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.
Summer 2024 Research Projects -
Advancing Decarbonization and Energy Performance of Concrete via 3D Printing
Florence Sanchez, Civil and Environmental Engineering
The Sanchez lab focuses on the development of sustainable and more durable infrastructure materials with reduced environmental impact. One effort is the realization of novel, functionally graded concrete materials that can enhance the energy performance of buildings. This is achieved by engineering concrete at multiple length scales through the design of a hierarchy of internal structures inspired by nature and the incorporation of nano/micro-inclusions using extrusion-based 3D printing technology. The student will assist in the 3D printing fabrication of cement-based materials displaying a hierarchy of internal structures and patterns and investigations into the structure and mechanical and thermal performance of these novel materials. 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 state-of-the-art analytical methods for the characterization of material microstructures.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in material synthesis and characterization, 3D printing, and the applications of materials in civil engineering. Student must have completed at least one semester of chemistry and two semesters of a laboratory course.
Atomistic Understanding of Nanostructures for Anion-Storage Batteries
De-en Jiang, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
The Jiang Group’s research focuses on computational chemical science and engineering, with a goal to achieve predictive modeling and design of functional materials and molecules for a sustainable society. Current research topics include computational nanocatalysis, simulations of separation media and processes, and first principles understanding of electrical energy storage and solid/liquid interfaces. One recent interest of our group is in novel anion-storage batteries. The project will focus on computational modeling of novel nanostructures (e.g., nanochannels) inside oxide-based electrode materials that allow reversible anion storage at high capacity. REU students working in the Jiang group would learn how to build atomistic models for electrode materials, how to carry out first principles calculations, and how to simulate atomistic processes of ion storage inside battery electrodes. Students will gain an appreciation for first principles calculations, materials modeling, battery chemistry, and electric energy storage.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in computational nanoscience, materials chemistry, and battery research. Knowledge of Linux operating system, solid-state chemistry, and quantum mechanics is a plus.
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.
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 collaborators 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 typically 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.
Controlling Infrared Light Propagation at the Nanoscale with 2D van der Waals Crystals
Josh Caldwell, Mechanical Engineering
The infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum offers opportunities for non-contact measurements of temperature through the collection of thermal radiation, chemical vibrational fingerprinting for sensing and identification, lab-on-a-chip, environmental and remote sensing, and astronomical observations. However, the long free-space wavelengths of light in this spectral domain restrict such optical components to large form-factors limiting the ubiquitous implementation in commercial applications. Furthermore, most of the materials used are either opaque in the visible, hygroscopic, or only work over a very narrow band, while detectors typically require cryogenic cooling for efficient operation. The field of nanophotonics seeks to identify schemes by which the wavelength can be compressed to deeply sub-wavelength dimensions, opening the door to implementation of more traditional semiconductor and dielectric materials, overcoming many of these challenges. However, despite this promise, we continue to uncover additional materials featuring novel optical properties. One specific class is highly anisotropic (low symmetry) crystals, such as van der Waals or so-called two-dimensional materials or wide bandgap semiconductors. One example is through confining and propagating infrared light through hyperbolic shear polaritons in monoclinic crystals, which results in highly directional propagation of light, with the direction tunable through changing excitation frequency (see figure). An REU student working on this project will implement these materials for demonstrating such control of IR light propagation, using state-of-the-art 2D material transfer and lithography tools, along with learning to use advanced IR spectroscopic methods including Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and microscopy, and the use of nano-optic probes such as scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscopy (s-SNOM) and nano-FTIR. To date, all seven undergraduate researchers (four of which were VINSE REU student alumni) of the Caldwell lab (since joining faculty in 2017) have seen their work published in a peer-reviewed journals, with this past summer’s REU student on track for a publication this Fall.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project would be ideal for students interested in practical research in nanomaterial fabrication and optical characterization techniques. Ideally students should have completed at least one course covering basic optics, electromagnetics, solid-state physics/chemistry, materials science, or the optical properties of materials. Undergraduate research, especially in materials science, optics, spectroscopy, or experience with cleanroom use, are highly desired.
Covalent Bonding of Hematite to Silica Surfaces
Janet Macdonald, Chemistry
The hematite (iron oxide) rock paintings of the Anishinaabe of the Northern US and Canada are often on exposed rock faces that suffer extreme weathering conditions. Spray paint graffiti on the same sites can be worn off within a year or two, yet the rock paintings persist. Unfortunately, the methods to make such paintings have been lost. What is the chemistry behind their indelibility? Can we use our knowledge of chemistry to re-discover the painting technique? Can lab reagents and conditions be translated to “natural” granite surfaces and naturally sourced materials? The researcher will develop experiments to test hypotheses put forward previously by anthropologists and by chemists (us!), by making their own pigments, varying the chemical formulation of the paint and testing their durability.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project requires a minimum of senior level high school, AP or freshman chemistry and a strong interest in Chemistry or Materials Science. Students should have a secondary interest in Anthropology, History or Indigenous Studies. Given the nature of the project, interested researchers should be prepared to be respectful of cultures and religious beliefs to which they may not belong themselves.
Designing Microfluidic Devices to Evaluate Interactions of Circulating Tumor and Immune Cells with the Irradiated Vasculature
Marjan Rafat, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Despite the high risk of recurrence among TNBC patients, the steps of tumor cell reseeding and the roles of neutrophils and radiation-induced vascular damage remain unclear. Traditional in vitro models for studying mechanisms of cancer recurrence and metastasis (e.g., cell culture plates, organoids) fail to recapitulate the structure of vascular networks and do not incorporate flow, which is a key component of cell movement and transport of nutrients and secreted factors through the vasculature. The Rafat Lab is interested in establishing a more biologically relevant model of the mammary tissue vasculature in order to study the mechanisms of TNBC recurrence after radiation. An REU student in the Rafat Lab will have the opportunity to participate in experiments related to the to the fabrication and application of a two-channel microfluidic device to determine the impact of irradiated vasculature on neutrophil infiltration and tumor cell recruitment. The necessary platforms and protocols are well-established in the Rafat Lab. The REU students will be trained to independently conduct experiments. The project is best suited for a student interested in learning about cell-cell interactions in the tissue and tumor microenvironment through the design of biomimetic devices.
Researcher Interests and Skills: The Rafat Lab is accepting undergraduate students who would like to conduct research at the interface of engineering and cancer biology.
Development of New pH-reactive 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..
Development of New ROS-reactive Polymers for Drug Delivery
Craig Duvall, Biomedical Engineering
The Duvall lab develops various "on demand" drug delivery systems that release drug or undergo phase changes based on environmental cues. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are elevated, causing "oxidative stress", in many chronic inflammatory diseases. We are developing new classes of polymeric nanoparticles, microparticles, and hydrogels with ROS responsive/scavenging properties. These systems are tuned to release drug "on demand" - i.e., when ROS levels become elevated, the delivery system is triggered to release anti-oxidant drug. Many of these systems are also engineered to have inherent ability to sequester ROS from the local environment, which is therapeutically useful in order to limit inflammation-associated host tissue damage and promote disease resolution. Current applications range wound healing, breast cancer metastasis, and arthritis therapies. For the summer project, the student will learn methods for synthesis of ROS-reactive polymers, creation and characterization of particle formulations, and measurement of ROS scavenging activity and downstream therapeutic benefits.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited to students interested in polymeric biomaterials and inflammation. The summer project will expose students to living free radical polymerization, polymeric nanoparticle fabrication and characterization, and basic cell culture and molecular biology techniques.
Jason Valentine, Mechanical Engineering
The Valentine group is focused on developing nanostructured materials, referred to as metamaterials, that have unique optical properties which arise from the structuring employed. The goal for this REU is the development of dynamic metamaterials that can have their optical properties adjusted in real-time using electrical, optical, or thermal modulation. The potential uses of these metamaterials are far ranging and include tunable optical elements such as lenses, optical displays, and tunable light sources. The REU student will work closely with the PI and a graduate student on this project and be responsible for fabricating and optically characterizing metamaterials with an emphasis on studying the time-varying properties including changes in transmission and reflection as well as the modulation speed.
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.
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.
Enabling Technologies for Biomanufacturing Extracellular Vesicle-Based Therapeutics
Jamey Young, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are cell-made particles that provide a natural mechanism of information and material transfer between cells. There is growing interest in large-scale production of EVs due to their potential use as carriers of drugs or other biomolecules to diverse cellular targets; however, the technology to mass-produce purified EVs with tunable and well-defined properties is still in its infancy. REU students will be recruited to work with senior members of our NSF Future Manufacturing project team to develop, test, and scale-up a flexible workflow for producing EVs from differentiated human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Various biomaterials and cell encapsulation strategies will be examined for adapting adherent host cells to suspension culture, in order to maximize the volumetric rate of EV production in stirred bioreactors. In addition, REU students will contribute to the development of instructional “BioFab” modules that introduce digital fabrication and cell-based manufacturing concepts to Vanderbilt undergraduate students and high school students in the Metro Nashville Public Schools district.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for students interested in working at the interface between biomaterials and cell culture. They must also be interested in working in a team to develop instructional modules for undergraduate and high school students. The project involves a collaboration with the labs of Ethan Lippmann and John Wilson in Engineering, and Alissa Weaver in Cell and Developmental Biology. Development of “BioFab” modules will be led by Prof. David Florian.
Engineered Models of Vascularized Human Brain
Ethan Lippmann, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
This project focuses on developing and validating engineered models of the human brain. The Lippmann Lab has longstanding expertise integrating human stem cell-derived neural and vascular cells with biomaterials and engineered microdevices to build representative models of vascularized brain tissue. Cell phenotypes in biomaterials and devices are robustly characterized to see how closely they approximate native human brain, while devices are also continuously optimized to support these cell phenotypes and impart different stimuli.
Researcher Interests and Skills: The REU student will work with graduate students or postdoctoral fellows to test new cell culture devices and characterize cell phenotypes in these devices. No prior experience is needed, but the student will be expected to work effectively with his/her hands and be open to trial-and-error strategies for system optimization.
Engineering Collective Dynamics of Polarizable Colloids
Carlos A. Silvera Batista, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Colloidal materials display impressive features such as dynamic assembly, self-assembly and self-propulsion. These features are promising for achieving advanced materials that mimic the versatility of natural systems. Nonetheless, to harness colloidal building blocks into functional, reconfigurable, and active materials will require the capacity to encode structural and dynamical information into simpler autonomous units, that upon interaction, assemble and coordinate their motion. Patchy particles under electric fields serve as important model systems to achieve such goals. However, the polarizability—the property linking materials design with electrokinetics—has rarely been characterized, and therefore, it is not well understood. In this project, we will address this gap by using electrorotation to characterize the response of model systems, by performing transport analysis to obtain mechanistic understanding, and by mapping collective dynamics to link properties of individual particles to emergent collective behavior. This project will advance the design of nonequilibrium strategies that can endow synthetic materials with the flexibility and functionality typical of biomaterials.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in chemical engineering or chemistry.
Engineering Metasurfaces as a Thermal Radiation Source
Josh Caldwell, Mechanical Engineering
Controllable spectral response and directionality of light from radiation sources are of critical interest within the mid-infrared (IR) range for waste heat recovery in energy storage, transportation, sustainability, as well as in chemical sensing, and imaging. Yet, the sources in the mid-IR are inefficient, bulky, expensive, and/or complex to design. On the other hand, metasurfaces - flat structured surfaces engineered to modify optical and electric functions - are promising platforms for tailoring optical properties. This allows thermal sources (e.g., old incandescent light bulbs) to be used as narrow band mid-IR radiation source with only heat as the input. Its compactness and simplicity provide significant advantages over the existing infrared light sources. In addition, highly anisotropic materials with exotic optical features in mid-infrared range provide viable candidates as a material for constructing such metasurfaces. An REU student working on this project will have the opportunity to take part in designing thermal metasurface devices, experience fabrication of the device using nanoscale lithography tools and nanoscale characterization of structure, optical response, and thermal behaviors. This will be achieved using tools such as Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and nano-optical probes such as scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscopy, along with imaging microscopes such as scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) and atomic-force microscopes (AFM). The REU student will perform simulations for thermal design of the experimental setup and measure temperature of the device with thermocouples.of biomaterials.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in heat transfer, nanofabrication, and material characterization. Student must have completed at least one semester of thermodynamics and two semesters of a laboratory course.
Etch, Release, and Transfer of High Electron Mobility Transistors (HEMT) Devices
Mona Ebrish, Electrical and Computer Engineering
High electron mobility Transistors (HEMTs) are often grown on special wafers to meet the layers specifications and avoid lattice mismatch. Often these special wafers are not suitable for several electronics applications. In this project, the student will work with graduate students on isotopically etching a sacrificial layer to release the HEMTs from their native wafer. The sacrificial layer is often a Si layer that can be etched using XeF2 etcher. The transfer will take place using a state-of-the-art technique using a Micro-transfer printer tool at Ebrish Electron Devices Group (EEDG). The objective of the process is to successfully transfer a single device or a cluster of devices to a host wafer. The success of the process is gauged by the structural integrity of the transistor after the transfer as well as maintaining the same electrical characterization. REU student might focus on the etching and release processes of the project which involves some fabrication processes like photolithography steps at VINSE. The student might also focus on the transfer process at EEDG or the structural and electrical evaluation after the transfer. The area of focus will depend on the student’s skills and interest. All of the steps are novel and have the potential to be publishable in both peer reviewed journal and conference proceedings.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project would be ideal for students interested in practical research in microelectronics fabrication and characterization techniques. Ideally students should have completed at least one course covering basic electronics including diodes, and transistors, or semiconductor physics. Undergraduate research, especially in semiconductor materials, electronics or experience with cleanroom use, are highly desired.
Intelligent Soft Miniature Robots Integrated with Flexible Sensors
Xiaoguang Dong, Mechanical Engineering
Small-scale robots with an overall size less than one centimeter that can be wirelessly actuated, monitored and controlled, could revolutionize minimally invasive medical operations by allowing access to enclosed small spaces inside the human body and performing medical operations such as drug delivery, onsite biofluid pumping and biopsy. Wirelessly powered small-scale robots using stimuli-responsive material and mechanisms which can be actuated by magnetic fields are especially promising, as magnetic fields can penetrate most nonmagnetic materials such as biological tissue and induce relatively large magnetic forces and torques on the robot body for remote and precise actuation. Despite recent advances in this field, critical challenges still exist in creating intelligent miniature robots that could navigate through complex confined environments and demonstrate medical functionalities such as point-of-care diagnosis. This REU project aims at developing wireless soft robots for sensing tissue physiological properties. The REU student will work together with other lab members on the fabrication and test of flexible sensors based on various stimuli-responsive materials which will be integrated on miniature soft robots. Project outcomes include prototypes of the devices and a project report which could potentially be turned into a manuscript to be submitted to a proper journal or a top robotic conference such as RSS, ICRA, etc.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in soft materials, flexible electronics, 3D printing, and the applications of materials in robotics and medical devices. The student should have skills on mechanical design and soft materials.
Light in Quantum Materials
Richard Haglund, Physics and Astronomy
REU students working in the Haglund group will study the behavior of light in quantum materials with unusual optical and electronic functionalities. The materials include vanadium dioxide nanostructures that transform from insulators to metals when irradiated by laser pulses, two-dimensional crystals such as graphene-like hexagonal boron nitride, and high harmonic generation in semiconductor-metal nano composites Students will be able to fabricate thin films, crystals or nanostructures of quantum materials, study nonlinear optical phenomena with femtosecond lasers or characterize single-photon emitters for quantum information applications. For example, a REU student in the summer of 2022 learned how to use photoluminescence spectromicroscopy to map and select atomic-scale defect sites on hexagonal boron nitride nano sheets that emit only single photons.
Researcher Interest and Skills: This project is well suited for a student interested in nanoscale material synthesis and spectroscopy, optical physics or quantum optics. 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 and software, computer simulations and software (e.g., Matlab, Mathematica or C++), material characterization (e.g., X-ray diffraction) and microscopy.
Mechanochemistry and Catalysis
Tim Hanusa, Chemistry
Mechanochemical reactions occur because of the direct absorption of mechanical energy, often by grinding or ball milling. Usually no solvent (or a greatly reduced amount) is used in a mechanochemical reaction—it is considered a type of “green” chemistry. We synthesize inorganic and organometallic compounds that are new types of catalysts. These compounds are specifically not available through solution-based methods. In turn, the catalysts can be used to prepare polymers with a variety of properties, including biodegradability. REU students working with the Hanusa research group will learn the fundamentals of ball milling, and how to combine this with inorganic synthesis and characterization techniques. These will include methods for handling air- and moisture-sensitive compounds. Students will work side-by-side with graduate students in the Hanusa lab.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in chemistry, especially synthetic chemistry. Students should have completed at least general chemistry with a corresponding lab course; additional work in organic chemistry (lecture+lab) would be helpful, but not required.
Molecular Design of Membranes for Polar Solvent Dehydration
G. Kane Jennings, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Conventional thermal separations of water-solvent mixtures are energy intensive and costly. Aqueous polar solvent mixtures often present the challenge of azeotrope formation, requiring additional operations for separation. Membrane-based separations have emerged as an energy- and cost-efficient alternative separation method, with pervaporation as the prime candidate for separating these mixtures. Current polymeric pervaporation membranes are limited to a few commodity polymers that are often not molecularly designed for the intended separation, leading to low fluxes and mild selectivity. In addition, the synthesis of these polymers and fabrication of the membranes requires several liters of volatile organic solvent per gram of polymer deposited. This project combines polymer synthesis and deposition into one step to rapidly produce thin polymer films with a wide variety of compositions through a process we term spin-coating ring-opening metathesis polymerization (scROMP). The scROMP approach allows for thin polymer films to be fabricated in under 3 min on coupon supports using cyclic olefin monomers, Grubbs 3rd generation catalyst, and as little as half a mL of solvent per 35 cm2 of polymer selective layer. The scROMP method is being paired with molecular simulations to sample the wide array of potential compositions and accelerate the discovery of new polymer membrane selective layers. Polymers fabricated through scROMP are characterized by ATR-FTIR, stylus profilometry, SEM, contact angles, and GPC to determine properties as scROMP parameters and monomers are varied. The student participating on this project will learn to fabricate thin film composite membranes using scROMP, characterize them with various methods noted above, and measure component fluxes and selectivities of water-polar solvent mixtures. The student will vary polymer side chain composition and cross-linking density to determine the effects on glass transition temperature and membrane separation performance.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is appropriate for a student who has an interest in investigating sustainable energy and in characterizing polymeric materials and surfaces. Students should have completed general and organic chemistry courses
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 disease biomarkers. The Weiss group is investigating the use of various silicon-on-insulator and porous silicon optical 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. Both on-chip and smartphone-compatible sensor platforms are being explored. An REU student in the Weiss group will have the opportunity to participate in experiments and calculations related to the design, fabrication, and characterization of silicon-based sensors. Necessary fabrication and measurement systems, as well as simulation infrastructure, are well-established in the Weiss lab. The REU student will be trained to independently conduct experiments. This project is best suited for a student interested in optics and nanomaterials.
Researcher Interests and Skills: The REU student must have completed at least one semester of physics and one semester of chemistry.
Nanoporous Atomically Thin Membranes for Next-Generation Energy and Environmental Applications
Piran Kidambi, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
This project will focus on 2D materials that are one atom thick. The student will synthesize 2D materials using bottom-up self-assembly processes. Post synthesis the student will develop methods to form atomically thin membranes that could offer transformative advances for Energy and Environmental applications.
The project offers the student the possibility of exploring the ultimate paradigm in length scales probing single atom thick membranes with state-of-the-art transport experiments. The student will work closely with the PI, post-docs and graduate students on 2D material synthesis, nanoporous atomically thin membrane fabrication and applications.
Researcher Interests and Skills: The project is ideally suited for students interested in hands-on experimental research in nanotechnology.
Nanoscale Optical Trapping
Justus Ndukaife, Electrical Engineering
TThe Ndukaife Research group conducts research at the interface between nanophotonics and microfluidics to develop new lab-on-a-chip devices for trapping, manipulation, sorting and sensing of nanometric objects and biological molecules, which are too small to be trapped by the conventional optical tweezers that was recently recognized with a 2018 Physics Nobel Prize. For this particular project, we are interested in developing and characterizing novel optical nanotweezers that can trap and manipulate very small objects that are at least a thousand times smaller than the thickness of the human hair using light and electric voltage.Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in nanotechnology and optics. Students should have completed at least general chemistry with a corresponding lab course.
On-chip Silicon Nanophotonics
Sharon Weiss, Electrical Engineering, Physics
Silicon has traditionally been associated with being the most favorable material platform for most modern microelectronics technologies due to its electronic properties, compatibility with lithographic patterning, and earth abundance. However, silicon is also a favorable material platform for supporting light propagation, and silicon photonics is now considered to be the leading platform to achieve faster data transfer speeds on chip. The Weiss group is investigating on-chip silicon photonic components with subwavelength features and extremely strong electric field enhancements, which may lead to the next generation of on-chip photonic devices with ultrafast modulation speed, low power, and small footprint. An REU student in the Weiss group will be trained to independently carry out both experiments and simulations related to the design and characterization of advanced silicon nanophotonic components.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in optics and semiconductors. The REU student must have completed at least two semesters of physics. Knowledge of electromagnetics would be helpful, but not required.
Optical Metamaterials for Information Processing
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, 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. The purpose of this summer research experience is to implement metamaterials as pre-filters for image processing systems. For instance, metamaterials can be designed to perform derivatives and act as spatial filters, off-loading these operations from the digital system. Ultimately, this allows the digital system to operate faster and consume less power while also taking advantage of the unique design freedoms associated with metamaterials. The REU student will work closely with the PI and a graduate student on this project and be responsible for designing and optically characterizing metamaterials for various image processing tasks.
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 machine learning systems will be beneficial.
Patterning Sacrificial Smart Materials to Make Artificial Arterioles
Leon Bellan, Mechanical Engineering
In the human body, vascular resistance is regulated by non-capillary microvessels which autonomically contract or dilate in response to appropriate biochemical stimuli. This process is critical to ensuring appropriate local pressure-flow relationships in tissue such that metabolic needs are met. Engineered microvasculature, however, is currently unable to replicate this critical functionality. This is because engineered microvasculature currently does not incorporate circumferentially aligned smooth muscle cells (SMCs) capable of regulating vessel lumen diameter. The goal of this project is to use 3D printed sacrificial templates to pattern microvascular channel networks in hydrogels and culture SMCs on the channels walls, and then induce appropriate SMC behavior and architecture using the cyclic wall stretch that results from pulsatile flow in these compliant matrices. Cells will then be exposed to various stimuli and their ability to modulate vessel lumen diameter will be characterized. 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, flow characterization in a biomedical context, and 3D printing.. Experience with programming, electronics, biomaterials, or cell culture techniques would be beneficial but is not required.
pH-Responsive Polymeric Nanocarriers for Delivery of Vaccines and Immunotherapies
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 and cancer immunotherapies. This project will focus on controlling the delivery of vaccine antigens and/or immunomodulatory drugs 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.
Phase Control in the Synthesis of Metal Sulfide Nanocrystals
Janet Macdonald, Chemistry
Metal sulfide nanocrystals have been a cornerstone of nanotechnology research: as examples Quantum dots of CdS, PbS and ZnS; graphene-like MoS2 and lithium ion storing cobalt sulfides. As we seek new nanoscale materials for their electronic, catalytic, thermoelectric and optical properties we need to mine farther and farther reaches of the periodic table. The geologic record tells us there are many untapped materials: there are nine known iron sulfides, four cobalt sulfides, seven nickel sulfides and ten copper sulfides. As physical and chemical properties depend on the identity and the specific arrangement on atoms in space, each of these phases has their own set of potentially revolutionary properties for any number of applications from display technology, catalysis, batteries, non-linear optics and even cancer treatment.
Some of the aforementioned metal sulfides have never been prepared as nanocrystals before, as to date, our syntheses have been mostly serendipitous. The community of chemists do not have the level of synthetic skill or knowledge of how to tweak a “failed” reaction to select for one crystal phase over another. In this project we will use libraries of organosulfur reagents to tease out how kinetics and decomposition mechanism each play a role in the phase selective synthesis of transition metal sulfides. Our goal is to synthetically traverse the full phase space of metal sulfides.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This REU will be conducting synthetic experiments at high temperatures using Schlenk techniques, and will learn to use and analyze their products with X-ray diffraction as a routine technique. Transmission electron microscopy on promising samples will be performed with the aid of a graduate student. Given the synthetic rigors of the project, organic chemistry with a laboratory component is a minimum requirement, or similar synthetic laboratory experience.
Prediction of Hybrid Thermal Modes for New Class of Energy Conversion Materials
Greg Walker, Mechanical Engineering
Exciting new research indicates that infrared metamaterials can be used for directional emission, spectrally selective emission, and even possibly lasing. However, the design of these structures depends on light interaction with crystal lattice vibrational modes. Only through careful design and analysis can these novel materials be realized. We will use density functional theory and lattice dynamics modeling tools to understand phonon dispersions in highly structured materials to look for elusive but important hybrid modes, those where optical and acoustic modes overlap. These materials are important to a number of thermal energy devices such as thermophotovolatics, microelectronic optical interconnects, and infrared power transmission with a meaningful impact on energy utilization and storage technologies.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for students with an interest in using computers to solve engineering problems and an interest in learning about energy transport.
Probing Protein-Nanoparticle Interactions with Ultrafast Spectroscopy
Lauren Buchanan, Chemistry
The Buchanan group focused on the use of 2D infrared spectroscopy to study protein structure and dynamics. In this project, we are interested in determining the structure of nanoparticle-bound proteins. For proteins, structure determines function; thus, for biomedical applications of nanomaterials to be viable, it is crucial to understand precisely how protein-nanoparticle interactions alter protein native structure. While it is well-established that global structural changes do occur upon binding to a nanoparticle surface, no one has managed to localize structural rearrangements to specific regions of the protein or determine the mechanisms by which nanoparticles affect protein aggregation. Using 2D IR spectroscopy and isotope labeling of proteins, we can achieve residue-level structural resolution of these complex systems and observe transient species that are inaccessible by conventional methods.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for students interested in physical or bioanalytical chemistry. Students should have completed at least general chemistry with a corresponding lab course.
Solvation Forces in Nanoscale Systems
Carlos A. Silvera Batista, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
The successful application of NPs in medicine depends on the controlled distribution in target organs and specific interactions with biomolecules of interest. However, the high ionic strength of biological media reduces colloidal stability. Colloidal stability is essential for NPs to circulate longer and therefore reach their target organs. Solvation forces and the structure of the solvation shell around NPs have emerged as a key factor controlling the NP-NP and NP-proteins interactions in biological media. However, there are limited measurements of forces between NPs and no systematic experimental studies correlating solvation dynamics of NPs, the structure within the solvation shell and the interparticle potential. The objective of this project is to extend our understanding of the solvent mediated forces between NPs through the systematic measurement of size of hydration shell, the structure and arrangement of solvent molecules within the solvation shell and its manifestation on interaction potential. This work will rely on techniques such as analytical ultracentrifugation, Raman spectroscopy, and the osmotic stress method.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in chemical engineering or chemistry.
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.
The Bends in Cell Culture: Preventing Spontaneous Nitrogen Gas Emboli in Microfluidic Culture
William Fissell, Nephrology and Hypertension
Many cell types in the body are exposed to fluid flow: endothelial cells, lung cells, and kidney cells when growing in vivo, but cell culture techniques for prolonged in vitro culture are often static. Static culture limits mass transport of respiratory gases and nutrients; furthermore some cell types require mechanical forces to cue differentiation. Microfluid systems are available for cell culture in vitro, but typical growth area and number of cells are small. In larger systems pr in systems grown for longer periods of time, spontaneous outgassing of nitrogen bubbles can occur. Most microfluid systems exist in a length scale regime where surface forces are similar to inertial forces; as a consequences bubbles can stop flow in a microchannel or mechanically traumatize a cell in the channel.
Many techniques exist for de-airing fluids and for separating out bubbles from relatively small channels at low flow rates. We require a technique that can continuously separate bubbles as small as 20 microns from flow rates up to 50 ml/min for artificial organ development.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This is best suited to a student who has an interest in cell biology and microfluidics. Students will devise perfusion systems and assess the effects on cell health, including per, western blot, and functional assays. Familiarity with soft prototyping and labview may be helpful.
Understanding Energy Transport at Nanoscale
Deyu Li, Mechanical Engineering
The Li group explores energy transport at nanoscale, which provides critical knowledge for various engineering applications including microelectronic device thermal management, novel energy converters, and powerful cooling technology for building. Currently we are probing how energy flows through a class of novel materials composed of covalently-bonded molecular chains assembled together via weak inter-chain van der Waals interactions. In addition, we are studying the contribution of hybrid quasi-particles called phonon polaritons, which result from coupling between electromagnetic waves and atomic vibrations, to energy transport in various thin films and nanowires. The REU student will work with a Ph.D. student/post-doc to conduct experimental measurements of thermal transport through different quasi-1D van der Waals crystal or polar nanowires to understand how energy carriers flow through these structures.
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student who is interested in experimental work exploring nanostructures. The student should have completed college physics courses and taken some engineering classes.
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.