Application Instructions

The application process for 2018 is now closed, except for Naughton- and McMaster-funded students. Otherwise, materials are provided for reference only.

Jorge Ramirez NURFFellowship recipient Jorge Ramirez

1) Review the summer 2018 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 2018 NURF Application)

3) 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: Heidi Deethardt at 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 have applied.


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/week during the summer months (for all campus positions combined). This means that students cannot participate in the NURF program and at the same time hold any other paid, on-campus, summer position.

In addition, fellowship recipients who attend Notre Dame and have 2017-2018 on-campus, academic-year jobs may be prohibited from starting their NURF position before the last week of May; contact Heidi Deethardt for more details. 

2018 NURF Project Descriptions

Project: Engineering multifunctional nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery in cancer

Faculty mentor:
Professor Basar Bilgicer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205C McCourtney Hall • 574-631-1429 •

Bilgicer nurf image 2018Fig. 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 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 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: Multilayer high contrast dielectric graded index lenses for millimeter wave antenna systems

Faculty mentor:
Professor Jonathan Chisum • Electrical Engineering • 226A Cushing Hall • 574-631-3915 •

Chisum-1 NURF image 2018Figure 1: 3D permittivity profile transformation of a spherical Luneburg lens (left) to a flat lens with identical radiation pattern (right)

The desire for low power antenna configurations is found in nearly every modern wireless application, from the well-established satellite communications industry to the burgeoning 5G mobile data standards. In these and other applications, the advancement of small mobile platforms places greater performance constraints on antenna systems; not only are smaller form factors required but mobile antenna systems must also exhibit robust beam steering capabilities. To this end, phased array antenna configurations are becoming more commonplace but even as they become smaller and more accessible, their power consumption makes them undesirable in small mobile cells. Rather, we’re investigating dielectric lenses as a low power, low cost alternative. As a completely passive device, a dielectric lens antenna consumes no power. Furthermore, if the lens material is constructed with spatially varying permittivity in three dimensions, the lens could occupy any form factor. The performance of the lens is then determined by its spatial permittivity profile. In our designs, we use Transformation Optics theory to transfer specific characteristics across various lens geometries. For example, in Figure 1, we show the permittivity profile transformation of a spherical Luneburg lens into its disc-shaped equivalent. Note that the center permittivity of the new, smaller volume is much higher than that of the original; greater geometric compression results in larger permittivity gradients. As a result, these GRaded-INdex (GRIN) profiles are primarily limited by the permittivity resolution of the fabrication process.

Chisum-2 NURF image 2018Figure 2: Artificial dielectrics of varying permittivity values fabricated with the Bosch DRIE process and for inclusion in gradient-index lens antennas.

In our microfabrication process, we use the Bosch Deep Reactive Ion Etching Process to etch square, triangular and hexagonal arrays through 280um thick silicon wafers; the perforations themselves vary in size from 25um wide to 200um wide. These perforations are shown in Figure 2 (where the actual perforations are light and the dark area is the silicon substrate). In prior work, we’ve demonstrated that this process yields silicon-air composite materials with dielectric constants ranging from 1.25 to 8. Subsequent process refinements have broadened this range and improved consistency. We have now reached the exciting phase of designing and fabricating full lenses for testing at millimeter wave frequencies and are looking for a motivated undergraduate researcher to assist with this latest stage of our work.

The student will be involved in every step of the lens fabrication process:

  1. At the design stage, the student will use Transformation Optics theory to design permittivity profiles and simulate the lens performance with HFSS full-wave electromagnetic simulation software. With these designs, the student will also design the photolithography masks L Edit CAD software.
  2. At the fabrication stage, the student will work hands-on in our class 100 clean room to actually craft the effective permittivity samples and lenses. With training and practice, the student will become comfortable with general photolithographic processes (including fabricating their own mask designs), metal deposition, and deep reactive ion etching. Of course, the student will be trained in other processes on a need basis.  
  3. Finally, post-fabrication the student will be involved with the actual measurement process. The student will perform material parameter extraction using waveguide test cells and our state-of-the-art 50GHz network analyzer.

The student will work closely with a graduate student in the above activities. A rising junior or senior with electrical engineering background is expected but qualified candidates from all levels will be considered.


Project: Synthesis and characterization of nanostructured electrodes for urine treatment

Faculty mentor:
Professor Kyle Doudrick • Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences • 156 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-0305 •

The influx of nitrogen from urine substantially increases the cost of wastewater treatment. Source-separated urine is becoming an ideology that presents new challenges and opportunities in water treatment and energy production. This project will focus on the development of new electrocatalysts that will target urea oxidation from urine whilst generating hydrogen gas as added value. The student will be responsible for the synthesis and electroanalytical characterization of the electrocatalysts. Though they will work with a graduate student, they are expected to have enough experience in a wet lab that they can work independently.


Project: Fate and transport of engineered nanomaterials in streams

Faculty mentor:
Professor Kyle Doudrick • Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences • 156 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-0305 •

Advancements in nanotechnology will provide new solutions to challenges in food, energy, and water. To responsibly develop nanomaterials, we must gain a better understanding of the implications on environmental and human health. With increased production, nanomaterials will likely enter streams and rivers, and understanding the fate and transport of nanomaterials will be key for its responsible development. In this project, the student will conduct laboratory column and field experiments to determine the transport behavior of nanomaterials in streams. Though they will work with a graduate student, they are expected to have enough experience in a wet lab that they can work independently.


Project: Synthesis of metal sulfide nano-catalysts for water treatment applications

Faculty mentor:
Professor Kyle Doudrick • Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences • 156 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-0305 •

Implementation of catalytic technologies for water treatment applications has been limited by the use of non-abundant metals such as platinum. Moving toward earth-abundant elements will be key, but this poses various challenges such as reduced activity and stability. Due to unique nanostructuring and edge-site exposure, metal disulfides have the potential to replace platinum as active water treatment catalysts. In this project, the student will synthesize, characterize, and test various bimetallic metal disulfide catalysts for hydrogenation of oxidized water pollutants such as nitrate, nitrite, chlorate, and perfluorinated compounds. Though they will work with a graduate student, they are expected to have enough experience in a wet lab that they can work independently.


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

Faculty mentor:
Professor David Go • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 140G McCourtney Hall • 574-631-8394 •

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 the optimal manufacturing process in collaboration with a graduate student or post-doc. Any science and engineering discipline is 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: Optical and electrical characterization of plasma behavior in catalyst systems

Faculty mentor:
Professor David Go • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 140G McCourtney Hall • 574-631-8394 •

The technical objectives of this project are to characterize plasma behavior in catalyst systems using an optical technique called optical emission spectroscopy and various electrical measurements. Catalyst systems such as those used for the production of synthetic gas from methane and carbon dioxide or ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen can be enhanced by a plasma (gas discharge). This research will focus on understanding this enhancement at a fundamental level by correlating electrical behavior in the plasma to catalysis enhancement. The student wil conduct plasma experiments under different conditions and take both optical and electrical measurements of the plasma behavior in collaboration with a graduate student or post-doc. Any science and engineering discipline is acceptable, although those with a background in electrical or chemical engineering are preferred. The student must be willing to work primarily on experiments in a very detailed and systematic manner.


Project: Chemical characterization of plasma-liquid systems for nanoparticle synthesis

Faculty mentor:
Professor David Go • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 140G McCourtney Hall • 574-631-8394 •

The technical objectives of this project are to characterize the chemical species form in aqueous solutions when a plasma is brought in contact with the liquid. Plasma-liquid systems have shown significant promise for the high throughput synthesis of nanomaterials without the need of excess and potentially environmentally harmful chemicals. This research will focus on understanding the chemical species produced at the plasma-liquid interface that lead to synthesis by measuring various chemical species under various processing conditions. The student will conduct plasma experiments under different conditions and take both optical and chemical measurements of the liquid species in collaboration with a graduate student or post-doc. Any science and engineering discipline is acceptable, although those with a background in chemistry or chemical engineering are preferred. The student must be willing to work primarily on experiments in a very detailed and systematic manner. 


Project: Polymer membranes with tunable microporosity for gas separations 

Faculty mentor:
Professor Ruilan Guo • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205E McCourtney Hall • 574-631-3453 •

Guo1 nurf image2018

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 always accompanies with 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 the 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 tetra-functional 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: Nanostructured polysulfone polyelectrolyte copolymer membranes for fuel cells

Faculty mentor:
Professor Ruilan Guo • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205E McCourtney Hall • 574-631-3453 •

Guo2 nurf image 2018

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 high degree of sulfonation are needed to form well-connected proton conducting nanochannels that enables 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 and FTIR) and assess 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: Magneto-electric nanoparticles for combinatorial chemotherapeutics against metastatic cancers

Faculty mentors:
Professor Paul Helquist • Chemistry & Biochemistry • 361 Stepan Hall • 574-631-7822 •
Professor Prakash Nallathamby • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 145 Multidisciplinary Research Bldg • 574-631-5735 •

Development of new cancer therapies rely on investigation of new drug classes to exploit cellular targets that may be used in single-agent or combination therapy and selective delivery of drugs to tumors. NDnano has developed magnetoelectric nanoparticles (ME-NPs) loaded with drugs that can be spatially directed to specifically penetrate malignant cells while sparing normal tissues. This approach not only expands the arsenal of single agents available to the clinical oncologist but also broadens the scope of combination therapy. Combination therapy is critical for dealing with drug resistance mechanisms and multiple cancer cell mutations that typify difficult-to-treat tumors. In this study, the students will load potent inhibitors of vacuolar ATPase (V-ATPase) along with standard chemotherapeutics such as paclitaxel to specifically target metastatic breast cancer cells. Metastasis of breast cancer cells results in >50% fatalities. V-ATPase proton pumps have been directly implicated in aiding metastasis. V-ATPase and cancer cell-specific isoforms are overexpressed in many tumor types and are involved in cellular signaling, membrane trafficking, cancer cell survival, cell migration, cell invasiveness, metastasis, and drug resistance. Thus, the hypothesis is that the multidrug carrying ME-NPs will target the primary tumor with standard chemotherapeutics and simultaneously prevent metastasis by inhibiting the proton pumps, thus improving the overall prognosis. Additionally, using targeted ME-NPs mitigates the debilitating side-effects of current chemotherapeutic regimens by using the ME-NPs as a nanocarrier for delivering low doses of therapeutics with increased accumulation of the therapeutics at the tumor site through magnetic field guidance. In this project, the students will  (a) get exposure to  the conjugation of multiple therapeutics to ME-NPs; (b) design multiple modes of drug delivery from the ME-NPs (ON-Demand, stimuli dependent, enzymatic release, etc.) and (c) execute in vitro cell and in vivo mouse studies that show selective targeting of ME-NPs to metastatic breast cancer cells and improved survivability in the sample group.

Suggested readings:

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  

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

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-IR 

Faculty mentors:
Professor Anthony Hoffman • Electrical Engineering • 226B Cushing Hall • 574-631-4103 •
Professor Ryan Roeder • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 148 Multidisciplinary Research Bldg • 574-631-7003 •

Hoffmanroeder nurf image 2018

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: Fabrication of polymer nanofibers with anomalous thermal conductivity

Faculty mentor:
Professor Tengfei Luo • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 371 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-9683 •

Luo nurf image 2018Atomic 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. Students in mechanical engineering or chemical engineering, with hands-on skills, are preferred.



Project: Fabrication of solid state batteries

Faculty mentor:
Professor Paul McGinn • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 178 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-6151 •

Mcginn nurf image 2018

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 applications. ND researchers are developing ceramic electrolyte materials (Li7La3Zr2O12) and low-cost processing methods to provide for high-power, solid-state, lithium-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles. A key factor to drive down costs is the development of scalable, ceramic fabrication techniques. The goal of this project is the fabrication of thin Li7La3Zr2O12 electrolyte sheets through the synthesis, tape casting and sintering of nanosized electrolyte and electrode powders. These electrolyte sheets are then assembled into cells for subsequent development of rapid charging solid state batteries. The student will synthesize (chemical processing) and characterize (X-ray diffraction, dilatometry) nano-sized powders of battery component materials (electrolytes, electrodes). 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). Students in materials science, chemical engineering, or chemistry preferred.


Project: Multifunctional antibacterial nanoparticles as coating materials for orthopedic implants

Faculty mentors:
Professor Prakash Nallathamby • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 145 Multidisciplinary Research Bldg • 574-631-5735 •
Professor Shaun Lee • Biological Sciences • 325 Galvin Life Science Center • 574-631-7197 •

With the dramatic increase of joint replacement surgeries and infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria, the need for improved and smart orthopedic implant materials arises. Traditional materials used for orthopedic components are susceptible to attachment and colonization by biofilm-forming bacteria. In recent years, researchers focused on the development of effective antibacterial surfactants that prevent these bacteria from adhering and colonizing implant surfaces, subsequently proliferating into the surrounding tissues. A new class of antibacterial nanoparticles (NPs) developed by the Nallathamby lab are designed to display a variety of functions autonomously and/or simultaneously. These functions include a) attracting bacteria, b) killing bacteria by contact, c) preventing bacterial adhesion, as well as d) showing biocompatibility to eukaryotic cells, and e) stimulating tissue integration. Additionally, the antimicrobial NPs need to be stable long-term and wear resistant. The antimicrobial NPs have already been shown to substantially delay and decrease growth for important biofilm-forming bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus USA300 (multidrug-resistant), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and other clinically relevant bacterial strains. In this project, the student will primarily be responsible for the execution of in vitro biocompatibility studies on a variety of human cell lines (mesothelial cells, osteoblasts, etc.) with the antibacterial nanoparticles. Along the way, the student will also learn about the interdisciplinary aspects of this project, like NP synthesis, NP characterization, and microbiology techniques. Continuing from the primary goal, the student will support the project with the preparation of microscopical ‘high-resolution’ studies that are supposed to solve the underlaying mechanism of the antimicrobial effect. All these investigations will lead to data that are absolutely necessary to come up with an empirical design to decide which NP architectures will be most suitable for in vivo trials. The project requires good general laboratory skills and a basic understanding in cell tissue culturing techniques. Above described research is particularly appropriate for students in biomedical engineering, biochemistry, or future medical students.

Suggested readings:

Gallo, J; Holinka, M; Moucha, CS (2014). “Antibacterial Surface Treatment for Orthopedic Implants”. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 15(8), 13849-13880.

Gbejuade, HO; Lovering, AM; Webb, JC (2015). “The role of microbial biofilms in in prosthetic joint infections”. Acta Orthop. 86(2), 147-158.

Wang, L; Hu, C; Shao, L (2017). “The antimicrobial activity of nanoparticles: present situation and prospects for the future”. Int. J. Nanomedicine 12, 1227-1249.


Project: Design, construction and validation of a Teflon-based flow cell

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

Neretina nurf image 2018Figure 1. Proposed CAD drawing of the flow cell.

Substrate-based syntheses have a significant advantage over their colloidal counterparts in that the chemical environment can be rapidly transformed by flowing heated water over an anchored substrate as a valve manifold controls the injection of various reactants into the liquid stream. Dr. Neretina’s research group initiated a project that will see the design, construction, and validation of a Teflon-based flow cell. The proposed chamber, shown in Figure 1, will use a variable-flow peristaltic pump to flow reactants over substrate-immobilized seeds as the ongoing reaction is monitored spectroscopically in real-time. Initial efforts will be directed toward constructing the flow cell. Obtaining a uniform flow field is a primary objective that will be realized by inserting a shower-head-like component into the liquid stream. Its design will be based on simulations performed using the ANSYS Fluent software package and assessed by examining sample uniformity (SEM, optical spectroscopy). In situ monitoring will be used to either identify spectroscopic signatures, which indicate that a reaction is complete, or search for those that have been determined through FDTD (finite difference time domain) simulations. An undergraduate student involved in this project will assist a graduate student in the design, simulations, construction or validation of the flow cell. Background in engineering, materials science, physics or chemistry will benefit the project.


Project: Understanding fundamental poisoning mechanisms in mixed matrix membranes using operando membrane spectroscopy 

Faculty mentor:
Professor Casey O'Brien • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 240D McCourtney Hall • 574-631-5706 •

Mixed-matrix membranes (MMMs) are promising materials for many gas separation applications, including CO2 separation from flue gas and natural gas. The inorganic filler dispersed in the polymer matrix can increase both the permeability and selectivity of the membrane relative to the polymer. However, other gases that are commonly present in CO2-containing gas streams, such as H2S, SO2, and NO, can severely degrade the performance of MMMs. The objective of this project is to understand how these gases poison MMMs by using operando infrared spectroscopy to monitor the structure of the membrane in-situ under realistic permeation conditions while simultaneously measuring trans-membrane CO2 permeation rates. The student will be involved with measuring CO2 permeation rates and performing infrared spectroscopy. Laboratory experience, particularly in building or modifying scientific equipment, is preferred though not required.


Project: Probing piezo- and ferro- electrics with a nanoprobe 

Faculty mentors:
Professor Alexei Orlov • Electrical Engineering • 227 Stinson-Remick Hall • 574-631-7383 •
Professor Greg Snider • Electrical Engineering • 270 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-4148 •

Orlov nurf image 2018a) AFM micrographs of Au (top) and Pt (bottom) single-electron transistors b) an optical micrograph of AlN PE clock resonator fabricated at NDNF.

The phenomenon of ferroelectricity (FE) – the ability of a material to have a spontaneous electric polarization that can be reversed by the application of an external electric field – holds the promise to create multifunctional materials and devices for a variety of potential applications. Piezoelectricity (PE) – the ability of material to exert mechanical force upon application of an electric field is a closely related phenomenon: all FE materials are required by symmetry considerations to be also PE. Both FE and PE have recently attracted a lot of attention in the electronics industry due to enormous progress in downscaling that made it possible to utilize these effects on the nanoscale. But how do we know that these tiny objects under your microscope are piezo- or ferro- electrics? This project is aimed to answer this question. We are going to add an extra capability to our existing nanoscale tool, a standard, high-resolution Atomic Force Microscope Agilent 5100 (Fig. a). In this project, the Piezoresponsive Force Microscope will be created and applied for characterization of PE and FE ultra thin films fabricated at Notre Dame. Projects in the group of Professor Alexei Orlov study the new types of ultra-low power logic circuits that require on-chip “power distribution centers” – piezoelectric power clocks (Fig. b), and aim to produce and study high quality nanoscale FE materials by solution combustion synthesis. Over the course of this project, the student will learn first hand how an AFM works, including all the bolts and nuts, control circuitry, feedback loops, and lock-in amplifier techniques, and get the feel for angstrom distances. The student will be making and using conductive tips and figure out how to use the phase of modulating signals to obtain information about FE and PE materials. By the end of this project, we will be able to characterize PE and FE materials and create beautiful 3D images of their electrical response. The student will work on building the system, tip and sample fabrication, and, of course, actual imaging using the system. Experience with code writing for control programs will be very useful. Physics, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and computer science students are preferred. Some knowledge of programming, data analysis and soldering is helpful.


Project: Development of microimplants for deep tissue optical sensing

Faculty mentors:
Professor Thomas O'Sullivan • Electrical Engineering • 227B Cushing Hall • 574-631-4287 •
Professor Yanliang Zhang • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 374 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-6669 •

Osullivan nurf image 2018

Despite the explosive growth in the development of wearable and implantable sensors for monitoring health and personal wellness, there are currently no viable sensor technologies that can sense targets deep within the human body. They are limited to sensing cutaneous or shallow subcutaneous tissue volumes, have limited functionality, or are simply too large and obtrusive. This prevents their use in some of the most impactful areas of medicine, including monitoring solid tumors, simultaneous deep brain sensing and stimulation, and monitoring diseases of the internal organs. The long-term goal of this project is to develop an extensible microimplant platform that can ultimately be placed anywhere in the human body and provide sensitivity to multiple biomolecular targets continuously and in real-time. This summer project will entail sensor design, modeling (mechanical and functional), and prototyping of wireless microimplants using advanced manufacturing processes. Although students of all levels will be considered, candidates should be studying electrical, mechanical, or biomedical engineering. Preference will be given to candidates that have taken an optics/photonics course and/or have experience with 3D CAD modeling tools.  


Project: Elucidating fundamental processing-property relationships for chemically patterned membranes generated using inkjet printing technologies

Faculty mentor:
Professor William Phillip • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205F McCourtney Hall • 574-631-2708 •

Phillip nurf image 2018Top: Typical structures of three size-selective membranes. Bottom: Micrographs of chemically-patterned copolymer membranes.

Membranes based on self-assembled block copolymer precursors are an emerging class of promising separation and purification devices, which will find application in water treatment, pharmaceutical purification, 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. In addition to being facile and scalable to industrial-scale manufacturing processes, 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 in a ready manner by simply varying a number of engineering parameters. Recently, it was demonstrated that this flexibility could be exploited to chemically pattern the surface of copolymer membranes using inkjet printing devices, which resulted in the emergence of novel transport properties. As this nascent field develops, it is critical to develop fundamental knowledge regarding how the copolymer membrane nanostructure and the inkjet printing protocols correlate with the properties that emerge from the patterned membranes. 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 of chemically patterned membranes. This knowledge will allow us to refine the printing process for the optimization of membranes with targeted performance profiles. The student researcher will be asked to fabricate membranes using the SNIPS process, modify the surface chemistry using inkjet printing devices, 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, electrical, and environmental engineers are well-suited to undertake this research project. 


Project: Nanoparticle contrast agents for quantitative molecular imaging with CT

Faculty mentor:
Professor Ryan Roeder • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 148 Multidisciplinary Research Bldg • 574-631-7003 •

Roeder nurf image 2018

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: Image processing and data analysis in transmission electron microscopy

Faculty mentor:
Professor Sergei Rouvimov • Electrical Engineering and NDIIF • B10 Stinson-Remick • 574-631-7870 •

The technical objectives of this project are to develop scripts based on MATLAB and existing software to process images and analytical data to get the most accurate results in transmission electron microscopy (TEM). While TEM is one of most advanced metrologies in materials science, nanotechnology and bio-science today, the fast and accurate analysis of TEM data is a key for success in delivery of novel results. This research will focus on understanding data processing and developing new scripts for analysis of the atomic structure of advanced materials based on high resolution TEM. The student will learn the basics of TEM and data processing to create scripts that would improve data accuracy. Students in any science and engineering discipline are acceptable, although those with a background in electrical engineering or computer science are preferred. The student must be willing to work primarily on programming in a very detailed and systematic manner.


Project: Sub cellular particle analysis with Light Transmission Spectroscopy

Faculty mentors:
Professor Steve Ruggiero • Physics • 333C Nieuwland Hall • 574-631-5638 •
Professor Carol Tanner • Physics • 218 Nieuwland Hall • 574-631-8369 •

This research will employ a new technique, Light Transmission Spectroscopy, to determine the size distribution of sub-cellular particles in the range of ~ 2 to 3000 nm in diameter. This includes objects ranging from proteins to organelles. The object is to gain a new insight into cellular functioning and inherent topology based on the particle distribution within both plant and animal cells. One existing application has been in determining differences in cancer versus normal cells. The student will help prepare and measure cell lysates (contents), prepare samples by centrifugation and filtering, analyze data, etc. Some basic biology lab, computer, and general data analysis skills helpful.


Project: Functional chemical sensor and coating for fluid dynamic applications

Faculty mentor:
Professor Hirotaka Sakaue • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 106 Hessert Laboratory • 574-631-4336 •

Sakaue nurf image 2018

This project is an interdisciplinary topic on chemistry and fluid dynamics. The spectrum of this project has three steps: development, characterization, and application. Depending on the topic involved, a research focus for an applicant will be varied within these three steps. A luminescent chemical sensor and hydrophobic coating are focused on in the development step. In the characterization step, sensor and coating performances will be related to fluid dynamic quantities, such as static and dynamic changes in pressure and temperature. The application step will be performed using a shock tube. The student will be involved in chemical sensor and/or coating development, and the characterizations of the developed sensor/coating using a spectrometer and pressure/temperature-controlled device. The developed senor 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:
Professor Jennifer Schaefer • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205G McCourtney Hall • 574-631-5114 •

The objective of the research is to investigate solid polymer and/or polymer gel electrolytes for use in lithium and/or magnesium rechargeable batteries. Such electrolytes have the potential for increased 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. The REU student will prepare materials and characterize the electrochemical, transport, mechanical, and/or 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: Improving the biosynthesis of cadmium sulfide quantum dots suitable for industrial applications

Faculty mentors:
Professor Joshua Shrout • Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences • 214A Cushing Hall • 574-631-1726 •
Professor Jeremy Fein • Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences • 167 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-6101 •
Dr. Juliane Hopf • Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences • 112H Cushing Hall • 574-631-4306 • 

Due to their unusual combination of optical, photochemical, electronic, and magnetic properties, cadmium sulfide quantum dots (CSQDs) have a high potential in emerging fields like bioimaging, nanoelectronics, and the solar industry. The traditional syntheses (chemical and physical) of these CSQDs often require high temperatures, toxic chemicals, and/or expensive, specifically designed equipment. In recent years, some microorganisms and plants have been found to biosynthesize cadmium sulfide nanoparticles (or quantum dots, depending on size) as a strategy to survive toxic metal stress in their immediate environment. The Shrout and Fein groups have been working together to investigate biosorption processes of cadmium in environmentally important bacteria. During these investigations, one specific marine, metal-reducing bacterial strain was found to still grow at high concentrations of Cd (>500µM) under very simple environmental conditions. High-resolution transmission electron microscopy analysis revealed that this bacterium synthesized CSQDs. The advantages of biosynthesized CSQDs are: the reaction is a) inexpensive, b) simple, and c) green (non-toxic and low energy-requirements). In this project, the undergraduate student will focus on two goals, enrichment and purification. The first part of this project will identify methods to increase CSQD yield during bacterial growth by changing environmental factors like aeration, temperature, nutrient-composition, pH, etc. To purify the quantum dots, the first part of this project will investigate techniques that will separate the newly formed CSQDs from the bacterial cell mass. During all these experiments, the student will also learn about the interdisciplinary aspects of this project, like microbiology techniques, nanoparticle characterization, and chemical separation techniques. Gained data from this project will be an integral part of a market feasibility analysis for this new strategy on synthesizing pure CSQDs in profitable quantities for industrial applications. Additionally, this initial student project has the high potential to be transformed into an NSF grant application on the fundamental mechanisms associated with CSQD biosynthesis, subsequently improving the environmental aspects on large scale CSQD production. The project requires good chemical laboratory skills and a basic understanding in microbial culturing techniques. Above described research would be specifically interesting for microbiology, bioengineering, or chemical engineering students.

Suggested readings:

Borovaya, MN; Burlaka, OM; Yemets, AI; Blume, YB (2015). “Biosynthesis of Quantum Dots and Their Potential Applications in Biology and Biomedicine”. In: Fresenko, O; Yatsenko, L (eds.). “Nanoplasmonics, Nano-Optics, Nanocomposites, and Surface Studies” (pp. 339-362). Switzerland: Springer.

Jacob, JM; Lens, PNL, Balakrishnan, RM (2016). “Microbial synthesis of chalcogenide semiconductor nanoparticles: a review”. Microb. Biotechnol. 9(1), 11-21.


Project: Ecological control theory

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

Vural nurf image 2018Figure 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 therapeutics through supramolecular affinity

Faculty mentor:
Professor Matthew Webber • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205B McCourtney Hall •

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. Students in chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, or bioengineering are encouraged to apply. A minimum of some prior laboratory coursework is expected.


Project: Engineering thermodynamic pathway control in peptide-based biomaterials

Faculty mentor:
Professor Matthew Webber • Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering • 205B McCourtney Hall •

We are motivated to improve specificity of self-assembling peptide materials 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 quantifying the loading and release of drugs from these nanostructures using a combination of spectroscopy and chromatography. Students in chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, or bioengineering are encouraged to apply. A minimum of some prior laboratory coursework is expected.


Project: Additive manufacturing of flexible devices for energy harvesting and sensing

Faculty mentor:
Professor Yanliang Zhang • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 374 Fitzpatrick Hall • 574-631-6669 •

Zhang nurf image 2018

The goal of this project is to develop an innnovative additive printing method to fabricate flexible and multifunctional devices for energy harvesting and sensing. Research includes flexible film printing followed by a novel pulsed thermal sintering process. We aim to achieve over two-fold increases in thermoelectric figure of merit ZT compared with state-of-the-art flexible films fabricated by the printing process, along with 90% cost reductions in printed film based thermoelectric devices vs. bulk devices fabricated by conventional manufacturing. It is notable that the success of this project could result in a disruptive manufacturing approach for large-scale, low-cost and flexible materials for broad applications beyond thermoelectrics. This research will have broad impact on materials engineering across length scales and energy conversion and electronics technology. It will: (1) offer fundamental knowledge on the additive processing of colloidal nanocrystals and their structure and property evolutions across length scales, (2) provide a scalable and low-cost manufacturing process to fabricate efficient and flexible materials for broad applications, including thermoelectrics, electronics and others, (3) increase energy efficiency and reduce emission through wide implementation of these low-cost and flexible materials, and (4) advance fast growing technology areas of sensors, energy harvesters, and flexible and wearable electronics. We will involve multiple students to work on the design and manufacturing of flexible energy harvesting and sensor devices, and offer students exceptional opportunities to work on cutting-edge research on advanced manfuacturing and energy conversion technologies. Students studying mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, chemical engineering, or physics are preferred.


Project: Constructing an engineered breast tissue model for mimicking breast tissue microenvironment

Faculty mentor:
Professor Pinar Zorlutuna • Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering • 143 Multidisciplinary Research Bldg • 574-631-8543 •

Breast cancer is one of the leading threats to female health. It is reported that breast tissue microenvironment was related to breast cancer risk. However, the diversity of tissue microenvironment such as the stiffness and composition of extracellular matrices (ECM), as well as the involvement of stromal cells, makes it extremely difficult to mimic this microenvironment in vitro. One method to gain more precise control over the 3D microenvironment geometry and stiffness is to use photo-reactive hydrogels. The biodegradable hydrogels with tunable composition and stiffness can provide more precise control over the tissue microenvironment, and are essential for understanding cellular responses. In this project, the students will characterize native breast tissues and construct an in vitro engineered breast tissue with hydrogels that can model the in vivo breast tissue microenvironment. Students with cell culture skills are preferred.