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REU Summer Projects

Each of the research projects below centers around the creation, characterization and modeling of nanostructured materials for  biological and energy applications. Discovering, designing, characterizing and applying nanomaterials are national research priorities because of the crucial importance of nanomaterials in solving the looming energy crisis, their growing application in medicine (in bio-mimetic and bio-compatible materials), and in post- silicon nanoelectronics. With such a wide range of project areas to choose from students will be assisted as needed in choosing a suitable project that matches their interests.

APPLY FOR SUMMER 2017

  • 3D Printing of Concrete

    Florence Sanchez, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    The goal of the research is to understand the major factors controlling the 3D printing process of cement-based materials. An REU student working in the Sanchez group will assist in investigations into the structure and performance of printed cement pastes. The work will consist in determining the effects of printing media formulation, rheology, and microstructural architectures on the bonding between printed layers and the overall mechanical response of the printed material. The student will work under the supervision of Prof. Sanchez. The student will gain firsthand experience in laboratory research, will be exposed to fundamental materials science and engineering of composite materials, and will develop skills in the operation of state-of-the-art analytical equipment.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for students interested in materials synthesis and characterization with applications to civil infrastructure. Students must have completed at least one semester of chemistry and one laboratory course.

  • 3D Printing of Sacrificial Smart Materials to Make Artificial Vascular Networks

    Leon Bellan, Mechanical Engineering

    The Bellan Lab focuses on developing scalable fabrication techniques for making microfluidic materials with unique properties. We use these microfluidic materials for biomedical and structural applications, keeping in mind that the processes involved should be easily translated to large-scale manufacturing lines.  Examples of research projects include fabricating artificial vascular networks in engineered tissue and self-healing structural materials.  REU students working on this project will develop a 3D printing process for novel biomaterials that will enable controlled formation of microvascular networks in soft engineered tissue.  Students will gain hands-on experience with an open-source 3D printer and investigate custom modifications specific to the demands of the materials of interest.  This interdisciplinary project will also provide participating students with valuable materials processing and cell culture skills, and expose students to the challenges and excitement of novel biomaterials micropatterning techniques.  Students will work with the PI, and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in the Bellan lab, as well as with collaborators in other departments at Vanderbilt University.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is appropriate for students who are interested in hands-on experimental work and would like to learn more about biomaterials, as well as the hardware and software aspects of 3D printing.  Experience with programming, electronics, biomaterials, or cell culture techniques would be beneficial but is not required.

  • All-Dielectric Optical Metamaterials

    Jason Valentine, Mechanical Engineering

    The Valentine group is focused on developing nanostructured materials with tailored electromagnetic properties at optical frequencies, specifically for applications in photovoltaics, detectors, lenses, and other more exotic devices such as invisibility cloaks. These nanostructured materials, referred to as metamaterials, can be engineered with unique optical properties due to the type of structuring and constituent materials employed. While metamaterials are typically made from structured metals, in the Valentine group we are focused on novel metamaterials made entirely out of dielectrics. By avoiding metal, the optical loss can be reduced and the bandwidth of operation increased. The REU student will work closely with the PI and a graduate student on this project and be responsible for fabricating and optically characterizing dielectric metamaterials in an effort to better understand the relationship between the nanoscale structuring and the effective optical properties of the material.

    Researcher Interests and Skills:  This project is best suited for individuals with interests in nanoscale optics and materials, nanoscale fabrication, and experimental optics techniques. The individual should have completed an electromagnetics course and experience with experimental optics and spectroscopy would be beneficial.

  • Attosecond Quantum Dynamics at the Nanoscale

    Kalman Varga, Physics and Astronomy

    The main activity of Kalman Varga's group is computational modeling and simulation of electronic and transport properties of nanostructures interacting with short strong laser pulses. The group is interested in time-dependent electron dynamics including Coulomb explosion, Petahertz electronics, attochemistry, time dependent band structure engineering, and ultrafast energy transfer processes. The group is also actively working on studying electron transport processes in nanostructures using novel computational tools.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: Students with interest in computational nanoscience are encouraged to join us. Basics knowledge of quantum mechanics and programming is advantageous but we are glad to train student interested in this direction.

  • Computational Nanoscience

    Sokrates Pantelides, Physics

    We carry our theoretical calculations using the best available techniques and combine the results with available experimental data, either in the open literature or taken by collaborator at Vanderbilt or other institutions, to probe the atomic-scale structural, mechanical, electronic, optical, and magnetic properties of complex nanostructures. An REU summer intern works closely with one or two post-docs, quickly acquires basic computational skills that are needed to carry out meaningful research, and focuses on a particular project. Projects are typical in a frontier area of materials physics and are selected carefully to be manageable within the time of the REU program. In the past, REU students have been able to be co-authors on a technical paper that gets published and present a talk at the annual “March meeting” of the American Physical Society.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: You will explore the fascinating world of electrons and atoms using computer codes based on quantum mechanics – no prerequisite; we will teach you what you will need.

  • Computing Tomorrow's Best Energy Solutions

    Greg Walker, Mechanical Engineering

    The Walker group uses atomic modeling (molecular dynamics and density functional theory) to understand the energy transport characteristics of novel materials and materials structures that are used in energy conversion and storage technologies. For example, we study how the arrangement of elements affects the efficiency of the bulk materials to perform as thermoelectrics or battery anodes. Clean energy is the cornerstone for providing health, security, and productivity to the society, and advances in this area can change how we generate, store, and distribute energy to all corners of the world. REU students working in the Walker lab will learn advanced simulation tools and will perform molecular simulations on emerging materials such as vanadium oxides and graphene, and promising nanostructures such as ribbons and superlattices. Students will also learn how to use large-scale computing resources to solve engineering problems.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for students interested in using computers to solve engineering challenges in energy applications. At lest one semester of undergraduate programming is required. Exposure to linux is a plus.

  • Decoding Neuronal Network Using Nanosensor

    Qi Zhang, Pharmacology

    Recent development in nanotechnology has revolutionized the biomedical research, particularly in visualizing biological molecules and structures with unprecedented accuracy. We are interested in developing nanomaterial-based optical detection platform to investigate the dynamic and plastic nature of neuronal network in mammalian central nerve system, which will shield light on the pathogenesis of many neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease. Taking advantage of the unique size and physical properties of nanomaterials like quantum dots and graphene, we focus on high-speed high-throughput imaging of subcellular structures and protein complexes residing at neuronal synapses, the elementary transistors for neural network. In particular, we integrate such new techniques with reliable electrophysiological methods like whole-cell patch-clamp recording to decode the mechanism underlying information processing in the central nerve system. Undergraduate in physics or chemistry related majors are welcome to work with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows on independent or collaborative projects. They will be trained on nanofabrication, live-cell imaging, electrophysiology and data analysis.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for students interested in interdisciplinary project involves chemistry, physics, molecular biology and neuroscience. Students must have completed one laboratory course and at least one college level biology course (such as cell biology) or with equivalent experience.

  • Developing Computational Tools to Design Lubrication Systems at the Nanoscale

    Peter Cummings, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    The focus of this project is focused on developing, deploying and distributing the Integrated Molecular Design Environment for Lubrication Systems (iMoDELS), an open-source simulation and design environment (SDE) that encapsulates the expertise of specialists in first principles, forcefields and molecular simulation related to nanoscale lubrication in a simple web-based interface. Developing iMoDELS and making it broadly accessible is motivated by the high cost (over $800B/yr in the US) of friction and wear, which, along with the methodology to overcome them, lubrication, are collectively known as tribology. Tribology involves molecular mechanisms occurring on a nanometer scale, and hence understanding tribological behavior on this scale is critical to developing new technologies for reducing wear due to friction. Deployment of iMoDELS will enable non-computational specialists to be able to evaluate, design and optimize nanoscale lubrication systems, such as hard disk drives, NEMS (nanoelectromechanical systems) and MEMS (microelectromechanical systems), and experiments involving rheological measurements via atomic force microscopes and surface force apparatuses.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: The REU student will work with graduate students and post-doctoral researchers in the project to participate in developing and testing the computational tools being developed in this project. Some expertise in programming is needed to participate in this project. The student will also participate in a one-week CyberCamp being organized at Vanderbilt held annually at Vanderbilt in late May/early June.

  • Development of New pH-responsive Polymers for Drug Delivery

    Craig Duvall, Biomedical Engineering

    The Duvall lab develops and tests novel pH-responsive, "smart" polymeric carriers to be formulated as micelles and/or polymer drug conjugates for pharmaceutical applications. There are currently no mainstream clinical drugs consisting of intracellular-acting biologic macromolecules (i.e. peptides, proteins, and nucleic acids). These classes of molecules are too large and polar to diffuse across cell membranes, and if taken up by endosomal pathways, the predominant fates are lysosomal degradation or exocytosis. The pH-responsive polymers developed in the Duvall lab are optimized to respond to the discrete pH difference between the extracellular and endosomal environments to trigger biomacromolecular drug endosomal escape and cytoplasmic delivery. Current applications range cancer and regenerative nanomedicine.  For the summer project, the student will implement microfluidic fabrication methods to form nanoparticles optimized for tumor penetration and anti-cancer therapeutic efficacy.  .

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited to students interested in nanomedicine. The summer project will expose students to living free radical polymerization, polymeric nanoparticle fabrication and characterization, and basic cell culture and molecular biology techniques.

  • Enabling Next Generation Quantum Dot Emitters via Correlated Photophysics and Atomic Structure

    Sandra Rosenthal, Chemistry

    The Rosenthal group is accelerating the development of sub-microscopic crystals of semiconductors, or quantum dots, by employing a newly developed characterization methodology. With this characterization methodology it is possible to determine the optical properties and atomic structure of an individual quantum dot. These quantum dots can be made to efficiently emit very pure colors. However, quantum dot systems that do not utilize toxic lead and cadmium lag far behind in brightness and stability. Directly correlating structure with performance will enable precise tuning of the quantum dot synthesis to produce optimal structures. This will pave the way for new display and lighting technologies and tools for biomedical applications such as drug discovery. REU students will have an opportunity to learn nanocrystal synthesis and to operate the advanced analytical FEI Tecnai Osiris TEM/STEM electron microscope as well as participate in single nanocrystal spectroscopy experiments.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for student interested in hands on experimental science involving the synthesis of colloidal nanocrystals and the associated characterization techniques of optical spectroscopy and electron microscopy.

  • Membrane-base Nanoparticle Synthesis

    Shihong Lin, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    The Lin group has two major research thrusts. The first focuses on developing novel materials and processes to address environmental challenges at the water-energy nexus. This includes engineering novel materials for membrane-based processes for treating highly briny wastewaters from oil and gas production, developing integrated engineering systems for low-cost and decentralized solar desalination, and conducting system scale modeling to optimize the design and operation of desalination processes. The second research thrust explores creative use of membranes as a platform process for highly efficient and well-controlled synthesis of nanomaterials. In this project (Membrane-based Nanoparticle Synthesis), the REU student will work with the PI and a graduate student on elucidating the impact of the synthesis conditions (physical and chemical) on the size distribution of the nanoparticles formed via an interfacial reaction with membrane being the contactor. 

    Researcher Interests and Skills:  This project is best suited for students with a solid background in materials science or chemical engineering. Previous experience with membrane or nanomaterials synthesis is a plus, but not required.

  • Metamaterials

    Richard Haglund, Physics and Astronomy

    Students working in the Haglund group will study the optical and physical properties of optically switchable metamaterials. These might include, for example, arrays of metal-vanadium dioxide nanostructures arranged in geometrical arrays, zinc-oxide core-shell nanowires decorated with metal nanoparticles, and Archimedean nanospirals. The unusual properties of these metamaterials lead to their application as ultrafast optical switches, nanolasers and optical-harmonic generators. For example, an REU student in 2015 participated in an experiment showing sub-femtosecond, optically driven second-harmonic generation in a gold nanogap array, just published (2016) in ACS Photonics.

    Researcher Interest and Skills: This project is well suited for a student interested either in nanoscale materials or optical physics. A sophomore-level course in modern physics or optics provides sufficient background information. Experience with any of the following is a plus for this project: optical spectroscopy, lasers, LabView instrumentation software, computer simulations and software (e.g., Matlab, Mathematica or C++).

  • Microfluidic Cell Co-Culture Platforms

    Deyu Li, Mechanical Engineering

    Microfluidic platforms that can dynamically control the microenviornment of multiple cell populations could enable novel assays in neurobiology and cancer biology. For example, Dr. Li's lab has developed a class of valve-enable cell co-culture platforms and applied them to study the dynamic process of synapse formation in the central nervous systems and to investigate the complex tumor-stroma interactions. In addition, we have generated devices that can probe the mechanbiology of different cell types, and examine neuron-glia interactions in a whole retina culture. These devices directly address biological research needs and we collaborate with biologists to develop new bioassays to solve challenging scientific issues. The REU student will learn how to design and fabricate microfluidic platforms, as well as apply them to biological studies.

    Research Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in hands-on work involving microdevice design and fabrication. Students should have some background in fluid mechanics and have an interest in biological studies.

  • Nano-modified Concrete for Next Generation of Nuclear Waste Storage

    Florence Sanchez, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    The goal of the research is to develop a superior concrete for the long-term storage of used nuclear fuel by engineering concrete at the nanoscale through the incorporation of nano-sized and nano-structured particles based on enhanced reactivity. An REU student working in the Sanchez group will assist in investigations into the structure and performance of these novel materials. The work will primarily consist of the evaluation of the effect of nano-particles on the performance of concrete and their sensitivities to environmental weathering, radiation and thermal influences and the subsequent effect on the material mechanical performance. Advanced chemical and microstructural characterization techniques, including solid phase mineralogy and nanoindentation, and traditional mechanical testing will be integrated to elucidate key aspects of nano-particle-cement interactions. Optimum nano-particle content and combinations that demonstrate maximum synergy for superior mechanical properties and durability of concrete under relevant environments found in used nuclear fuel storage will be identified. The student will work under the supervision of Prof. Sanchez and a graduate student. The student will gain firsthand experience in laboratory research, will be exposed to fundamental materials science and engineering of composite materials, and will develop skills in the operation of state-of-the-art analytical equipment.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for students interested in materials synthesis and characterization with applications to civil infrastructure. Students must have completed at least one semester of chemistry and one laboratory course.

  • Nanofluidics and Organs-on-Chips

    John Wikswo, Physics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

    REU students in the Wikswo group would be trained in an array of experimental and analytical techniques, including AutoCAD, photolithograpy, microfabrication, cell culture, microscopy, image analysis, and presentation skills, while working on ongoing nanoscience projects. An example would be the use of nanofluidics in the study of quantum dot aggregation and dynamics in microfluidic mixers, and the use of nanoparticles as physiological sensors and actuators to enable closed-loop control of biological systems. Student projects could, for example, include development of new microfluidic devices for sample manipulation, and the study of the properties of white-light nanocrystals and other nanoparticles.

    Researcher Interests and Skills:  skills that are valued are experience in designing, building, and debugging electronic, mechanical, optical and microfluidic systems; image processing, computer and microprocessor programming.

  • Nanoparticle Synthesis for Green Energy Applications

    Janet Macdonald, Chemistry

    The Macdonald Laboratory is a nanoparticle synthesis group. We are especially interested in preparing new nanoparticles and multicomponent hybrid nanoparticles for green energy applications, such as particles that will undergo photocatalytic water splitting, or new nanoscale electrocatalysts to be used in solar cells. As an example of an undergraduate project, one student worked on new ways to modify surface capping ligands on the particles to make the nanoparticles water-soluble — an important step before studying water splitting. Another previous REU student prepared copper oxide nanoparticles of different shapes, imaged them with scanning electron microscopy, and studied how their shape effected the photocatalytic properties. Typically, undergrads work closely with the PI and one of the graduate students or post docs in the group as mentors but are typically given independent research projects.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: Students should be interested in chemical synthesis and working with their hands. To be prepared to work in a wet chemistry lab, students should have completed two semesters of general chemistry (or equivalent) and at least one course (with a lab component) of organic chemistry.

  • Nanoparticles to Treat Bacterial Infections

    Todd Giorgio, Biomedical Engineering

    Sepsis is a bacterial infection of the blood that is fatal in a large fraction of diagnosed cases, especially in the very young, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals. This project uses superparamagnetic (SPN) nanoparticles (NPs) to isolate bacteria, limiting the disease progression and potentially enabling improved response to antibiotics. This work has up to three individual projects: (1) the fabrication, characterization and surface functionalization of gold-clad FeOx NPs, (2) characterization of functionalized gold-clad FeOx NP interaction with bacteria and magnetic separation and (3) magnetic isolation of gold-clad FeOx NP from microfluidic flows using experimental and/or computational approaches.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for students interested in inorganic nanomaterial synthesis, interactions of nanomaterials with biological systems or microfluidic processing of nanomaterials.

  • Nanophotonic Sensors

    Sharon Weiss, Electrical Engineering, Physics

    Accurate and reliable detection of small, low molecular weight molecules is a major challenge for current sensor technology. The detection of these species is critical for applications including identification of biotoxins and drug discovery. The Weiss group is investigating the use of various silicon-on-insulator and porous silicon optical structures, including photonic crystals, ring resonators, and Bloch surface wave structures, as promising sensors for small molecule detection due to the strong light-matter interaction that takes place between the optical mode and target molecules of interest. An REU student in the Weiss group will have the opportunity to participate in both experiments and calculations related to the design, fabrication, and characterization of silicon-based sensors. Necessary fabrication and measurement systems are well-established in the Weiss lab, and the REU student will be trained to independently conduct experiments. The REU student will also have access to in-house transfer matrix analysis and rigorous coupled wave analysis codes as well as commercial Lumerical optical modeling software to understand how the interaction of the electric field with biomolecules affects the sensitivity of detecting those molecules captured by the sensors. This project is best suited for a student interested in photonics and nanomaterials.

    Researcher Interests and Skills:  The REU student must have completed at least one semester of physics and one semester of chemistry.

  • Next-Generation Energy Storage Systems

    Cary Pint, Mechanical Engineering

    The Pint group focuses on the next-generation design of energy storage systems that have promise for integration, high energy density, and eventual replacement of fossil fuel energy resources using nanomaterials. Some examples of recent research efforts in the Pint lab include (1) high energy density grid-scale potassium and sodium ion batteries with long term cycling durability, (2) energy efficient nanoscale processing of lithium-sulfur and sodium-sulfur batteries, and (3) ambient carbon dioxide derived materials for the manufacturing of battery electrodes. Participating REU students will obtain valuable experience at the intersection of nanomaterials design and synthesis, electrode and battery fabrication, and diagnostic testing of battery systems and will be immersed in a dynamic and multidisciplinary environment that strives to translate lab-scale innovations to globally impacting energy storage technologies. Students will work closely with the PI, graduate students in the Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory, and have the opportunity to interface with collaborators in industry and abroad for a research experience that leverages the growing technological need for energy storage for a stable power grid, mobile technologies, robotics, and electric vehicles, among other areas.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: The project is geared for students who can participate in hands-on experimental research in materials fabrication and energy device testing. Given the highly interdisciplinary nature of this effort that combines mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, chemistry, and physics, students with interests covering a wide variety of science and engineering disciplines are sought.

  • pH-Responsive Polymeric Nanocarriers for Vaccine Delivery

    John T. Wilson, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    The Wilson group focuses on the treatment and prevention of disease through the design of nanoscale drug delivery systems that modulate the immune system. A major focus of our work is the design of nanocarriers to enhance the intracellular delivery of the key components of vaccines: antigens and adjuvants. This project will focus on controlling the delivery of protein antigens and/or nucleic acid adjuvants to immune cells using materials that respond to changes in pH. REU students working in the Wilson group would learn how to synthesize and characterize polymers, how to formulate nanoparticles for drug delivery, and how to evaluate delivery of antigen and/or adjuvants to immune cells. Students will gain an appreciation for polymer science, drug delivery and immunobiology.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in materials synthesis and characterization and the applications of materials in biology and medicine. Student must have completed three semesters of a laboratory course.

  • Photosynthesis-Inspired Films for Solar Energy Conversion

    Kane Jennings, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    Our society is experiencing the early stages of an energy crisis that will only intensify as long as alternatives to fossil fuels are not economically competitive. Jennings, in collaboration with David Cliffel (VINSE faculty in Chemistry), is developing new strategies for energy conversion that are inspired by photosynthesis, Nature’s solar energy conversion system. Specifically, they are developing biohybrid solar cells in which the active component is a dense film of Photosystem I (PSI), a nanoscale protein complex in plants that is one of the primary machines that drives photosynthesis. Recent discoveries by the Jennings/Cliffel team have led to dense PSI films adsorbed onto p-doped silicon (p-Si) surfaces that produce greatly enhanced photoelectrochemical current over that of p-Si alone. Their most recently published photocurrents approach the milliamp per cm2 range, are 6 orders of magnitude greater than those first reported by this team in 2007,and have set a new standard worldwide for PSI biohybrid cells. The proposed work is focused toward the preparation of a solid-state cell in which a PSI film is sandwiched between two electrodes. While working in Jennings’ group, the REU participant will learn to extract and isolate PSI from spinach, selectively assemble it into dense films onto a prepatterned, chemically tailored electrode surface, characterize its composition and structure on the surface, and measure the amount of photocurrent that is produced from the PSI layer in a solid-state cell configuration. We expect that the REU participant will learn key aspects of photosynthesis, the fabrication of biomolecular films, the extraction of protein, strategies for solar energy conversion, and the characterization of surfaces.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is appropriate for a student who has an interest in investigating alternative energy and in characterizing materials and surfaces. Students should have completed general and organic chemistry courses.

  • Plasmonic Nanoantennae for Hot Electron Photodetectors

    Jason Valentine, Mechanical Engineering

    Surface plasmons are electromagnetic waves that travel on the surface of a metal through electron oscillations. These highly localized waves are commonly used to concentrate and manipulate electromagnetic energy for applications such as sensing, optical antennas, and imaging. In the Valentine group we are focusing on engineering the propagation of surface plasmons to create hot electron-based photodetectors. This emerging field has applications in solar energy conversion, optical communications and chemical catalysis. The REU student will work closely with the PI and a graduate student on this project and be responsible for fabricating and optically characterizing plasmonic hot electron photodetectors and devices. In accomplishing the project, the student will gain experience in electron beam lithography, material deposition, spectroscopy, and microscopy.

    Researcher Interests and Skills:  This project is best suited for individuals with interests in nanoscale optics, materials, and experimental optics. The individual should have completed an electromagnetics course and experience with experimental optics and spectroscopy would be beneficial.

  • Probing Two-Dimensional Materials Based Heterostructure Through Scanning Photocurrent and Photoluminescence Measurements

    Yaqiong Xu, Electrical and Computer Engineering & Physics

    The research project focuses on the synthesis and fabrication of two-dimensional (2D) materials (such as graphene, MoS 2 , WSe 2 , WTe 2 , black phosphorus, and so on) based heterostructures. The photocurrent generation mechanisms of heterostructures will be investigated through spatially-resolved photocurrent and photoluminescence measurements. These fundamental studies shed light on the knowledge of the photon-electron conversion mechanisms in 2D materials, leading to new design rules for future 2D materials-based photodetectors and photovoltaics. Typically 2-3 students work closely with a graduate student or a postdoctoral associate.

    Researcher Interests and Skills:  This project is best suited for a student interested in synthesis, fabrication, and characterization.

  • Radiation Effects and Reliability in Electronics Devices

    Ronald Schrimpf, Electrical Engineering

    The Radiation Effects and Reliability Group focuses on understanding the performance of advanced electronic technologies in space environments, emphasizing the response to energetic radiation (e.g., cosmic rays). In space, and increasingly in terrestrial systems, the interaction of naturally occurring radiation with microelectronic systems is becoming a critical factor in their reliability. The size of the area affected by the interaction of a single radiation quantum with the materials of an integrated circuit is set by fundamental physics. Integrated circuit structures, on the other hand, have been shrinking for decades, and now, as they move comfortably into the nano-scale, they are becoming much smaller than the characteristic size of radiation events. The result is an interaction of extreme and increasing complexity. In order to understand this interaction and to design systems that minimize its negative effects, physics models of unprecedented complexity are needed. The Vanderbilt radiation effects program is working to change the fundamental paradigm of electronic design for extreme environments by the synthesis of first-principles nanoscale physics with higher-level models of microelectronic device and system response. The RER Group includes 10 professors, 13 graduate engineers, and approximately 30 graduate students. Undergraduate students also participate in space experiments through the Group's small satellite program.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: The ideal students will be interested in semiconductor device physics and numerical simulation methods. They also will acquire experience with high performance computing/parallel computation.

  • Self-healing Microvascular Polymers Patterned Using Cotton Candy

    Leon Bellan, Mechanical Engineering

    The Bellan Lab focuses on developing scalable fabrication techniques for making microfluidic materials with unique properties. We use these microfluidic materials for biomedical and structural applications, keeping in mind that the processes involved should be easily translated to large-scale manufacturing lines. Examples of research projects include fabricating artificial vascular networks in engineered tissue and self-healing structural materials. REU students working on this project will use sacrificial fibers made with a cotton candy machine to form microfluidic structures in structural polymers, and work with the PI and a graduate student to develop self-healing chemistries for use in this system. Students will be exposed to materials processing and mechanical characterization techniques.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is appropriate for students who are interested in hands-on experimental work in the field of materials science and engineering and would like to learn more about non-traditional micropatterning techniques, polymer chemistry, and mechanical characterization.

  • 'Smart' Composite Materials

    Doug Adams, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Additive manufacturing technologies for 3D printing have the capacity to revolutionize the way composite materials are utilized in a growing number of applications from clean energy to healthcare. Research in the Adams lab is evaluating a new approach for fabricating 'smart' composite materials that are capable of responding to changes in the environment through shifts in material properties or behavior. By incorporating functional nanomaterials within precursor filament printed parts, this research will study how these smart material responses can be utilized to monitor the additive manufacturing process as well as the effectiveness of printed parts under environmental stresses. Both the emissive and conductive characteristics of embedded nanomaterials will be measured for the purpose of structural health monitoring and nondestructive evaluation. The REU project will focus on the selection and design of precursor materials to provide 3D printed parts with enhanced sensing capabilities.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for individuals with interests in nanoscale or composite materials. The individual should have completed a course on mechanics of materials. Experience with mechanical testing and 3D printing would be beneficial.

  • Synthetic Biomaterials for Regenerative Medicine

    Scott Guelcher, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    The Guelcher group focuses on the design and development of synthetic biomaterials for soft and hard tissue engineering and drug delivery. Examples include delivery of biofilm dispersal agents to prevent infection and accelerate healing of contaminated bone wounds, and delivery of Wnt signaling inhibitors to enhance cutaneous wound healing. REU students working in the Guelcher group would learn the fundamentals of biomaterials synthesis and drug delivery, and perform experimental measurements using both in vitro and in vivo models. For example, previous undergraduate researchers in the Guelcher lab have measured the ability of novel biomaterials to support osteoblastic differentiation and the release kinetics of antibiotics from polymeric scaffolds. Each student initially works very closely with the PI and a graduate student or postdoctoral associate in the group, with the best students becoming essentially independent by the time they leave the lab.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student with interests in drug delivery and cell culture. The student should have completed a laboratory course, and courses in organic chemistry and biology would be helpful. The student will work in an inter-disciplinary environment with chemical engineers and molecular biologists to develop new therapies for regeneration of bone and soft tissue.

  • Understanding the Barrier Function of Skin Using Molecular Simulation

    Clare McCabe, Chemical and Biomedical Engineering

    The McCabe group focuses on the use of molecular modeling to predict the properties of nanostructured soft materials. In this project particular we are interested in using molecular simulation to study the self-assembly of lipids found in the skin in order to understand how the lamella structures formed relate to the effectiveness of the skin barrier. The lipid lamella found in the skin are unique in biological membranes in that they are composed of ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids, with phospholipids, which are the major components of most biological membranes, being completely absent. This unique composition enables the organization of the skin lipids into lamella that very successfully control barrier function. However, while much is known about the nature of the skin lipids from extensive experimental studies, a clear understanding of how and why these lipids assemble into the structures observed through microscopy and biophysical measurements does not yet exist. Molecular simulations can fill this void by providing molecular level insights into the interactions and structural arrangements.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in computational work. Students should have completed at least one college level programming course or competency in a programming language such as matlab, java, python, c++.

  • Use of Nanometer Diameter Paramagnetic Particles for Capturing of Nucleic Acid Biomarkers

    Frederick Haselton, Biomedical Engineering

    One of our laboratory interests is the development of technologies for the extraction of nucleic acids for low point-of-care molecular diagnostic applications. Simply concentrating the number of nucleic acid targets present in a large sample volume reduces the need for the more complex detection approaches based on the amplification of targets before testing. Our previous work has shown that this concentration approach markedly improves the sensitivity of antibody-based malaria lateral flow diagnostic tests for a malaria protein biomarker. Urine has been recently shown to contain important RNA biomarkers in detection studies for Zika virus. We are currently developing a simple design to concentrate nucleic acid biomarkers from large volumes of urine that might be useful in point-of-care diagnostics for Zika. Current practice is based on mixing of surface functionalized micron diameter paramagnetic beads with a sample containing the nucleic acid biomarkers of interest and then recapturing the paramagnetic materials in a much smaller volume. The use of nanometer diameter paramagnetic particles will significantly decrease the time required for the capture of biomarkers from a large urine sample, but also decrease the capture efficiency due to the decrease in magnetic mobility. This project will explore the application of a method, first employed in the mining industry, to efficiently capture nanometer diameter paramagnetic particles from a flow. If successful this approach will open up rapid and simple low resource approaches for the extraction of nucleic acid biomarkers of diseases from urine, a more readily obtainable human sample.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: TThis project is best suited for individuals with interests in global health and basic molecular biology skills. The individual should have completed a basic physics course incorporating electromagnetics and an introductory course to molecular biology.

  • Using Molecular Simulation to Determine Frictional Properties in Self-Assembled Monolayers

    Clare McCabe, Chemical and Biomedical Engineering

    In this project we are working to elucidate the molecular phenomena that give rise to macro scale frictional behavior with the goal of improving the tribological properties of coatings used in micro- and nanoelectromechanical systems. This is motivated by the high cost (over $800B/yr in the US) of friction and wear. A specific application of interest includes the read/write head inside hard disk drives, which currently floats across the surface of the platters on a cushion of air. As manufacturers try to increase the data density in drives, the distance separating the head and the platter will eventually require lubricants able to sustain constant contact at up to 15000 rpm. Tribology involves molecular mechanisms occurring on a nanometer scale, and hence understanding tribological behavior on this scale is critical to developing new technologies for reducing wear due to friction. Molecular simulation enables the molecular level interactions to be probed providing insight that can be used in the design and optimization of nanoscale lubrication systems.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in computational work. Students should have completed at least one college level programming course or competency in a programming language such as matlab, java, python, c++.

  • Using Photosystem I for Solar Energy Conversion

    David Cliffel, Chemistry

    In a collaboration between the Cliffel and Jennings Research groups, we investigate the use of Photosystem I (PSI) in a non-biological setting to efficiently convert solar energy into electricity or fuels. By taking this nano-machinery found in the process of photosynthesis and integrating with different electrode materials, we aim to both increase the efficiency and decrease the cost of modern solar conversion techniques. REU students working with the Cliffel and Jennings research groups learn the fundamentals of surface modification, surface analysis, and electrochemistry. For example, previous REU students have worked on projects integrating and analyzing PSI with carbon-based electrodes, and measured the resulting photocurrents of these systems. Typically 2 students work closely with and graduate students in both the Cliffel and Jennings lab.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in chemistry or chemical engineering. Students should have completed at least general chemistry with a corresponding lab course.