Project Descriptions for the 2024 REU Program

Please check back often as we continue to collect projects from our CHARM faculty!

Last updated on 12/11/2023

Nature-Inspired, Computationally Designed Materials (Soft Materials)

πŸ”— Interdisciplinary Research Group 1: Peptide Active Materials (PAMs)

Bundlemer peptide nanoparticle assemblies: Biomolecules for non-biological things w/ Dr. Pochan

Faculty mentor: Prof. Darrin Pochan
Graduate student mentors: Weiran Xie & Amanda McCahill
πŸ”— Research Group Site

Bundlemers are peptide nanoparticles made from solution-assembly of computationally designed peptide molecules. Specifically, the particles are coiled coils-an assembly of four alpha helical peptides that forms a 2nm x 4 nm cylinder that displays desired chemical functionality from their surface. We use the surfaces of the particles to design assembling nanoparticle systems to form desired nanostructures and nanomaterials. The project will include experiences in peptide synthetic chemistry in order to synthesize designed bundlemer peptides as well as molecular characterization such as mass spectroscopy and circular dichroism to observe individual molecules and solution assembled bundlemer particles. Additionally, solution assembly will be used to made nanomaterial assemblies from complementary bundlemer particles (e.g., positively charged and negatively charged bundlemers mixed together for complexation in solution). Nanomaterials and films will be studied using microscopy and mechanical testing (e.g., tensile testing and dynamic mechanical analysis). Overall, the research aims to make advanced materials with amino-acid-based building blocks with potential for environmental compatibility.

Scalable biosynthesis of peptide building blocks and nanomaterials w/ Drs. April Kloxin & Chen

Faculty mentor: Prof. April Kloxin & Prof. Wilfred Chen
Graduate student mentor: Caitlin D’Ambrosio
πŸ”— Research Group Site

We have established approaches for biosynthesis of peptide building blocks and now would like to scale up this process for making bulk building blocks and nanomaterials. The student working on this project will aim to optimize bioreactor operations for scaling up the bio manufacturing of these materials. This project will involve learning and utilizing skills in bacterial culture, bioreactors, column chromatography, and peptide and materials characterization relevant to a range of applications.

Incorporation of Viscoelasticity into Photodegradable Materials w/ Dr. April Kloxin

Faculty mentor: Prof. April Kloxin
Graduate student mentor: Eric Slaughter
πŸ”— Research Group Site

Tissues in the body are typically viscoelastic meaning they demonstrate physical properties of both a viscous fluid and elastic β€œrubbery” solid. This characteristic is known to influence biological behavior and could be harnessed in training cells for therapeutic purposes. This research project aims to implement and characterize viscoelastic properties in our photodegradable hydrogel coated membranes. Here, students will work to implement new building block designs and precursor formulations that maintain the photodegradable properties of the material while enabling tunable stress relaxation. The student working on this project will learn a variety of rheological characterization techniques including in-situ rheometry and atomic force microscopy (AFM) as well as building block and hydrogel synthesis. There will also be opportunities for exploring how these materials interact with cells and influence their behavior depending on student interest and time.

Fabrication and characterization of photoconductive switch materials and devices w/ Dr. Zide

Faculty mentor: Prof. Joshua Zide
Graduate student mentor: Wilder Acuna
πŸ”— Research Group Page

III-V materials grown by molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) are promising for photoconductive switches, which can be targeted as terahertz sources or detectors. This project, in close collaboration with Ph.D. student Wilder Acuna, focuses on the characterization of these materials (and devices made from them) to understand the properties needed for terahertz applications. Some specific techniques include Hall effect measurements for electrical characterization and high-resolution x-ray diffraction (HR-XRD) to determine epitaxial film quality. Additionally, device fabrication by wire bonding photoconductive switches to printed circuit boards and device characterization by measuring resistivity. The student will also have some experience with MBE, a technique that allows the growth of high-quality single-crystal semiconductors with exquisite control, including the ultrahigh vacuum technology that enables it and the mechanisms to control material composition and morphology.

Characterizing Quantum Emitters w/ Dr. Doty

Faculty mentor: Prof. Matthew Doty
Graduate student mentors: Lottie Murray & Joshya Rajagopal
πŸ”— Research Group Page

Quantum Science and Engineering is a field that seeks to exploit the unique properties of quantum mechanics to create devices that can outperform existing classical devices. Potential “quantum” devices include new computers, sensors, and means of secure information tranmsission. One of the best ways to transfer quantum information over long distances is with photons. For this reason, sources of single photons called quantum emitters are critical elements for many future quantum device technologies. Our group is exploring a variety of material and device platforms in which control over material structure and composition on nm length scales creates quantum emitters that can be controlled and integrated into devices. The student working on this project will focus on optical spectroscopy of quantum emitters. Optical spectroscopy means collecting the light emitted and measuring things like it’s wavelength and intensity. The student will learn how to build and operate optical spectroscopy equipment and how to think about new device paradigms that exploit quantum mechanics.

Ultrafast THz dynamics in quantum materials w/ Dr. Gundlach

Faculty mentor: Prof. Lars Gundlach
Graduate student mentor: Weipeng Wu
πŸ”— Research Group Page

Understanding the interaction between novel hybrid materials and THz radiation on time-scales as short as picoseconds is important for designing new and improving existing THz materials and devices. In this project the techniques and instrumentation necessary for measuring ultrafast THz response are applied, improved and developed. One focus of this project lies on implementing polarization-, temperature- and magnetic field-control in visible pump – THz probe spectroscopy. Students will work closely with the PhD student overseeing the project. They will be introduced to working with advanced ultrafast optical instrumentation and how to modify it for specific measurements. Students will learn how to conduct ultrafast time-resolved spectroscopic measurements, analyze the acquired data, and interpret the results.

Characterizing magnonic hybrid systems w/ Dr. Jungfleisch

Faculty mentor: Prof. Benjamin Jungfleisch
Graduate student mentors: Anish Rai & Dinesh Wagle
πŸ”— Research Group Page

Unleashing the full potential of quantum technologies requires the development of quantum computation, memories, interconnects, detectors, and transducers. Therefore, understanding the coupling between disparate quantum systems is essential. Magnons are the collective spin excitations in magnetically ordered media. Their dispersion is highly tunable, and they can easily couple coherently with other fundamental excitations, including optical photons, phonons, and spins. Hence, magnons are considered prime contenders for coherent information processing and transduction. Students will be introduced to advanced microwave spectroscopy and the characterization of magnonic hybrid systems. They will learn how to design and conduct experiments, analyze the acquired data, and interpret the results. Furthermore, the students will learn how to model the results either using analytical models or micromagnetic simulations.

Dynamically tunable THz metamaterials w/ Dr. Wang

Faculty mentor: Prof. Xi Wang
Graduate student mentor: Zhixiang Huang & Tomal Hossain
πŸ”— Faculty Page

This project aims to demonstrate dynamically tunable THz metamaterials, which are artificial structures with subwavelength features. THz metamaterials manipulate the properties of incident THz light, tuning its intensity, phase, and/or polarization. The REU student will focus on characterizing fabricated THz metamaterials using Terahertz time-domain spectroscopy (TDTS). In addition, the REU student will work with the mentor to analyze collected experimental data.

Twisted 2D magnets w/ Dr. Chakraborty

Faculty mentor: Prof. Chitraleema Chakraborty
Graduate student mentor: Muhammad Hassan Shaikh
πŸ”— Faculty Page

This project aims to demonstrate dynamically tunable THz metamaterials, which are artificial structure with subwavelength features. THz metamaterials manipulate the properties of incident THz light, tuning its intensity, phase, and/or polarization. The REU student will focus on numerical simulations to model several THz metamaterials. In addition, the REU student will work with the mentor to analyze collected experimental data.

Computational simulations of magnons and topological solitons in magnetic nanostructures w/ Dr. Nikolić

Faculty mentor: Prof. Branislav Nikolić
Graduate student mentor: Jalil Varela-Manjarres
πŸ”— Faculty Page

Students will be trained in basic ideas of computational physics and its application (using either codes written by students or open source software like MuMax, VAMPIRE, UppASD) to solve large number of coupled Landau-Lifshitz-Gilbert equations for modeling classical dynamics of localized magnetic moments within magnetic systems of interest to spintronics and magnonics. Projects of interest include annihilation of topological solitons, such as skyrmions, and “black hole” magnon laser, see

Additional REU Projects from CHARM-Related Faculty

Modelling and Control of Nanoparticle Synthesis to Extend Lifetime and Performance for COβ‚‚ Reduction via Machine Learning and High Throughput Experimentation w/ Dr. Davidson

Faculty mentor: Prof. Rachel Davidson
Graduate student mentor: Caelin Celani
πŸ”— Research Group Page

This project is a highly interdisciplinary project spanning materials science, analytical chemistry, and data science with applications in environmental improvement, battery technology, device manufacturing, and more. This project aims to combine high throughput nanoparticle synthesis with in situ analytical measurements and machine learning to understand real-time degradation and regeneration processes of cuprous oxide nanoparticles under electrochemical carbon dioxide reducing conditions. Project goals include utilizing high throughput synthesis strategies to understand and tune synthetic conditions to yield repeatable and interesting nanoparticle shapes conducive to increasing lifetime or corrosion rates, utilising machine learning algorithms to accurately create relationships between nanoparticle morphology and performance, and development of in situ and operendo measurements and how they relate to both performance and morphology. Skills the student will learn in this project include hard materials synthesis, electrochemical measurement techniques, microscopy techniques, spectroscopic techniques, programming languages including R and python, and machine learning algorithms for both classification and regression. No prior experience is expected or necessary for this opportunity, however, prior knowledge of nanoparticle synthesis, high throughput synthesis, spectroscopic/microscopic/electrochemical analysis, R or python, or machine learning algorithms are all beneficial.

Texturing biomimetic hydrogels using advective-assembly 3D printing w/ Dr. Bayles

Faculty mentor: Prof. Alexandra Bayles
Graduate student mentor: Patrick McCauley
πŸ”— Research Group Page
πŸ”— Dr. Bayle’s Twitter 𝕏 Page

Replicating natural tissue hierarchy is becoming increasingly important in the fields of medicine, biotechnology, and synthetic meat production. One emerging technology for assembling three-dimensional, cell-laden constructs is extrusion-based multi-material additive manufacturing. Typically, 3D printed β€˜tissues’ are constructed in a layer-by-layer manner, where fine nozzles are swapped each time a new bioink is introduced. Although this approach has been successfully used to fabricate emblematic assemblies (e.g., vasculatures, muscle fibers), individual nozzles must have rather large diameters (>100 ΞΌm) to prevent high shear stresses from killing cells prior to deposition, which subsequently constrains the size of biomimetic features. To overcome this limitation, we propose a unique strategy, recently coined β€œadvective assembly,” to engineer high-resolution 3D printing nozzles. Advective assembly (AA) leverages principles of chaotic advection to align, multiply, and shrink co-flowing inks along laminar streamlines. AA nozzles extrude thick (~4 mm) composite filaments with hierarchical internal structures (e.g., grids of hundreds of ~30 ΞΌm thick fibers) under low applied shear. Our central hypothesis is that by assembling biomimetic structures in the co-extrusion nozzle, we will improve feature resolution and cell viability beyond that achieved by single-nozzle methods. The student contributing to this project will work closely with a postdoc mentor to fabricate and test advective assembly bioprinting nozzles designed to extrude filaments with biomimetic structures. They will formulate a series of model hydrogel inks and use tracer particles as surrogates for living systems, and perform video analysis to measure flow stability. The student will gain experience with advanced additive manufacturing methods, device fabrication and operation, and in operando flow monitoring.

Biomaterials platforms to study phage therapy in complex environments w/ Drs. Fromen and Muir

Faculty mentor: Prof. Catherine Fromen and Prof. Victoria Muir
Graduate student mentor: Emma Sudduth
πŸ”— Dr. Fromen’s Research Group Page
πŸ”— Dr. Fromen’s Twitter 𝕏 Page

πŸ”— Dr. Muir’s Research Group Page
πŸ”— Dr. Muir’s Twitter 𝕏 Page

Antimicrobial resistant infections represent a global pressing challenge, and bacteriophages (i.e., β€œphages”, viruses that infect bacteria) are being explored in clinical trials for phage therapy treatment of antibiotic-resistant infections. Given that promising potential of phages as a therapeutic, it is crucial to understand the dynamics of phage transport and interactions in physiologically-relevant environments. This project aims to explore the fabrication of biomaterial hydrogels for controlled phage delivery and to develop in vitro platforms using bioprinting to study transport dynamics in physiologically-relevant settings (e.g., immune cell interactions, transport through complex porous matrices mimicking tissues). The student working on this project will learn how to assemble and characterize an open-source extrusion bioprinter, culture cells in hydrogel materials, fabricate biomaterial hydrogels for controlled and sustained nanotherapeutic (i.e., phage) delivery, and engineer bioprinting platforms to create in vitro models of biomedical relevance.

Development of structure-property relationships for Geopolymer materials w/ Dr. Wagner

Faculty mentor: Prof. Norman Wagner
Graduate student mentor: Quent Hartt
πŸ”— Research Group Page

The development of sustainable construction materials is crucial for the continuing advancement of infrastructure in the modern world. Geopolymers, an inorganic amorphous polymers are intriguing materials as they offer significantly reduced CO2 emissions while maintaining, or surpassing, material properties of modern cements. These materials can be constructed from combining an aluminosilicate source, such as fly-ash, clay, lunar & Martian regolith, etc., and an activating solution. This project aims to develop general composition-structure-property relationships for geopolymer materials by connecting the initial chemistry to the transient kinetic behavior to the final material properties through the lens of an engineer. The development of these relationships will allow for the intelligent design of these materials for end-use applications. The student working on this project will learn practical lab techniques for the preparation of polymer materials, chemical characterization techniques (SEM, NMR, calorimetry, etc.), as well as material characterization (rheology, compression testing, etc.).