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2023 REU Research Projects

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Click on the links below to jump to each project description and to view the faculty member's website.

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. In particular, we are developing novel vaccine delivery platforms that can improve the potency, durability, and quality of immune responses to generate better vaccines against challenging pathogens such as flu, HIV, or COVID. Students will have the opportunity to learn polymer synthesis and characterization as well as protein structure and function characterization.

Professor Zhenan Bao
Synthesis and characterization of dynamic polymer semiconductors

Project Description: Flexible and stretchable electronics are of great interest given their broad applications, particularly in bioelectronics. Organic semiconductors can be intrinsically stretchable, but most structures known to date are crystalline or semicrystalline at room temperature. Dynamic polymer semiconductors, based on new molecular architectures currently being developed in our lab, are promising targets for removing charge trapping by grain boundaries and studying charge transport in well-defined plastic substances. In this project, students will learn how to synthesize organic polymers, characterize soft matter properties, and fabricate stretchable transistors. Due to the breadth of this project, students will be able to focus on their interests, as determined with their mentors.

Professor Will Chueh
Investigating MnO2 cathodes for high-performance aqueous batteries

Project Description: Stationary battery energy storage is going to play a crucial role in grid systems integrated with renewable energy, and aqueous batteries are attractive candidates due to their low cost and high safety. MnO2 is one of the most ideal aqueous cathodes in this regard. However, traditional Zn-MnO2 alkaline batteries fail to achieve satisfactory performance metrics because of the irreversible Zn intercalation into MnO2. The aqueous subgroup has been developing Sn-based materials as a novel type of aqueous anode with the potential of overcoming the drawbacks of the Zn counterpart. Working with our aqueous subgroup, you will work to assess the stability of MnO2 in different aqueous electrolytes and their compatibility when paired with a Zn- or Sn-based anode. This will provide critical information for enabling a well-performing aqueous full cell. Techniques you will learn or be exposed to: hydrothermal syntheses of MnO2 materials, X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), rotating disk electrodes (RDE) and electrochemical tests, electrode sheet and pouch cell fabrication, and cell testing.

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 Joseph DeSimone
Microneedles for transdermal drug delivery

Project Description: Skin contains several immune cells whose job it is to survey the environment and eradicate foreign invaders. We can harness this network of immune cells to design better vaccines and immunotherapies. We are currently working on developing 3D-printed microneedle platforms to deliver therapies into the skin. With this new route of administration comes new challenges and the need for new formulations. Through this project, you will be working on developing new strategies to stabilize therapeutic cargo on microneedles for solid state drug delivery.

Professor Joseph DeSimone
Measuring and understanding the conductivity of 3D-printed lattice force capacitive sensors

Project Description: The overarching goal is to create a high-resolution 3D-printed elastomeric lattice pressure sensor suitable for wearable electronics application. The summer student will work on tackling the problem from three aspects: (1) to explore polymeric material formulations to create and print deformable, conductive 3D lattice structures; (2) to build a set-up to measure the strain versus conductance of the lattice material; and, (3) t0 design, simulate, and understand the stress-strain response of the lattice structure with FEA simulation, using commercial software (nTopology and Abaqus).

Professor Tom Devereaux
Simulations of battery electrochemistry and performance

Project Description: We are interested in developing tools and techniques to apply to the multiscale, many-body problem of batteries and energy materials. The student will develop a predictive model by applying machine learning techniques and statistical methods to information on materials structure and properties. The student will learn how to conduct computational experiments, analyze data sets, and extract relevant information that guides battery design.

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
Solar plastics upcycling with plasmonic photocatalysts

Project Description: Plasmons, a unique optical response to light by metallic nanostructures, can increase the speed and selectivity of chemical transformations. In this project, we will explore the application of plasmons for breaking down commercial plastics and for boosting catalyst performance in critical chemical steps involved in the synthesis of plastics. Starting from computational optical simulations, we will carefully design the shape, size, and composition of plasmonic nanoparticles and then synthesize these particles in the lab. A summer intern will learn how to characterize nanomaterials using Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) and how to use and develop computational programming to quantify their results. We will then perform bench-scale reactions using a custom photoreactor set-up and explore correlations between these results and single particle experiments performed in an environmental TEM. A long-term goal is to enable a sustainable, circular materials economy with non-toxic nanoparticles that enable plastic upcycling.

Professor Jennifer Dionne
Lighting up the oceans: Developing in situ sensors of ocean and environmental health

Project Description: Coming soon

Professor Leora Dresselhaus-Marais
Controlling mechanical properties for additively manufactured Ta/W alloys

Project Description: Numerous devices must operate in harsh service environments, that exhibit extreme temperatures, pressures, and radiation loads that most materials cannot tolerate. Refractory metals can uniquely tolerate these extreme conditions, as their > 2000oC melting temperatures, high thermomechanical strength, and service environments enable important performance advantages. Metal additive manufacturing (AM) offers key design advantages with its layer-by-layer builds. However, the high morphological and crystallographic texture, the microcracking, as well as the poor oxidation resistance at moderate temperatures, limit their effectiveness for extreme condition applications. This work will leverage the custom Flexible Laser Additive Manufacturing in Extreme environment (FLAME) system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to refine the process parameters necessary to print Ta-W alloys with isotropic mechanical properties. In this project, the REU student will partner with a Graduate Student in our group to learn how to custom-build metal 3D printing instruments and test the mechanical properties of the 3D printed parts. Specific tasks will include printing cubes of W/Ta alloys at LLNL, characterizing the printed microstructure at Stanford, and testing the mechanical properties using indentation testing at Stanford.

Professor Wendy Gu
Metallic glass alloy nanoparticles

Project Description: Metallic glasses possess superior mechanical properties such as high yield strength and hardness, but often deform via localized shear bands that lead to near-zero ductility. To overcome this issue, we propose to synthesize metallic glass alloy nanoparticles made via colloidal synthesis and compact them to form bulk metallic glasses. The purpose behind compacting nanoparticles to create bulk metallic glasses is to nucleate shear bands at the interfaces, and the elemental heterogeneity is meant to deflect the propagation of shear bands. By controlling and delocalizing the path of shear bands, we hope to increase the ductility of metallic glasses. Students can expect to learn several skills including colloidal nanoparticle synthesis, mechanical testing, experimental design, and scientific reading and comprehension.

Professor Sarah Heilshorn
Biomaterials for regenerative medicine

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 Sarah Heilshorn
New materials as inks for 3D bio-printing

Project Description: 3D bio-printing is similar to traditional 3D printing, but the inks include embedded cells. This promising technology can be used to fabricate living devices for regenerative medicine and disease modeling. In this project, we are working to develop and validate new cell-compatible materials that function well as bio-inks.

Professor Guosong Hong
A circulatory light source enabled by an endogenous optical flow battery

Project Description: Light is used in a wide array of processes and methods in biology and medicine, ranging from photosynthesis, fluorescence imaging, optogenetics, to photodynamic therapy to treat COVID infection. A critical challenge of applying light in vivo arises from the poor penetration of photons in biological tissue due to scattering and absorption. Therefore, delivering light deep into the body requires invasive procedures, such as the insertion of optical fibers and endoscopes, as well as surgical dissection of overlying tissues. The very invasiveness of these procedures also precludes easy repositioning and volume adjustment of the illuminated region in the same subject. In this project, you will be able to address this long-standing challenge by developing a circulatory light source that can be produced from inside the body and programmed in a logic circuit to yield emission of desired colors and sizes at any location in vivo. Specifically, you will synthesize and inject trap-engineered phosphor materials (e.g., Sr2MgSi2O7) into the mouse, effectively turning the endogenous circulatory system into an "optical flow battery". When blood circulates past superficial vessels near the skin, light energy incident on the skin will be absorbed by and stored in trap-engineered phosphors in the blood. Blood then carries the stored energy until triggered by focused ultrasound, releasing the energy as localized emission inside the body, thus fulfilling a circulatory light source. You will be able to use fluidic dynamic modeling, spectrophotometry, electron microscopy, and immunohistochemistry to characterize the efficiency of the in-vivo light source and optical flow battery.

Professor Felipe Jornada
2D materials with a twist: predicting novel electronic and optical properties of atomically thin materials

Project Description: This project will introduce the student to the computational techniques used to study atomically thin quantum materials. The student will learn how to create large-scale models of 2D materials and predict their electronic and optical properties via computational experiments. Ultimately, the student will model a class of novel quantum materials known as twisted heterostructures, where a pair of 2D materials are vertically stacked with a twist between the layers. By simply twisting two otherwise trivial monolayers, these materials can exhibit unusual properties such as superconductivity and can be engineered for emerging quantum technologies. Using density-functional theory calculations, the student will simulate new twisted materials and investigate their unusual properties.

Professor Aaron Lindenberg
Atomic and nanoscale dynamics in next generation solar cells

Project Description: Despite rapid growth of hybrid organic-inorganic halide perovskite solar cell efficiencies, structural degradation during environmental exposure limits the stability and technological impact of these materials. These atomic and nanoscale degradation mechanisms remain poorly understood, in part due to their dynamic nature occurring on atomic/nano/meso length-scales and femtosecond to second time-scales. Indeed, the very processes that lead to degradation may also be responsible in part for their unique optoelectronic functionality. In this project summer students will learn to use nonlinear optics to probe these processes as they happen and try to understand the fundamental processes that determine the functionality of these materials.

Professor Andy Mannix
Development of electronic characterization protocols for high-throughput growth screening

Project Description: Atomically thin 2D materials incorporated into van der Waals heterostructures are a promising platform to engineer quantum materials with well-defined interfaces and excellent material properties. The summer REU student will learn how to grow atomically thin 2D materials at high-throughput in order to rapidly screen the electronic properties for various combinations of 2D materials. Students will learn several deposition techniques including metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) and molecular-beam epitaxy (MBE). Students will also learn how to pattern 2D materials, fabricate devices, and test their charge transport characteristics.

Professor Austin Sendek
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 materials with applications in global decarbonization efforts, such as batteries and zero-carbon manufacturing. The student will develop a predictive model by applying machine learning techniques and statistical methods to inform connections between materials structure and materials properties.

Professor Alberto Salleo
Multifunctional soft materials for sustainable IoT devices

Project Description: This project involves the utilization of Organic Mixed Ionic Electronic Conductors (OMIECs) for electrochemical sensor electrodes, transistors, energy storage devices, and actuators to enable fully integrated and sustainable IoT devices. OMIECs are polymeric materials that are redox-active and ionically and electrically conductive, resulting in their usage in a wide variety of electrochemical devices. The student will learn how to fabricate the above electrochemical devices and characterize their electronic and electrochemical performance. Ultimately, the goal is to demonstrate the unique processability and multifunctional properties of OMIECs to enable the circular economy of electrochemical devices.

Professor Shan Wang
Portable blood-based test for precision treatment of cancer

Project Description: In this project we aim to develop a blood-based test for more effective and personalized 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 cancer progression and treatment. By looking for specific genetic and epigenetic biomarkers within the DNA, we will gain insight into the status of complex diseases like cancer and their treatment. Students will develop lab expertise in biological sample processing and analysis techniques according to their interests, including cell culturing, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for nucleic acid assays, and biochip-based innovation.