkers on aggressive cancer cells such as 3º negative breast cancer makes the targeted drug delivery option a non-starter. But with the recent advances in biophysics, it is well documented that cancer cells have significantly different cell membrane stiffness in comparison to healthy cells. Cancer cell membranes are less stiff and more compliant, and the cells as a whole are easily deformable. The difference in membrane physical properties can be exploited by applying a force that is above the threshold required to permeabilize the cancer cells, but the force is still below the threshold required to permeabilize normal cells. While the cancer cell permeabilization and cancer cell-specific drug delivery have been validated in vitro, it is not known how effective such systems are in vivo. Studies that have tried to validate magnetic field directed drug delivery systems in vivo did so by sticking a permanent magnet on the tumor site before administering the nanocarriers intravenously or intratumorally. The requirement to know the tumor location beforehand to use magnetic targeting is the shortcoming of previous studies. As such, targeting modes offer no advantage over surgical re-sectioning, which is the current standard of care. Therefore, in this proposed study we will validate a label-free magnetic nanocarrier system (PEG-MagSiNs, PEG-Dox-MagSiNs) that will localize to cancer cells without the need for prior knowledge of the cancer cells’ location in vivo. We will exploit this property for selective drug-delivery and gene delivery to cancer cells. In this project  the students will get exposure to (a) the conjugation of multiple therapeutics to PEG-MagSiNs; (b) design multiple modes of drug delivery from the PEG-MagSiNs (ON-demand, stimuli dependent, enzymatic release, etc.) and (c) execute in vitro cell and in vivo mouse studies that show selective targeting of PEG-MagSiNs to metastatic breast cancer cell and improved survivability in the sample group.

Suggested readings:
1. Chen Q1, Schweitzer D, Kane J, Davisson VJ, Helquist P. “Total synthesis of iejimalide B”
J Org Chem. 2011 Jul 1;76(13):5157-69   
2. Guduru, R.; Liang, P.; Runowicz, C.; Nair, M.; Atluri, V.; Khizroev, S., Magneto-electric Nanoparticles to Enable Field-controlled High-Specificity Drug Delivery to Eradicate Ovarian Cancer Cells.
Scientific Reports 2013, 3, 2953
3. Nallathamby, P. D.; Hopf, J.; Irimata, L. E.; McGinnity, T. L.; Roeder, R. K., Preparation of fluorescent Au-SiO2 core-shell nanoparticles and nanorods with tunable silica shell thickness and surface modification for immunotargeting.
Journal of Materials Chemistry B 2016, 4 (32), 5418-5428.


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

Faculty mentors:
Professor Anthony Hoffman • Electrical Engineering • 266 Cushing Hall • 631-4103 •

Professor Ryan K. Roeder • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering Graduate Program • 148 Multidisciplinary Research Building • 631-7003 •

Hoffman-Roeder NURF image 2019
Schematic depicting the technology-space for phononics.

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 application 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: Scalable nanofabrication of metasurfaces using microsphere photolithography

Faculty mentor:
Professor Edward Kinzel • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 377 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-8941 •

Kinzel NURF Image 2020

Metasurfaces have shown dramatic potential to control radiation. However, the fabrication methods used for prototyping metasurfaces at visible and infrared wavelengths are cost prohibitive for most practical applications. Microsphere photolithography (MPL) uses a self-assembled microsphere array as an optical element to focus ultraviolet radiation to sub-diffraction limited photonic jets. Hierarchical structures can be produced by controlling the intensity of the incident illumination or its angular spectrum. This approach works well on non-planar substrates including optical fiber. The objective of this project is to use the MPL technique to create functional devices such as sensors and surfaces for controlling radiation heat transfer (e.g., daytime radiative cooling) depending on the student’s interest. The student will iteratively design the structure to perform the desired function, fabricate the device using microsphere photolithography, and characterize its performance using infrared spectroscopy. Other possible research projects could involve improving the fundamentals of the fabrication process. The project is multidisciplinary. Students with a background/interest in optics and/or microfabrication (physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering or chemistry) are encouraged to apply.


Project: Noble metal nanostructures for harsh environments

Faculty mentor:
Professor Svetlana Neretina • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry & Biochemistry • 370 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-6127 • 

Neretina NURF Image 2020

Material stability, be it photo, thermal, chemical, mechanical, or a combination thereof, is a ubiquitous subject of fundamental importance. It often decides whether a technology is viable, reliable, and sustainable and where the outcomes have economic, environmental, and social impacts. Noble metal nanostructures (e.g., Au, Ag, Pt, Pd) are functional materials that are used in numerous applications such as catalysis, energy, sensors, and optoelectronics. The tendency for such structures to morphologically reconfigure when heated can, however, disrupt or destroy the properties that were so carefully engineered in the first place and, in doing so, puts important applications (e.g., heat-assisted magnetic recording, high-temperature plasmonic sensing, solar thermophotovoltaics, and laser optics) at risk. With the understanding that temperature-induced shape changes originate from the diffusion of atoms, the goal of this project is to synthesize gold nanostructures with an oxide skeleton, where the skeleton’s purpose is to obstruct the most at-risk diffusion pathways so as to achieve a more stable configuration. The student working on this project will carry out various solution-based syntheses, characterize nanostructure properties, and test whether these properties can be maintained when the structures are exposed to heat treatments. Student applicants with a strong background in chemistry or materials science are preferred.


Project: Nanoparticle theranostic agents for breast cancer

Faculty mentors:
Professor Ryan K. Roeder • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering Graduate Program • 148 Multidisciplinary Research Building • 631-7003 •

Professor Laurie Littlepage • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 132 Harper Hall • 631-4804 •

Roeder Nurf Image 2021

Mammographic screening has greatly improved our ability to detect breast cancer early and save lives. Early detection allows breast cancer to be treated before becoming deadly. However, an unfortunate consequence, widely reported in the media, is that mammography detects some types of cancers that may or may not become malignant. This leads to a clinical dilemma of whether to immediately treat these cancers with invasive and toxic therapies, or wait and risk progression into a more deadly cancer. This project addresses this dilemma by investigating a nanoparticle theranostic (therapeutic + diagnostic) agent, bisphosphonate functionalize gold nanoparticles (BP-Au NPs). This agent targets hydroxyapatite (HA) microcalcifications (µcals) which are the pathological hallmark of these pre-invasive cancers detected by mammography. Microcalcifications are also believed to be key to the progression of these pre-invasive cancers but their role is poorly understood. The agent will be used to study the pathobiological role of microcalcifications in breast cancer progression and is ultimately envisioned to provide a clinical tool for improved diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of pre-invasive cancers. By targeting microcalcifications after administration through a hypodermic needle, the agent will improve the diagnostic and prognostic ability of mammography to detect and determine whether a pre-invasive cancer will become invasive or not, thus dramatically reducing overdiagnosis. The agent will further act as a prophylactic treatment of pre-invasive cancers by inhibiting their progression, thus eliminating overtreatment by invasive interventions. 


Project: Polymers in next-generation rechargeable batteries

Faculty mentor:
Professor Jennifer Schaefer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205G McCourtney Hall • 574-631-5114 •

Schaefer NURF Image 2020

Advanced energy storage devices are sought after for use in electric vehicles and in conjunction with solar farms and wind farms for load leveling of the electric grid. To meet the cost and performance requirements of these applications, new battery chemistries are under development. Many of these battery designs incorporate functional organic components, such as polymer electrolytes, polymer coatings at the electrode-electrolyte interface, and polymer binders in the electrodes. In this project, the student will synthesize and characterize new organic materials for applications in rechargeable lithium or magnesium batteries. Multiple opportunities are available. Educational backgrounds in chemical engineering, chemistry, polymer science or engineering, and materials science or engineering are preferred.

Suggested readings:
1. J. Liu, P. D. Pickett, B. Park, S. P. Upadhyay, S. Orski, and J. L. Schaefer, “Non-solvating, side-chain polymer electrolytes as lithium single-ion conductors: synthesis and ion transport characterization,”
Polymer Chemistry.
2. H. O. Ford, L. C. Merrill, P. He, S. P. Upadhyay, and J. L. Schaefer, "Cross-Linked Ionomer Gel Separators for Polysulfide Shuttle Mitigation in Magnesium–Sulfur Batteries: Elucidation of Structure–Property Relationships,"
Macromolecules, 2018. (Cover)


Project: Adiabatic capacitive logic for ultra-low power electronics 

Faculty mentors:
Professor Gregory Snider • Electrical Engineering • 275 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-4148 •

Professor Alexei Orlov • Electrical Engineering • 227 Stinson-Remick Hall • 574-631-8079 •

Snider NURF Image 2020Cross-section of MEMS ACL structure to be fabricated.

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? Are there devices other than transistors that able to dissipate less power. This project will investigate adiabatic capacitive logic (ACL), which uses variable capacitors are used in pull-up and pull-down networks to form a voltage divider that be used to as a logic element. The variable capacitors will be built using micro-electro-mechanical structures (MEMS) to make nano-relay like devices. These devices map well onto adiabatic reversible computing approaches that can reduce power dissipation far below that possible with conventional approaches. The student will work in the cleanroom on device fabrication, and on device measurement. Students in electrical engineering, physics, or computer science are preferred. Some knowledge of programming and soldering is helpful.


Project: Control theory of ecosystems

Faculty mentor:
Professor Dervis Vural • Physics • 384G Nieuwland Hall • 574-631-6977 •

Vural NURF image 2019

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 linear algebra.


Project: Targeting therapeutics through supramolecular affinity

Faculty mentor:
Professor Matthew Webber • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205B McCourtney Hall • 574-631-4246 •

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. The student 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, the student will be tasked with validating this mechanism for targeting in vitro through microscopy of fluorescent nanoparticles on cultured cells. Students in chemistry, chemical engineering, materials Science, or bioengineering are encouraged to apply. A minimum of some prior laboratory coursework is expected.