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.

CLICK HERE TO APPLY FOR SUMMER 2015 See https://apply.vanderbilt.edu/apply/?pk=SUMMER

All-Dielectric Optical Metamaterials

"All-Dielectric Optical Metamaterials"
Jason Valentine, Mechanical Engineering

The Valentine group is focused on developing nanostructured materials with tailored electromagnetic properties at optical frequencies, specifically for applications in photovoltaics, detectors, 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. By avoiding metal, the optical loss can be reduced and the bandwidth of operation increased.  The REU student will work closely with the PI and a graduate student on this project and be responsible for fabricating and optically characterizing dielectric metamaterials in an effort to better understand the relationship between the nanoscale structuring and the effective optical properties of the material.

Research Interest 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.

Carbon Nanotube-Biobybrids and Drug Delivery

"Carbon Nanotube-Biobybrids and Drug Delivery"
  Yaqiong Xu, Electrical and Computer Engineering


Carbon nanotube (CNT)-biohybrids are organic-inorganic hybrid nanostructures composed of biomolecules (e.g. DNA, RNA, enzymes, and antibodies) and inorganic CNTs. These hybrid materials tend to encompass the strength of each material and offer novel structural and functional properties. CNTs exhibit unparalleled electronic, thermal, and mechanical properties, robust electrochemical stability, as well as high surface to volume ratio. All these unique properties make CNT-biohybrids one of the most promising materials that could transform technologies such as drug delivery, diagnostic imaging, as well as chemical and biological sensing. Undergraduates participating in this project would learn how to synthesize CNTs, how to prepare CNT-biohybrids, how to characterize CNT-biohybrids. Typically 2-3 students work closely with a graduate student or a postdoctoral associate.

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

Computational Soft/Hard/Bio Materials

"Computational Soft/Hard/Bio Materials"
Clare McCabe, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering


The McCabe group focuses on the use of molecular modeling to predict the properties of nanostructured soft materials.  Examples include understanding the ability of organic (carbon nanotubes) and inorganic (polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxanes or POSS molecules) nanoscale building blocks to cross lipid bilayers, a process relevant to the nanotoxicology of these NBBs, and studying the nanoscale self-assembly of lipids to understand skin barrier function. REU students working in the McCabe group learn the fundamentals of molecular modeling and perform and analyze simulations run on local machines (on both CPUs and GPUs), as well as those at national supercomputing centers. For example, previous REU students in the McCabe group have investigated the solubility of carbon nanotubes in octanol and water solvents to aid in the determination of octanol-water partition coefficients, studied the effect of chain length on the self-assembled nanoscale structures formed from complex lipid mixtures, and investigated the nanotribology of monolayer coatings.  Typically 2 - 3 Students work closely with the PI and a graduate student or a postdoctoral associate in the McCabe group.
 
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 (such as matlab, java, fortran, or c++) or equivalent experience.

Decoding Neuronal Network Using Nanosensor

"Decoding Neuronal Network Using Nanosensor"
Qi Zhang, Pharmacology


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

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

Developing Computational Tools to Design Lubrication Systems at the Nanoscale

“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 tribologyTribology 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

"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.
 

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, polymer characterization, and basic cell culture and molecular biology techniques. 

Metamaterials

"Metamaterials"
Richard Haglund, Physics and Astronomy


Students working in the Haglund group will study the optical and physical properties of optically switchable metamaterials. These might include, for example, arrays of metal-vanadium dioxide nanostructures arranged in geometrical arrays, zinc-oxide core-shell nanowires decorated with metal nanoparticles, and Archimedean nanospirals. The unusual properties of these metamaterials lead to their application as ultrafast optical switches, nanolasers and optical-harmonic generators. The illustration in Figure 1 shows electron-microscope images showing (a) the zinc-oxide core and magnesium-oxide shell; (b) the nanowires after covering with silver nanoparticles; and (c) the measured, resonantly enhanced photoluminescence as a function of shell thickness.
 The experiment was carried out by undergraduate and graduate students in the summer of 2013, and was published in Thin Solid Films.

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

Micro-patterned capillary network in hydrogel for stem cell engineering

"Micro-patterned capillary network in hydrogel for stem cell engineering"

Hak-Joon Sung, Biomedical Engineering

Our objective is to engineer tissue constructs with an implantable, perfusable capillary network in a novel platform. We propose to combines microfabrication technology in hydrogels with well-characterized biologics (including stem cells and peptides)that can improve vascularization and endothelialization of the capillary network hydrogels. These hydrogels were proven to promote endothelial differentiation of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells upon in vitro 3D culture and in vivo delivery (“vasculo-inductive”). Therefore, these cells will be embedded within the gel to accelerate vascularization of the device and endothelialization of channel network. In this way the host vessel-engineered capillary network anastomosis will be also improved.

 
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in microfabrication, hydrogels, and stem cell engineering. Students should have completed at least one semester of a laboratory course.

Microfluidic Cell Co-Culture Platforms

"Microfluidic Cell Co-Culture Platforms"
Deyu Li, Mechanical Engineering

 

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

 

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



 

Nano-engineering of gradient arrays for spatiotemporal control of morphogen distribution

"Nano-engineering of gradient arrays for spatiotemporal control of morphogen distribution"

Hak-Joon Sung, Biomedical Engineering

We will engineer nanpore and nanoneedle matrices to elucidate the effect of morphogen gradients on cardiac cell differentiation. Nanopore gradient arrays will be machined using femtosecond laser ablation and loaded with morphogens into gradient-depth pores. In this way the morphogen gradients can be produced along with pore gradients (“spatial” control). Nanoneedle arrays will be developed using bimodal functionalization of needles and the array floor with different polymers so that needles and array floor morphogen binding proteins can be exclusively displayed on protruded needle polymers by chemical conjugation. Photocleavable crosslinkers will be used to conjugate the morphogen binding proteins onto needles so that these proteins can be removed progressively to achieve a desired spatial pattern by time-dependent light exposure (“spatiotemporal” control).
 
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in nanofabrication, polymer chemistry and stem cell engineering. Students should have completed at least one semester of a laboratory course.

Nano-modified Concrete for Next Generation of Nuclear Waste Storage

"Nano-modified Concrete for Next Generation of Nuclear Waste Storage"
Florence Sanchez, Civil and Environmental Engineeering


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

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

Nanofiber-Based Membranes and Electrodes for Hydrogen/Air Fuel Cells

"Nanofiber-Based Membranes and Electrodes for Hydrogen/Air Fuel Cells"
Peter Pintauro, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering


The heart of a hydrogen/air proton exchange membrane fuel cell is the membrane-electrode-assembly, where catalytic precious metal powder electrodes are attached to the opposing surfaces of a cation-exchange membrane. The membrane in such a device has three functions: (1) it physically separates the positive and negative electrodes, (2) it prevents mixing of the fuel and oxidant, and (3) it provides pathways for proton transport between the electrodes. Thus, fuel cell membranes must exhibit a high ionic conductivity, with zero electronic conductivity, controlled water swelling, and good thermal/mechanical/chemical stability in the wet and dry states. Similarly, for cost-control reasons, the Pt-containing anode and cathode in a fuel cell, where hydrogen is electrochemically oxidized and oxygen is reduced, must have a composition and structure that maximizes catalytic activity and long-term durability/performance. In this project, the use of nanofiber electrospinning techniques to fabricate proton conducting fuel cell membranes and high performance Pt/C cathodes will be investigated.  Methods for membrane and electrode fabrication will be studied and structure/property data will be collected. The new nanofiber-based membranes and electrodes will also be tested in a fuel cell where power output and durability will be assessed.

Nanofluidics

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


 REU students in the Wikswo group would be trained in an array of experimental and analytical techniques, including AutoCAD, photolithograpy, microfabrication, cell culture, microscopy, image analysis, and presentation skills, while working on ongoing nanoscience projects. An example would be the use of nanofluidics in the study of quantum dot aggregation and dynamics using spectrally and temporally resolved measurements of trapped or isolated nanoparticles in a imaging system built around coPI Rosenthal's frequency-doubled femtosecond Ti-sapphire laser. The system provides a user-configurable four-beam pulse-interleaved excitation and piezo sample positioning for isolation/trapping, a back-illuminated EM-CCD camera for high-sensitivity wide-field imaging, a prism spectrometer and fast-kinetics mode for time-resolved emission spectra, and a single-photon avalanche diode for single-molecule detection, sub-nanosecond lifetime measurements, and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy. Student projects could, for example, include development of new microfluidic devices for sample manipulation, and the study of the properties of white-light nanocrystals.
 
Researcher Interests and Skills:
skills that are valued are experience in designing, building, and debugging electronic, mechanical, optical and microfluidic systems; image processing, computer and microprocessor programing.
 

Nanoparticles to Treat Bacterial Infections

Nanoparticles to Treat Bacterial Infections
Todd Giorgio, Biomedical Engineering

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

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

Nanophotonic Sensors

"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, nanomaterials, and chemistry.

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

Nanophotonics for Cancer Imaging

"Nanophotonics for Cancer Imaging"
Melissa Skala, Biomedical Engineering


A variety of nanoparticles can be used to achieve molecular contrast in cancer through their unique interactions with light.  Our lab is interested in characterizing and exploiting novel nanoparticles for optical molecular imaging in pre-clinical models of cancer including cell culture and animal-based experiments.  These methods have the potential to unveil the mysteries of acquired and innate drug resistance in tumors, therefore optimizing the process of cancer treatment.  Undergraduates participating in this project would learn how to synthesize, characterize and functionalize nanoparticles, and would use optical imaging technologies including multiphoton microscopy and optical coherence tomography to image these particles in biologically relevant tumor models. Undergraduate students typically work closely with the PI and a graduate student or a postdoctoral associate in the group.
 
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in working with biological samples (cells, animal models), experimental optical imaging techniques, and the synthesis and characterization of nanoparticles. Student must have completed a laboratory course, and are encouraged to have taken physics with an optics module.

Nanoscience for Solar Energy Conversion and Nanomedicine

"Nanoscience for Solar Energy Conversion and Nanomedicine"
Rizia Bardhan, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

 

Research efforts in the Bardhan group are focused on interdisciplinary nanoscience, with the convergence of multiple disciplines: engineering, material science, chemistry, physics, and biomedicine. We combine both wet-chemistry and nanofabrication techniques to engineer nanostructures, and design organic-inorganic and metal-molecule interfaces with the ultimate goal of utilizing these materials to solve important global challenges - energy and sustainability and human health.  In that effect we have two distinct projects available:

 

Plasmon Enhanced Solar Energy Conversion: REU student will design metal nanostructures that support surface plasmons, and integrate these structures in dye-sensitized solar cells, and bulk heterojunction polymer solar cells to ultimately improve their efficiency with nanoscale design.

 

Plasmonic NanomedicineREU student will design metal nanostructures that support surface plasmons, and integrate these structures with biomolecules such as proteins, peptides, and DNA to target, diagnose, and treat cancer cells as well as atherosclerotic plaque cells.

Each REU student working in the Barhan group will learn the fundamentals of plasmonics and nanoplasmonics which form the foundation of the research group. Additionally students will learn about nanomedicine, and energy conversion and storage.  REU students will work closely with the PI and a graduate student or postdoctoral associate in the Bardhan group.

 

Researcher Interests and Skills:This project is best suited for a student interested in experimental work. Students should have completed at least one college level physics course. Additionally one chemistry or biology or transport phenomena course would be valuable as well but not required.

Nanosponge Materials for Drug Delivery

"Nanosponge Materials for Drug Delivery"
Eva Harth, Chemistry and Pharmacology


Degradable polyester materials continue to develop and advance towards targeted applications due to practical polymerization methods and the integration of functional groups (Figure 2). This development is apparent in the diversity of linear polyester materials but has not translated into 3-D polyester materials. Although 3-D polyester materials are still one of the most important controlled release systems, significant differences in preparation that would give easy access to materials with improved structural or physicochemical parameters, has not yet been accomplished. The development of robust methodologies that enable the preparation of a wide range of controlled but versatile polyester particles with access to tailored properties is therefore in high demand. REU students working in the Harth group would be involved in the preparation of functionalized polyester nanoparticles derived from á-valerolactone and å-caprolactone monomer families via intermolecular cross-linking processes that are differentiated by the amount of added cross-linking units of hydrophilic and hydrophobic nature via epoxide/amine reactions and allyl-thiol reactions and cross-linking density, and the preparation of particles that are differentiated by the molecular weight of the cross-linking unit to provide particles with a wide variety of cavities for encapsulation of low and macromolecular therapeutics, such as taxol or peptides/proteins. The students will investigate reactions that cross link functionalized water-soluble polyester chains to entrap oligonucleotides in aqueous solutions and investigate encapsulation potential of the prepared nanoparticles for applications as biomaterials.
 
Researcher Interests and Skills:  This project would be best suited for a student with an interest in drug delivery and specifically cancer therapy. The student should have completed a laboratory course and interests in organic chemistry and biology are beneficial.  The student will work in an interdisciplinary setting with chemical biologist, chemists and polymer chemists with experiences in nanobiotechnology for therapy.  

Next-Generation Energy Storage Systems

"Next-Generation Energy Storage Systems"
Cary Pint, Mechanical Engineering

The Pint group focuses on the next-generation design of energy storage systems that have promise for integration, high energy density, and eventual replacement of fossil fuel energy resources.  Some examples of research efforts in the Pint lab focus on solid-state materials design for metal-air and metal-ion batteries using atomic layer deposition, and the chemical vapor deposition growth of nanostructured materials, including nanocarbons and nanostructured semiconductors, relevant for architectures in solar devices and batteries.  Participating REU students will obtain valuable experience at the intersection of two dynamic fields: the atomic-level engineering design of materials relevant for energy applications, and testing and characterization of batteries that have promise as next-generation energy carriers for portable electronics to transportation systems.  Students will work closely with the PI, graduate students in the Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory, and have the opportunity to interface with collaborators in industry and abroad to experience the dynamic environment in the energy sciences. 

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

pH-Responsive Polymeric Nanocarriers for Vaccine Delivery

pH-Responsive Polymeric Nanocarriers for Vaccine Delivery
John T. Wilson, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

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

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

Photosynthesis-Inspired Films for Solar Energy Conversion

"Photosynthesis-Inspired Films for Solar Energy Conversion"
Kane Jennings, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

 

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


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

Plasmonic Nanoantennae for Photothermal Heat Generation

"Plasmonic Nanoantennae for Photothermal Heat Generation"
Jason Valentine, Mechanical Engineering


Surface plasmons are electromagnetic waves that travel on the surface of a metal through electron oscillations. These highly localized waves are commonly used to concentrate and manipulate electromagnetic energy for applications such as sensing, optical antennas, and imaging. In the Valentine group we are focusing on engineering the propagation of surface plasmons to create efficient optically induced nanoscale heat sources. This emerging field, deemed thermoplasmonics, and has applications in chemical catalysis, solar energy conversion, and heat-assisted magnetic recording. The REU student working on this project will be responsible for helping to develop a new thermal microscopy method capable of measuring nanoscale temperature profiles.  This microscopy technique is based on thermographic phosphors which have a temperature dependent lifetime and the student will be responsible for fabricating and characterizing these phosphor layers and accompanying thermoplasmonic antennae. The project will also entail laser based spatial scanning of the antennae to generate 2D temperature maps. In accomplishing the project, the student will gain experience in electron beam lithography, material deposition, spectroscopy, and thermal microscopy. The REU student will work closely with the PI and a graduate student on this project.
 
Research Interest and Skills:  This project is best suited for individuals with interests in nanoscale optics, heat transfer, materials, and experimental optics. The individual should have completed an electromagnetics course and experience with experimental optics and spectroscopy would be beneficial.

Quantum Dynamics at the Nanoscale

"Quantum Dynamics at the Nanoscale"
 Kalman Varga, Physics and Astronomy


The main activity of the group led by Kalman Varga is computational modeling and simulation of electronic and transport properties of nanostructures. The group is interested in time dependent electron dynamics including field emission, laser excitation, and 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.

Synthetic Biomaterials for Regenerative Medicine

"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.

Towards high mobility graphene for electronics application

"Towards high mobility graphene for electronics application"
 Kirill Bolotin, Physics 


Graphene, a newly discovered two-dimensional form of carbon is actively considered for applications in electronics. One of the most important aspect of graphene is its mobility, which characterizes the speed of propagation of electrons in graphene. The goal of the project will be to explore placing of graphene on various substrate and engineering its coatings with the final goal of obtaining high-electron mobility electronic devices made of graphene. The project will include fabrication of devices with nanometer-scale dimensions using the techniques similar to those in semiconducting industry, low-noise electrical and mechanical measurements and computer modeling.

Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in becoming a "quantum mechanic". This description includes interests in nanoelectronic materials and processing, cutting-edge device fabrication and characterization. Student should enjoy working in a laboratory setting and like making things work.

Ultra-Fast Laser Studies of Surfaces and Interfaces

"Ultra-fast Laser Studies of Surfaces and Interfaces
Norman Tolk, Physics and Astronomy


The Tolk group utilizes ultra-fast tunable lasers to study the dynamics of electronic and vibrational excitations in
single crystal semiconductor structures.. The group is actively engaged in the following research thrusts: (A) Optical and electronic properties of multilayered semiconducting and spin systems using coherent acoustic phonon (CAP) spectroscopy. Intense optical excitation from ultrafast pulsed lasers generates a traveling acoustic phonon wave, which reflects optical pulses. These reflections, when combined with the surface reflection of samples, produce interferometric oscillations in the reflectivity signal, providing information about the electronic, magnetic, and optical properties of samples as a function of depth. Current systems under study include ion-damaged GaAs, Si, and diamond, as well as magnetic quantum well systems in GaAs and other substrates. (B) Second-harmonic generation studies of semiconducting and piezoelectric systems. Intense optical pulses interact nonlinearly with media to induce frequency doubling and multiphoton absorption. Such effects are observable as time-dependent changes in reflectivity and transmission signals. The ultimate goal of this research direction is not only to characterize materials in new ways but also to employ these techniques as a novel approach to quantum control to choreograph and modify materials far from equilibrium.
 
Researcher Interests and Skills: This project is best suited for a student interested in ultrafast (femtosecond, attosecond time scales)laser interactions with materials. Students should have some background in optics and modern physics.

Using Photosystem I for Solar Energy Conversion

"Using Photosystem I for Solar 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.