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REU Summer Projects

Apply for Summer 2020

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 2020 Research Projects -

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Computational Screening of Nanoparticle Organization

    Chris Iacovella, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    The structural organization of nanoparticles can have a significant impact on system behavior, altering and enhancing the physical, electrical, and/or optical properties [1]. Polymer coatings have been used to control and/or direct the morphology of nanoparticles, where the properties of the coating (e.g., length, density, chemical structure, etc.) can be used to control whether the system aggregates, disperses, or forms ordered structures, as well as controlling the nature of the ordered structure (e.g., strings, crystals, etc.) [2,3]. For example, grafted buckyball systems have been observed to provide up to a 3 order of magnitude increase in fracture toughness as compared to the polymers alone [4] and ionic-liquid grafted zirconia nanoparticles have been shown to provide excellent mechanical, electrochemical, and thermal stability for use in Li-ion batteries [5]. Experimental efforts to develop advanced nanocomposite materials based on polymer coated nanoparticles may be hindered by time and cost and often require a trial-and-error approach to find the appropriate coating to achieve a target behavior. Molecular simulations have played a critical role in providing an understanding of a wide range of phenomena related to nanoparticle systems [2,3], as simulation allows precise control over the system and provides access to the 3-dimensional structure through time. As such, molecular simulations are a powerful tool that can be used to identify relationships between nanoparticle coatings and the resulting system structure and properties, and enable the predictive design of nano-composite materials. Future REU students will used accurate coarse-grained (CG) force fields for silica nanoparticles, previously developed by graduate and undergraduate researchers in the McCabe group. Students will perform screening studies using the molecular simulation and design framework (MoSDeF) [6]under development by McCabe’s research group (through separate support by the NSF). Screening studies will build on prior work in the group (e.g., [7]) and focus on the aggregation behavior and self-assembly of nanoparticles as a function of the properties of the polymer coating and size of the nanoparticle. REU students working in the McCabe group will learn the fundamentals of molecular modeling and how to setup, perform and analyze large scale screening simulation using the MoSDeF package, performing simulations using software that utilizes massively parallel graphical processing units (GPUs) on both local clusters and national supercomputing centers.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is appropriate for a student who has an interest in using molecular simulation to understand the interactions and assembly process of polymer-nanoparticle composite materials. While not required, it is preferred that a student have familiarity with Python or another computer programming language (e.g., C/C++, Matlab, Java).

    References
    1. Hore, Michael JA, and Russell J. Composto. "Strategies for dispersing, assembling, and orienting nanorods in polymers." Current Opinion in Chemical Engineering 2.1 (2013): 95-102.
    2. Glotzer, Sharon C., et al. "Self-assembly of anisotropic tethered nanoparticle shape amphiphiles." Current opinion in colloid & interface science 10.5-6 (2005): 287-295.
    3. Kumar, Sanat K., and Ramanan Krishnamoorti. "Nanocomposites: structure, phase behavior, and properties." Annual review of chemical and biomolecular engineering 1 (2010): 37-58.
    4. Song, T., S. H. Goh, and S. Y. Lee. "Mechanical behavior of double-C60-end-capped poly (ethylene oxide)." Polymer 44.8 (2003): 2563-2567.
    5. Moganty, Surya S., et al. "Ionic‐Liquid‐Tethered Nanoparticles: Hybrid Electrolytes." Angewandte Chemie 122.48 (2010): 9344-9347.
    6. http://github.com/mosdef-hub
    7. Haley, Jessica D., et al. "Examining the aggregation behavior of polymer grafted nanoparticles using molecular simulation and theory." The Journal of chemical physics 143.5 (2015): 054904.

  • 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. Indigenous researchers are particularly encouraged to apply. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Dynamic Metamaterials

    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 Computation Screening of Hybrid Nanoparticle-Soft Matter Systems

    Peter Cummings, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering & Clare McCabe, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    The focus of this project is developing, deploying, and distributing the Molecular Simulation and Design Framework (MoSDeF), a set of open-source tools designed to produce flexible, robust, and reproducible simulation workflows. In the spirit of the Materials Genome Initiative, a major motivation is the desire to computationally screen the vast parameter space of soft matter, including interfacial and surface-functionalized systems relevant to a variety of nanotechnologies. For example, the surface of a nanoparticle can be functionalized with polymers of different length, structure, and chemical constituencies, but computational tools to screen over combinations of these parameters in an automated, reproducible manner are lacking.  The two primary tools, mbuild and foyer, build and encode chemical information into molecular structures with arbitrary structural and chemical complexity and are portable to molecular simulation techniques operating at different lengthscales and with different chemical models. Development of MoSDeF will enable computational scientists to better design and implement simulation methodologies for many applications such as energy storage, nanoscale lubrication, and gas separation.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: The REU student will work with graduate students 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, with experience in.

  • 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.

  • Large Area Synthesis and Manipulation of Collodial Silicon Nanoparticles

    Justus Ndukaife, Electrical Engineering

    The 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 synthesizing and exploring the optical properties of silicon nanoparticles and their use for designing metasurfaces for control of the phase of light. Silicon nanoparticles have high refractive indices and as a result they support strong Mie resonances, which enables strong light scattering. In particular, we are interested in producing the silicon colloids, trapping, manipulating and assembling them with light.

    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.

  • Leukocyte Functionalization with Nanoscale Liposomes for Therapeutic Targeting of Circulating Tumor Cells

    Michael R. King, Biomedical Engineering

    More than 90% of cancer-related deaths are caused by cancer metastasis, in which cancer cells break away from the primary tumor, travel through the blood or lymph system as circulating tumor cells (CTCs), and form new tumors (metastases) in other parts of the body. Studies have shown that the neutralization of CTCs in the circulation for the prevention of metastasis could represent an effective anti-cancer strategy. The King Lab uses a unique strategy to target CTCs in the circulation that modifies the surface of circulating leukocytes with nanoscale liposomes. The liposomes are conjugated with cancer-specific tumor necrosis factor (TNF) related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) along with a leukocyte-binding protein. The protein for binding can either be E-selectin that recognizes and binds to the majority of leukocytes, or an antibody that binds specifically to a subpopulation of leukocytes such as natural killer cells. These bispecific liposomes, after intravenous administration, adhere to their target leukocytes and enable them to present TRAIL on their surface. Metaphorically, the liposome formulation converts circulating leukocytes into “hunters of CTCs”. In this summer project, the student will optimize liposome formulations to enhance the stability of the formulation, further increase their blood circulation time, and improve their CTC targeting efficacy.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This summer project is best suited for a student interested in translational nanomedicine. The student will learn how to make and characterize liposomes, basic cell culture techniques, as well as how to evaluate the formulation efficiency in a setting that mimics blood circulation in vivo.

  • 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.

  • Metamaterials and Ultrafast Optical Physics

    Richard Haglund, Physics and Astronomy

    Students working in the Haglund group will study the optical and physical properties of optically switchable materials. These might include, for example, arrays of metal-vanadium dioxide nanostructures arranged in geometrical arrays, two-dimensional crystals, metasurfaces with unusual polarization and angular sensitivity and silicon photonics devices that function as ultrafast modulators. The unusual properties of these materials makes them interesting as ultrafast optical switches, smart thermal-control coatings, and optical-harmonic generators. Students will be able to fabricate thin films or grow crystals of relevant materials, study nonlinear optical phenomena with femtosecond lasers or study single-photon emitters for quantum information science. For example, a VINSE REU student in the summer of 2019 learned how to grow large, high-quality, single crystals of vanadium dioxide, characterized their metal-insulator phase transition using Raman microscopy, and prepared the early drafts of a review article to be submitted for publications Physics REU student studied second-harmonic generation from exotic bilayer films containing metal and semiconducting nanoparticles.

    Researcher Interest and Skills: This project is well suited for a student interested either in nanoscale materials synthesis and spectroscopy, 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: absorption or Raman spectroscopy, lasers, LabView instrumentation and software, computer simulations and software (e.g., Matlab, Mathematica or C++), material spectroscopy (e.g., X-ray diffraction) and microscopy (e.g., scanning-probe microscopy).

  • Microfabricated Tissues to Study Cancer Metastasis

    Cynthia Reinhart-King, Biomedical Engineering

    During metastasis, cells wind their way through a maze of fibers to escape a primary tumor and move to a secondary site. The goal of the Reinhart-King lab is to build models of the extracellular matrix in vitro to understand the molecular mechanisms employed by cells to navigate this maze. To rebuild the extracellular matrix, we utilize novel biomaterials and microfabrication approaches to mold and control the shape of scaffolds. In recent work, we have focused on building microchannels and bifurcated tracts to understand how cells use small membrane extension to probe their environment and make cell migration decisions.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best-suited for those with an interest in biology. Undergraduates working the lab will learn micromolding techniques, cell culture, microscopy, and basic cell biology.

  • Molecular Simulation of Energy Storage Devices

    Peter Cummings, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    Supercapacitors are electrochemical devices that exhibit high power density but are currently limited in their role of energy storage due to low energy density.  As part of the FIRST Center, a DoE Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), the Cummings Group uses molecular simulation to model bulk and nanoconfined systems relevant to capacitive energy storage.  Through molecular simulation, we are able to study molecular-level interactions which may provide insight towards the design of energy storage systems with simultaneous high power and energy density.  Current projects include the use of molecular simulation to investigate properties of various bulk electrolytes, and electrolytes intercalated in MXenes, which are 2-D layered metal carbides.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: The REU student will work with graduate students 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, with experience in object-oriented Python preferred. The student will also participate in a one-week CyberCamp being organized at Vanderbilt held annually at Vanderbilt in late May/early June.

  • Multi-material Printing of All Solid State Batteries

    Kelsey Hatzell, Mechanical Engineering

    Electrical energy storage is the driving energy form in portable electronics, and has emerged in applications such as grid energy storage and vehicle applications. For accelerated adoption and implementation of battery systems, durability and safety issues must be addressed in an array of working environments. Our group works on solid Li+ and Na+ conducting electrolytes that eliminate the need for costly and toxic electrolytes.

    This project will focus on how we can manufacture or materials process superionic ceramic/glass electrolyte systems and understand how they can be integrated into solid-state batteries. One of the major challenges with these battery systems is the interfacial resistance formed at the solid|solid interface. This project will look to use advanced electrochemical techniques to characterize these interfaces under in-situ and in-operando conditions.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student that likes to or has an interest in experimental and/or materials synthesis and characterization work.

  • 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.

  • Nanoscale Sculpting of Atomically Thin Materials

    Piran Kidambi, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    This project will focus on 2D materials that are one atom thick. The student will synthesize 2D materials such as graphene, hexagonal boron nitride etc. using bottom-up self-assembly processes such as chemical vapor deposition. Post synthesis the student will develop methods to form atomically precise nanopores in these materials. The introduction of nanopores with atomic precision in 2D materials allows for the creation of nanoporous atomically thin membranes that could offer transformative advances for desalination, environmental protection and healthcare applications.

    The project offers the student the possibility of exploring the ultimate paradigm in length scales probing single atom thick membranes with facile table top nanofluidic experiments.

    The student will work closely with the PI, post-docs and graduate students on 2D material synthesis, nanoporous atomically thin membrane fabrication and testing.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: The project is ideally suited for students interested in hands-on experimental research in nanotechnology.

  • Next Generation 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, 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, the goal for this REU is the development of novel metamaterials made entirely out of dielectrics. In these next generation metamaterials 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. Potential applications include ultra-thin lenses, holographic displays, and light management for photovoltaics.

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.  

  • 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 directly utilize nanoscale components from photosynthesis, nature’s vast solar energy conversion system. Specifically, they are developing biohybrid solar cells in which the active component is Photosystem I (PSI), a nanoscale protein complex in plants that drives photosynthesis. Recent discoveries by the Jennings/Cliffel team have led to the successful integration of PSI with semiconductors, graphene, and conducting polymers to more efficiently utilize the protein within solar devices. Until now, direct wiring of the protein at its active sites has been limited. The proposed work is focused on the direct wiring of each end of the PSI complex to nanoparticles and conducting polymers to provide a connected wire for electron flow across the protein. While working in Jennings’ group, the REU participant will learn to extract and isolate PSI from spinach, selectively assemble it into dense films on chemically tailored electrode surfaces, characterize its composition and structure on the surface, and measure the amount of photocurrent that is produced from the PSI layer in both wet-based and solid-state cell configurations. 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.

  • Prediction of hybrid thermal modes for new class of energy conversion materials

    Greg Walker, Mechanical Engineering

    Exciting new research indicates that IR 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 conversion 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 Low-Dimensional Materials Based Devices Through Scanning Photocurrent and Photoluminescence Measurements

    Yaqiong Xu, Electrical and Computer Engineering & Physics

    The research project focuses on the synthesis and fabrication of low-dimensional (LD) materials based devices. The photoresponse generation mechanisms of these devices 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 LD materials, leading to new design rules for future LD materials-based photodetectors and photovoltaics. Typically 1-2 students work closely with a graduate student.

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

  • 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.

  • 'Smart' Coatings

    Doug Adams, Civil and Environmental Engineering & Kane Jennings, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    Nuclear Power Plants are tremendously challenging and costly to maintain. Degradation due to corrosion in pressure vessels and pipes for cooling the plant pose a particular safety concern because personnel are often in close proximity to these cooling circuits. This project will focus on developing a nanoscale sensing layer or 'smart' coating for monitoring the corrosion of a pipe. The coating will sense initial degradation of the pipe metal due to corrosion to train algorithms to recognize when active corrosion is taking place. The REU project will focus on synthesizing the nanoscale film and testing its capacity for capturing byproducts from corrosion.

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

  • 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.

  • Tuning the Size of Multimodal Nanobeacon for Imaging Colorectal Cancer

    Pham Wellington, Radiology and Radiological Sciences

    This project involves the development of fluorescence nanoparticles to characterize biomarker antigens in vivo for the early detection of colorectal cancer. One of the challenges of this work is the calibration of polymer ratios to guarantee appropriate size suitable for in vivo distribution. Based on our past observations that nanoparticle trafficking in vivo is dictated by the size. For topical application, nanoparticles as large as 400-500 nm are required to prevent mucosal absorption. While, distribution via blood circulation would need much smaller size. The fabrication of multimodal nanoparticles is achieved by copolymerization of different branching polymers. Further, bioconjugation process for coating molecular recognition proteins on the surface will involve a series of wetlab chemistry operations.

    Researcher Interests and Skills: Students interested in colloidal synthesis are suitable for this project; other skills including imaging technology and biomedical assays will be obtained during the course of work. Students should have at least one year of organic chemistry; knowledge of reaction mechanisms and characterization are a plus.

  • Two Dimensional Materials for Mid-Infrared Photonics

    Josh Caldwell, Mechanical Engineering

    Layered two dimensional (2D) materials such as graphene (a single layer of carbon atoms) have unusual properties, with proposed applications from photonics to electronics. One of the technologies in which 2D materials stand to make a significant impact is mid-infrared optics, a central part of thermal imaging and spectroscopy systems. This is because many of the materials and detectors currently used for mid infrared imaging suffer from poor material properties and are expensive, making them difficult to use out ‘in the field’. Recent research in our group has shown that two dimensional materials can be used to make compact efficient mid-infrared optical absorbers or emitters. However, we while a host of different 2D materials and heterostructures are possible, research in this area has been limited to a few exemplary materials. Participating REU students will be isolating flakes of new two dimensional materials, such as transition metal dichalcogenides, so we can begin to understand their mid- to long-wave infrared optical properties and applications. Specifically, students will work in the world class VINSE cleanrooms to isolate 2D materials that will then be characterized in our lab using infrared spectroscopic methods. This project will provide a basic understanding of 2D material preparation, as well as basic infrared characterization techniques.

    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 or the optical properties of materials. Undergraduate research, especially in materials science, optics, spectroscopy or experience with cleanroom use, are highly desired.

  • Understanding Energy Transport in Nanostructures

    Deyu Li, Mechanical Engineering

    The Li group explores heat transfer through individual nanostructures and their interfaces/contacts, which provides important knowledge for various engineering applications including microelectronic device thermal management and novel nanomaterials-based energy conversions. Currently we are probing how energy flows through a class of quasi-one-dimensional (quasi-1D) van der Waals nanowires, which are composed of covalently-bonded molecular chains assembled together via weak inter-chain van der Waals interactions. Many interesting transport phenomena occur in these materials but the underlying transport mechanisms are not yet fully understand. The REU student will work with a Ph.D. student to conduct experimental measurements of thermal transport through different quasi-1D van der Waals nanowires and do research 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.

  • Understanding the Barrier Function of Skin Using Molecular Simulation

    Clare McCabe, Chemical and Biomolecular 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++.

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

    Clare McCabe, Chemical and Biomolecular 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.