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Summer Research Experience for Undergraduate Projects

Here's a full list of the summer projects available to students interested in the Summer Research Experience for Undergraduate Students program. You can also download a full listing here.

  1. Air Quality Changes in Western North Dakota
  2. Atmospheric Aerosol Formation from Renewable Biofuels
  3. Atmospheric Reactions of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  4. Chemical Drying of Water Wet Solids
  5. Chemical Looping for Energy Generation
  6. Computational Chemistry Research in Coal and Biomass Combustion
  7. Degradation of Lignin Using Doped Catalysts
  8. Development of Fuel Cell Membranes
  9. Development of membranes for stereo-specific separations
  10. Experimental and Simulation Study of Photobioreactors
  11. Fast Pyrolysis of Biomass Materials
  12. Functionalization of Aliphatic and Aromatic C-H Bonds Using Pd(II) for Renewable Chemical Production
  13. High Fidelity Models for Oxy-combustion Simulations
  14. Lignin Degradation using Fungi and Bacteria
  15. Microbial Degradation of Biomass into Chemicals and Fuel Additives
  16. Modeling of Advanced Thermodynamic Cycles
  17. New Approaches to Selective Lignin Thermal Decomposition to Produce Valuable Chemicals
  18. Preparation of Particulate-based Materials for Composites
  19. Photo-Bioreactor Simulation
  20. Photovoltaic Materials and Solar Fuels
  21. Process improvements for biofuel production from crop oils
  22. Proteins Circular Dichroism
  23. Renewable Chemicals Process Development
  24. Renewable polymers
  25. Scanning Tunneling Microscopy Study on Self-Assembled Monolayers of Porphyrin Molecules on Highly Oriented Pyrolytic Graphite for Solar Cells
  26. The Four-Electron Reduction of Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Air Quality Changes in Western North Dakota

Mentors: Frank Bowman (ChE), Alena Kubatova (Chem)

Western North Dakota has experienced recent rapid development due to the technological innovation of hydraulic fracturing that allows oil extraction from the Bakken/Three Forks formation. Air quality can easily be affected by development, but changes to air quality in the oilfield areas have not been well documented. In this project, the REU student will help with field measurements of particulate air pollution at locations in Western and Eastern North Dakota. Collected samples will be analyzed using GC-MS techniques to determine likely sources of the airborne particles. Work will also include a comparison of historical air quality data trends at monitoring sites across the state and region.

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Atmospheric Aerosol Formation from Renewable Biofuels

Mentors: Frank Bowman (ChE), Alena Kubatova (Chem)

Biofuels are a promising replacement for existing transportation fuels because they can significantly reduce net carbon emissions. However their other atmospheric emissions have not yet been fully characterized. A new laboratory aerosol chamber will be used to investigate particulate matter formation reactions arising from biofuel emissions. The system consists of a 20 m3 Teflon reaction chamber within a temperature controlled enclosure surrounded by UV lights to mimic solar radiation. Gas and particle emissions from biofuel combustion are added into the chamber and gas reactions, particle growth, and dilution and depositional losses are monitored by a variety of gas and particulate instrumentation. In this project, the REU student will help with chamber characterization experiments to determine particle deposition rates, photochemical reaction rates, and instrument responses, followed by a series of experiments exploring the formation of secondary aerosol formation from different biofuels.

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Atmospheric Reactions of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Mentor: A. Kubatova (Chem)

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and more importantly their oxidation products are known to impose negative health effects on humans. While there is currently a vast understanding of how PAHs are oxidized in the gas phase, there is limited knowledge on the mechanisms behind their transformation in the gas-particle phase. Due to the increasing rate of anthropogenic release of particulate matter (PM) into the atmosphere, gas-particle phase oxidation of PAHs on the surface of PM has become a major source of these toxic PAH oxidation products. One important class of PAH oxidation products is nitrated PAHs (nitro-PAHs) due to their directly mutagenic character. In order to elucidate the mechanisms of PAH reactions and formation of nitro-, oxy- and hydroxy-PAHs, they must be studied under controlled atmospheric conditions. Therefore, this project will involve utilizing a large-scale indoor reaction chamber to study PAH transformation pathways on PM upon exposure to NO2 under various conditions.

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Chemical Drying of Water Wet Solids

Mentor: Bob Wills (ChE)

The student will take “water wet” solids and explore the ability of organic solvents to displace the water in order to generate “dry” solids that can store well or will avoid staining when these solids are used composites.

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Chemical Looping for Energy Generation

Mentor: Mike Mann (ChE)

In this project the student research will identify candidate metals and other redox-capable materials that can serve as looping agents. These will then be tested in a small fluid bed reactor.

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Computational Chemistry Research in Coal and Biomass Combustion

Mentor: Dr. Mark Hoffmann (Chem)

This project explores the quantum mechanical descriptions of the electronic structures of molecules and reactions of relevance to the understanding of combustion processes. Our primary focus is on chemical reactions that are difficult or impossible to measure accurately in the laboratory, so that the computational results are critical to developing a correct understanding of the chemical systems. We are able and interested in examining reactions that involve excited electronic surfaces, as a result of thermal or photochemical processes. We are particularly interested in reactions that involve O2, O3, and oxides of nitrogen with reactive molecules in the upper atmosphere and in coal combustors. Recent work has extended our capabilities in describing gas-phase reactions to reactions occurring on clusters that mimic surfaces. The student will develop familiarity with the use and theoretical underpinnings of well established main techniques of modern quantum chemistry (e.g., Hartree-Fock (HF) method, hybrid density functional methods such as B3LYP, and second-order Møller-Plesset perturbation theory), as well as novel multireference perturbation theory approaches developed at UND, in the context of a combustion-relevant chemical problem. The results to be obtained will be matched with the experimental results obtained by chemists (Kozliak) and ChEs (Seames).

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Degradation of Lignin Using Doped Catalysts

Mentors: Wayne Seames and Brian Tande (ChE)

Project Objectives: Based on previous research with similar compounds, we believe that catalytic decomposition of lignin can be facilitated by conducting reactions in the presence of doped zeolite catalysts. The goal is to generate a high yield of chemical compounds that can be further purified and/or transformed into useable fuel and chemical products.

Student Role in Project: The student will dope commercially available zeolites with target transition metals. These catalysts will then be used in batch reaction experiments in a modified Parr autoclave reaction system to decompose lignin. Detailed analyses will be used to determine the success of this work and to explore the reaction mechanisms at near optimum reaction conditions.

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Development of Fuel Cell Membranes

Mentor: Mike Mann (ChE)

In this project the student will make fuel cell membranes and test their performance. In a lab-scale fuel cell system

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Development of membranes for stereo-specific separations

Mentor: Ed Kolodka (ChE)

The student will synthesize novel membranes from modified dendridic polymers. These membranes will then be tested to determine their ability to separate stereoisomers.

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Experimental and Simulation Study of Photobioreactors

Mentors: Gautham Krishnamoorthy and Yun Ji (ChE)

Computational Fluid Dynamics will be used to simulate the behavior of photobioreactors with different light settings. Experimental work with algae is also expected to be conducted by the student to validate the simulation results.

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Fast Pyrolysis of Biomass Materials

Mentor: Mike Mann and Wayne Seames (ChE)

Students will use a continuous flash pyrolysis system with staged condensation to produce updated biofuels from a common biomass feedstock.

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Functionalization of Aliphatic and Aromatic C-H Bonds Using Pd(II) for Renewable Chemical Production

Mentor: Irina Smoliakova (Chem)

Catalytic functionalization of C-H bonds is the most atom- and energy-efficient method for preparation of fine chemicals. The ultimate goal of our studies is to use catalytic transformations for synthesis of novel types of compounds, which could be employed as catalysts in new catalytic processes, essential for sustainable production of chemicals from non-petroleum sources. Members of our group study regioselective functionalization of C-H bonds in aryl and alkyl groups using the two-step approach: C-H activation of appropriate heteroatom-containing substrates by stoichiometric or catalytic amounts of a Pd(II) species followed by reaction of the formed metalated species with metal phosphides or secondary phosphines. The products of the proposed reaction sequence are aminophosphines and related hemilabile ligands, which are highly efficient catalysts in a number of asymmetric transformations.

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High Fidelity Models for Oxy-combustion Simulations

Mentor: Gautham Krishnamoorthy (ChE)

Computational fluid dynamic simulations of oxygen-enriched methane combustion will be carried out and its predictions compared against experimental measurements to assess the performance and accuracies of different chemistry and radiative property models.

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Lignin Degradation using Fungi and Bacteria

Mentor: Yun Ji (ChE)

A simultaneous efficient degradation of both lignin and cellulose into smaller organic molecules will be explored using several combinations of lignin converting basidiomycetous fungi and cellulase producing bacteria.

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Microbial Degradation of Biomass into Chemicals and Fuel Additives

Mentor: Yun Ji (ChE)

Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant and economical sources of valuable chemicals and biofuels. It is currently used for the production of methanol and ethanol from its cellulose portion whereas lignin is currently utilized mostly as a source of heat, although several pioneering applications are envisioned for its use to produce replacement petrochemicals. As a step toward efficient and comprehensive biochemical conversion, a simultaneous efficient degradation of both lignin and cellulose into smaller organic molecules will be explored in this study. To address this objective, a biomass treatment was conducted using several combinations of lignin converting basidiomycetous fungi and cellulase producing bacteria. The student will apply mixtures of lignin-degrading and lignocellulose-degrading microorganisms, postulating that such a treatment would facilitate lignin utilization. The influence of light and elevated temperature (within a suitable physiological range) will be tested to obtain cursory information on the process parameterization.

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Modeling of Advanced Thermodynamic Cycles

Mentor: Mike Mann (ChE)

Advanced thermodynamic cycles will be conceived and modeled using Aspen software to evaluate their potential for energy savings.

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New Approaches to Selective Lignin Thermal Decomposition to Produce Valuable Chemicals

Mentors: A. Kubatova, E. Kozliak (Chem)

At present, lignocellulose derived from wood and plant materials represents one of the most feasible renewable feedstocks. While cellulose processing is well studied, lignin processing is so far ineffective thus reducing the economic feasibility of the biomass conversion. Lignin comprises a highly recalcitrant fraction of plant material, 15–30% of the biomass dry weight, which makes it the second most abundant polymer on earth. The project will seek new approaches in 1) selective lignin thermal degradation in super-/subcritical water with catalysts 2) analytical chemistry (gas and liquid chromatography) of lignin decomposition allowing for the detection and quantification of most of the products and intermediates. This will lead to 1) obtaining insights into the process mechanism and 2) paving the way to producing valuable petrochemicals (phenolics and aromatics) from renewable plant materials.

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Preparation of Particulate-based Materials for Composites

Mentor: Bob Wills (ChE)

In this project, select chemicals will be tested for their ability to remove organics that are dissolved in solid wastes from biofuels plants. The intent is to improve the quality of the waste material so that it can be used as a composite filler material while generating useful by-products.

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Photo-Bioreactor Simulation

Mentors: Yun Ji and Gautham Krishnamoorthy (ChE)

Stirred-tank photo-bioreactors are similar to vertical reactors, but are limited on size due to low surface area to volume ratio. They are made from transparent materials and can be illuminated via natural light or artificial light. Internal illumination can be used with fluorescent tubes or optical fibers, but this adds additional shear stress to the system. On this summer project, student will use Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to simulate the reactor behavior with different light settings. Experimental work with algae is also expected to be conducted by the student to validate the simulation results.

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Photovoltaic Materials and Solar Fuels

Mentors: Sean E. Hightower (Chem) and Edward Kolodka (ChE)

The goals of our materials chemistry research program aim to increase the contribution of solar energy to the global energy mix.

Photovoltaic Materials: With overall efficiencies approaching 13%, the most efficient next-generation photovoltaic (PV) device is the dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC). Despite the intense interest this cell has received over the past 15 years, little progress has been made in driving up the efficiency of this device since its initial report by Grätzel. The vast majority of chromophores in the literature are Ru-polypyridyl complexes, due to their intense metal-to-ligand charge-transfer band in the visible region. While the conventional approach to improving the properties of these dyes involves modifying the periphery of the polypyridyl ligands with improved light-harvesting properties, our interests lie in the direct perturbation of the electronic structure of the metal complexes by exploring different coordination modes at the metal site. Our approach has led to robust dyes that absorb light throughout the entire visible spectrum – an important feature for more effective energy-harvesting.

Solar Fuels: The efficient conversion of sunlight into electricity is not the complete answer to the impending energy crisis - we need to develop novel, low energy pathways to renewable fuels and chemicals. The sights of our program are set on designing photoelectrochemical catalysts that efficiently reduce carbon dioxide. To date, there are few molecular compounds capable of driving this reaction catalytically, and the essential design elements remain ambiguous. Our research is devoted to understanding and implementing this process to ultimately develop efficient and robust carbon dioxide reduction catalysts. Inspired by the allosteric effect found in numerous enzymatic active sites in biological systems, our focus involves the installation of multiple metal centers within organic ligand frameworks to facilitate an optimal binding environment for carbon dioxide.

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Process improvements for biofuel production from crop oils

Mentors: Wayne Seames and Bob Wills (ChE)

The student will conduct selected experiments using a lab-scale continuous reactor system and perform process simulations to increase the efficiency of a process that converts crop oils into jet and diesel fuels.

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Proteins Circular Dichroism

Mentor: Kathryn Thomasson (Chem)

There are a wide variety of proteins important for biofuel production. There are protein enzymes responsible for the metabolic pathways in the organisms producing the biofuels (e.g., ethanol). Other enzymes are capable of degrading the complex carbohydrates into materials that can become biofuels (e.g., cellobiose dehydrogenase degrades lignin and cellulose). To understand how any of these proteins work, a basic knowledge of dynamic protein is needed. Circular dichroism (CD) is a spectroscopic technique that follows the dynamics of proteins in solution. The physics of CD is poorly understood. The development and testing of theoretical methods to predict CD for proteins can assist in the interpretation of the dynamical structure of the proteins and how they function. Some protein structures are known in the solid state (X-ray crystal structures) and these can be used with molecular dynamics to create ensembles of solutions structures. The technique of homology modeling can be used to generate 3D protein structures when well-defined crystal structures are unavailable. The continued development of the dipole interaction model (DInaMo) to predict the far UV CD of proteins aids the understanding of the solution structures and their dynamic behavior. Undergraduate students will learn these computational methods and will contribute to a growing body of knowledge of protein dynamics, enzyme catalysis, and cellular energy generation and degradation, both fundamental processes for sustainable energy projects that depends on biological sources.

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Renewable Chemicals Process Development

Mentors: Wayne Seames and Brian Tande (ChE)

Students will research potential methods to isolate valuable chemicals from decomposed lignin, then design and conduct experiments to validate and optimize the methods.

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Renewable polymers

Mentors: Ed Kolodka (ChE) and Guodong Du (Chem)

The student will explore the synthesis of biosourced, biodegradable polymers from lactic acid. The goal will be to produce a commercial viable polymer from racemic mixtures of lactic acid which are considerably cheaper to produce than the traditional L-lactic acid.

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Scanning Tunneling Microscopy Study on Self-Assembled Monolayers of Porphyrin Molecules on Highly Oriented Pyrolytic Graphite for Solar Cells

Mentor: Nuri Oncel (Physics)

Thin films of molecules with certain physical and chemical properties have been implemented in various electronic and optoelectronic devices such as electroluminescent devices, sensors, diodes, and photovoltaic cells. High quality molecular films and interfaces can be realized with the help of self-assembly. Molecular self-assembly is due to the mutual interactions between the molecules ranging from weak and non-directional van der Waals bonds to strong and directional hydrogen bonds. Porphyrins have a nearly square core conformation, with a two-dimensional (2D) delocalized conjugated p-electron system. The REU student will study the physical properties of thin films of porphyrin molecules adsorbed on HOPG at solid liquid interfaces using a scanning tunneling microscope. We are particularly interested in controlling surface morphology of a porphyrin film by co-adsorbing them with chain-like molecules.

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The Four-Electron Reduction of Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Mentor: Sean E. Hightower (Chem)

Polypyridine complexes of d6 metals such as Ru(II), Os(II), and Re(I) have received a great deal of attention because they can act as electrocatalysts and photocatalysts for the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) to formate (O2CH-) and carbon monoxide (CO). Although these reactions have been significant in determining the efficacy of these systems in the reduction of CO2, they only proceed by way of a two-electron reduction. This is a significant drawback when considering that the complete sequence for the reduction of CO2 to methanol (CH3OH), for example, requires an overall six-electron reduction. In this project, the REU student will design and prepare catalytic systems capable of proceeding past the two-electron stage.

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