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2020 REU Summer Research Projects

Descriptions (Click on link to jump to project)


Professor Eric Appel
Sustained delivery of biopharmaceuticals

Project Description: Protein therapeutics are a fast-growing class of pharmaceuticals exhibiting many advantages over traditional small-molecule drugs. Yet biopharmaceutical formulation is particularly challenging on account of the inherent instability of many proteins, their propensity to aggregate, and difficult administration of ideal formulations for extended periods of time. We seek to exploit rational design principles to engineer a novel class of injectable hydrogel materials for biopharmaceutical formulation that can address all of these issues. Students will have the opportunity to learn polymer synthesis and characterization as well as protein structure and function characterization.


Professor Will Chueh
Atomic control and characterization of materials for batteries, fuel cells and electrolyzers

Project Description: Materials used in next-generation batteries, fuel cells and electrolyzers usually span 10 orders of magnitude in length scale and have complex chemistry and nanostructures. As a result, fundamental understanding of electrochemical properties related to efficiency, lifetime and reliability is still lacking. In this project, you will create atomically-defined model systems that mimic real materials for energy storage and conversion technologies. These model systems simplify the chemistry and microstructure so that we can obtain a better understanding of the intrinsic materials properties. Advanced characterization such as electron and X-ray microscopy will be used to understand these processes in-situ during device operation.


Professor Yi Cui
Nanomaterials design for energy applications

Project Description: This project explores materials design for enhanced energy conversion and storage. Some examples include materials for thermal textiles, batteries, and electrocatalysis. Students will have an opportunity to learn several skills including nanomaterials synthesis, structure characterization, energy device fabrication, and performance evaluation.


Professor Reinhold Dauskardt
Nano-mechanical behavior and reliability in energy devices

Project Description: The intent of this project is to study the nano-mechanical properties and adhesion of advanced thin-film structures that have applications in a wide range of emerging technologies. The goal of the work is to develop a fundamental understanding of how the films’ mechanical properties are related to their nanostructure and processing conditions. The student will gain familiarity and experience with a number of experimental techniques, including thin-film sample preparation and the use of atomic force microscopy (AFM), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) for analyzing fracture surface composition and morphology.


Professor Reinhold Dauskardt
Biomechanical function of human skin

Project Description: This project takes a quantitative, in-vitro experimental approach to examine the biomechanical properties of human skin, which are vital for its function but poorly understood. Students will use a range of thin film characterization techniques to explore the outermost stratum corneum layer of skin and determine the effects of preconditioning treatments and cellular structure. We would also like to expand the research project to include multiple layers of skin. The project involves applying novel and new micromechanical and characterization techniques to study the structure and biomechanical function of human skin. Students will learn to separate, enzymatically treat and condition human skin, fabricate specimens, and conduct testing and analysis using methodologies developed in our research group. Analysis techniques such as scanning electron and optical microscopy will be employed, together with newly developed techniques involving wafer curvature and bulge testing of soft tissues.


Professor Jennifer Dionne
Mapping intracellular forces in the immune synapse with upconverting nanoparticles

Project Description: Immune cells undergo a range of mechanical feats to identify and target pathogen cells for death. While the mechanical forces are critical for immune cell performance, there is currently no suitable sensor for mapping the intracellular forces. We are working on developing biocompatible mechanical force sensors based on upconverting nanoparticles (UCNPs) with nanometer spatial resolution capable of imaging intracellular mechanical forces. A summer intern will be working on characterizing UCNPs force sensitivity by mimicking biological forces with an atomic force microscope (AFM) while recording the upconversion spectra. A summer student will also learn how to characterize UCNPs materials properties using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and x-ray diffraction (XRD). Through careful materials studies and characterization, we will provide a new way to track immune cell interactions.


Professor Jennifer Dionne
Light-induced synthesis of novel catalysts for energy

Project Description: Light absorption and scattering in metal nanoparticles gives rise to plasmon resonances that generate large temperature and electric-field gradients at their surface. Here we propose to make use of these large gradients to drive the formation of novel nanoparticle catalysts for solar fuel conversion. Initial studies will focus on silver-titania core-shell systems, which have been shown to be particularly good catalysts for water-splitting. The student will learn how to synthesize and purify metal nanoparticles; determine a suitable metal-oxide precursor with proper decomposition kinetics; design and assemble an optical set-up for the light-induced synthesis of nanoparticles; and accomplish the first light-induced syntheses of novel silver-titania core-shell nanoparticles.


Professor Sarah Heilshorn
Design of biomaterials with nanoscale precision through protein engineering

Project Description: A unique approach to designing biomaterials involves mimicking the tools evolved by nature to create functional materials at the molecular level. The REU student will be involved in the synthesis, purification, and characterization of protein-based biomaterials using engineered bacterial hosts. These biomaterials will be evaluated for use as regenerative medicine scaffolds to induce the formation of new tissue.


Professor Guosong Hong
Deep-brain stimulation with NIR light-absorbing semiconducting polymers

Project Description: Neuron-type specific modulation of brain activity with light by optogenetics has opened up enormous opportunities for neuroscience studies. Expansion of the neural modulation toolbox from visible to near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths offers deep brain stimulation capability in freely behaving animals without optical fiber. In this project, you will develop a deep brain stimulation technology based on various semiconducting polymers. Students will evaluate their neuron-stimulating performance in both in vitro neuron culture with simultaneous neuron activity measurement and in vivo experiments to modulate specific behaviors of freely behaving animals with NIR light.


Professor Aaron Lindenberg
Ultrafast two-dimensional topological switches

Project Description: This project is broadly focused on visualizing the atomic-scale steps that underlie how two-dimensional materials and their heterostructures can be dynamically manipulated on ultrafast timescales. A number of applications to next generation photonic devices follow from this work, including new possibilities for high bandwidth topological switches and nano-devices. Summer students will learn to use light spanning the range from X-rays to the far infrared to probe this functionality, and get first-hand experience building these devices from scratch.


Professor Paul McIntyre
Ge-Sn nanowires for mid-infrared silicon-compatible photonics

Project Description: In this project, we are interested in growing Ge-Sn alloy nanowires and tuning their semiconductor band gap to achieve efficient light emission and absorption. By preparing these crystals in the form of free-standing nanowires, they can be integrated onto silicon substrates without forming defects that would compromise their optoelectronic properties. A student working on this project will help develop improved methods for controlling the diameter and strain state of the nanowires, and will characterize their thermal stability with respect to germanium-tin phase separation. These topics are critically important to the development of efficient Ge-Sn light emitters and absorbers.


Professor Nicholas Melosh
New synthetic routes to low dimensional chalcogenides

Project Description: Chalcogenides are one of the hottest materials areas right now, with reports of single monolayer superconductivity, high water-splitting activity, and ability to behave as topological insulators. In this project we will explore a newly discovered synthetic method to create these materials in 1D and 2D forms using self-assembly with unique structure directing agents. You will be asked to investigate the structure properties relationship for different growth conditions, and try to identify predictive metrics between the molecular structure and the resulting crystal structure and opto-electronic properties.


Professor Nicholas Melosh
Materials science approaches to quantum bits

Project Description: Quantum computing and sensing are exciting new areas of technology, yet require precise control of the placement and coupling to each quantum bit. We are exploring a materials-based approach to control the location and type of nitrogen- and silicon- vacancy defects in diamond, which can be used for quantum sensing and computing. This employs many fundamental materials concepts, where we explore the role of temperature, time, and growth conditions on the quality and quantity of defect sites.


Professor Evan Reed
Computer modeling and machine learning for energy materials

Project Description: This project involves the development and use of machine learning and other computer algorithms to predict materials properties from the atomic structure. We will focus on two-dimensional materials like MoS2, phase-change materials for electronics applications, and electrolyte and other battery materials for energy storage applications. The student will develop a predictive model by applying machine learning techniques and statistical methods to information on materials structure and properties.


Professor Alberto Salleo
Soft materials for mixed ionic and electronic transport

Project Description: This project will focus on the fabrication and characterization of thin film devices for the transduction of ionic fluxes into electrical currents. These devices find applications in bioelectronics and sensing of physiological signals. The materials involved are typically polymer blends. The student will learn how to make electrochemical thin film transistors and how to characterize their electrical properties as a function of processing and morphology, such as the ionic and electronic conductivity. The ultimate goal is the fabrication of a non-volatile transistor, which is a type of device that cannot be easily made using conventional electronic materials.


Professor Debbie Senesky
Microstructural and physical property characterization of microgravity-synthesized graphene aerogels

Project Description: This project aims to characterize and understand the changes in properties, both microstructural and physical, of a graphene aerogel (GA) synthesized in a microgravity environment. We hypothesize the absence of gravity will have the greatest effect on the hydrogel formation step due to the absence of buoyancy-driven convection and sedimentation in this extreme synthetic environment. The student will select a relevant analytical technique available at Stanford to study relevant microstructural or physical properties. Examples include transmission electron microscopy (TEM), Raman spectroscopy, compression testing, galvanostatic charge/discharge (GCD), etc. The student will be trained on their desired technique and will test and compare graphene aerogel samples synthesized on Earth and in space.


Professor Shan Wang
DNA biomarkers in disease progression and treatment

Project Description: In this project we aim to develop a blood-based test for early assessment of mental health or cancer treatment. Using the GMR biosensor previously developed in Professor Wang’s lab, we will be probing peripheral blood samples for DNA signatures related to mental health or cancer treatment. By looking for specific genetic and epigenetic biomarkers within the DNA, we will gain insight into the status of the diseases and their treatment. Students will develop lab expertise in biological sample processing and analysis techniques according to their interests, including fluorescence microscope image acquisition, cell culturing, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for DNA and RNA characterization.