The School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

REU - Projects

Interdisciplinary Excellence Built On World-Class Knowledge

Example Summer 2017 REU Projects.

More projects may be available.

Modeling solution-processing of thin films relevant to flexible electronics (Advisor: Soumik Banerjee)

Flexible electronic devices such as organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), perovskite solar cells (PSCs), organic photovoltaic solar cells (OPVs) and organic field-effect transistors (OFETs) hold excellent promise as light weight, portable and flexible electronics and employ renewable materials that are more eco-friendly than today’s electronics. These devices utilize thin films that comprise either single chemical species, such as conjugated polymers, or blends of these species with electron acceptor nanoparticles. Significant improvement in the efficiency and reliability of existing devices as well as designing new devices requires molecularly tailoring the morphology of thin films and engineering the interfaces between the films, which can be achieved through carefully controlled solution-based fabrication technique. However thin films for flexible electronics are currently fabricated and tested on a trial and error basis by repetitive experimental synthesis and characterization. In an effort to eliminate this expensive and time consuming approach, we have developed a novel multiscale model that combines the atomistic resolution of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations with stochastic capabilities of kinetic Monte Carlo (KMC), to simulate the growth of thin-films relevant to flexible electronics and model interfaces between these films. As part of the summer REU project, students will acquire first-hand experience in employing this unique model and a range of molecular visualization tools to simulate a wide range of thin films used in flexible electronics. Involvement of REU students will generate significant results that will provide valuable insights and help to choose favorable process parameters for fabrication of thin films for these applications. Furthermore, analysis of the results obtained from numerical simulations will aid the selection of novel materials. The research engagement will equip the participating undergraduate students with materials modeling tools and high performance computing experience and prepare them to meet emerging challenges in materials science and engineering. .

Bioinspired nanoscale materials for biomedical and energy applications (Advisors: Annie Du and Yuehe Lin)

Advances in nanotechnology have profoundly led to the development of functional materials in recent years, which have found applications ranging from biomedical to environmental engineering and high-energy storage1. In this project, nanoparticles will be synthesized using protein cage template by two different approaches, namely, encapsulation and diffusion. To confirm and characterize the formation of protein cage template nanoparticles, SEM and TEM will be employed to study the sizes and distributions of nanomaterials. Optical and electrochemical properties of the biotemplate nanoparticles will be characterized with optical microscopy and electrochemical voltammetry. Such biotemplate nanoparticles will be investigated for potential applications in electrocatalysis, biosensing, bioimaging and energy applications. REU participants will learn the skills of new material synthesis and characterization using different kind of instruments. The result may lead to a conference presentation or journal publication.

  1. Bhattacharya P, Du D, Lin Y. Bioinspired nanoscale materials for biomedical and energy applications. J. R. Soc. Interface 2014, 11: 20131067.

Development of high-strength carbon filaments pulled from carbon nano-tube (CNT) turfs (Advisor: David Field)

Individual CNT strength is reported to be on order of 150-230 GPa but filaments made from CNTs are on order of 1-5 GPa. Increasing filament strength requires an increased understanding and new approaches in the growth of CNT turfs, as well as a method to fabricate highly aligned and interconnected CNTs into filaments. Preliminary work in this area has been ongoing in our laboratory since an initial NSF NIRT grant allowing us to better understand turf properties1-3. The REU student will experiment with various CNT turf growth strategies, with the objective of growing longer individual CNTs. Operation of the growth chambers and analysis of the resulting CNT structures by high resolution SEM imaging will be performed by the REU student researcher. The student will be mentored by Professor Field and a PhD candidate working in the field.

  1. Fakron, O. and D. Field, 3D Image Reconstruction of Fiber Systems Using Electron Tomography. Ultramicroscopy, 2015. 149: p. 21-25 Available from:
  2. Malik, H., K. Stephenson*, D. Bahr, and D. Field, Quantitative characterization of Carbon Nanotube Turf Topology by SEM Analysis. J. Mat. Sci. , 2011. 46: p. 3119-3126 Available from:
  3. Kelly, G.* and D. Field, Characterization of Curvature in CNT Turf Structures from Two-Dimensional Images. MRS Proceedings, 2011. 1283: p. mrsf10-1283-b05-05 Available from:

* REU participants

Thermodynamics and Kinetics from Single Molecule Measurements (Advisor: K.W. Hipps)

Modern scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) techniques allow the study of both kinetics and thermodynamics of chemical processes at the solution-solid interface as a function of temperature and reagent concentrations1,2. In one of the proposed studies, REU students will learn how to perform STM studies and then will investigate the effects of temperature on the self-assembly of carboxylic acids on graphite. By probing the ordering in the -15°C to +80°C range, they will extract the enthalpy and entropy of adsorption and relate these to the H-bonding strength and role of steric effects introduced by differing acid group locations. These are important fundamental parameters needed for the design of nanostructured self-assembled materials of many classes. A second major project will concern the kinetics of surface self-assembly2-3. In particular, REU students will measure the rates of desorption of phthalocyanines and other electron-transfer materials from model metal-solution and graphene-solution interfaces – data critical for understanding ink-jet printing of organic electronic devices. Students will learn basic theory and practical operation of a STM. They will reinforce concepts from fluid transport and surface adsorption theory by actual measurement, and will learn important methods of materials purification. They will gain a new appreciation of thermodynamics by using molecular measurements to generate thermodynamic data -- a perspective seldom taught in engineering thermodynamics. To show that these are projects that REU students can perform, one of our recent T dependent studies4 has Kevin Owens, an Alabama A&M undergraduate working in my lab for the summer, as coauthor.

  1. Single Molecule Imaging of Oxygenation of Cobalt Porphyrin at the Solution/Solid Interface: Thermodynamics from Microscopy. Benjamin A. Friesen, Ashish Bhattarai, K. W. Hipps, and Ursula Mazur. J A C S 2012, 134, 14897-14904. The cover art for this issue of the journal came from this paper.
  2. Kinetic and Thermodynamic Processes of Organic Species at the Solution Solid Interface: The view through an STM. Ursula Mazur and K W Hipps. Chem Comm 2015, 51, 4737-4749.
  3. A Single Molecule Level Study of the Temperature Dependent Kinetics for the Formation of Metal Porphyrin Monolayers on Au(111) from Solution. Bhattarai, Ashish; Mazur, Ursula; Hipps, K. W. J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 2014 136 (5), 2142–2148.
  4. Influence of the Central Metal ion in the Desorption Kinetics of a Porphyrin from the Solution/HOPG Interface. Bhattarai, A.; Marchbanks-Owens, K.; Mazur, U.; Hipps, K. W. J. Phys. Chem. C 2016, in press.

Organic Photoconductors (Advisor: Ursula Mazur)

We conduct research that employs a combination of synthetic, analytical, and theoretical methods to study the molecular and submolecular scale chemical, electronic, and material properties of porphyrin micro and nanostructured assemblies.

link to larger picture

TEM images of nanostructures fabricated from ionic porphyrin tectons. TSPP zwitterion forms thin walled tubes that collapse once removed from solution. TSPP anion combined with positively charged porphyrins in 1:1 stoichiometry. These binary porphyrins produce crystalline rods with varying dimension and, in some cases (e.g. TAPP:TSPP), hyperbranched assemblies. concentration of the reaction mixture.

Porphyrins are an important class of organic semiconductors that structurally and functionally resemble natural light harvesting chromophores1-3. Their self-assembled aggregates have potential applications in several important areas of modern technology, including chemical and light sensors, photocells, catalysis, and molecular electronics. The overall goal of the our research is to attain an in-depth understanding of: (1) the driving forces behind molecular ordering, dimensions, and morphology in the micro and nanostructures, (2) their nucleation and growth mechanism(s), (3) the mechanical properties of these assemblies, (4) the nature of electronic communication between the molecules comprising different structures, and (5) the impact of (1), (2), and (3) on the conductivity and photoconductivity of aggregates in contact with a metallic surface under different environmental conditions. Our research provides a fundamental understanding of the morphology-structure-mechanics-optoelectronic function relationships that enables a rational design of organic materials for a particular electronic, photonic, or sensing application. In this multifaceted interdisciplinary project, the REU participant will take part in synthesizing new nanostructured materials. We will also introduce the REU student to spectroscopy, microscopy, and mechanical properties materials science. Over the past several years 1.5 REU students/year were involved in this research. All of them presented their work as posters at scientific meetings, college-wide competitions, or at departmental poster events. Most of them are co-authors on papers published in high impact journals. In summary we provide an exceptional training environment for the REU participants in cutting-edge nanoscale energy-related research with training in scientific integrity, teamwork, and leadership.

  1. Mazur, U.; Hipps, K. W. Eskelsen, J. R.; Adinehnia, M. Functional Porphyrin Nanostructures for Molecular Electronics: Structural, Mechanical, and Electronic Properties of Self-Assembled Ionic Metal-Free Porphyrins. In Handbook of Porphyrin Science. Kadish, K.M; Smith, K.M.; Guilard, R. eds. 2016, vol.40. (invited chapter)
  2. Eskelsen, J.R.; Phillips, K. J.*; Hipps, K.W.; Mazur, U. Hyperbranched Crystalline Nanostructures Produced from Ionic π-Conjugated Molecules. Chem. Commun. 2015, 51, 2663-2666.
  3. Eskelsen, J.R.; Qi, Y.; Schneider-Pollack, S.*; Schmitt, S.*; Hipps, K.W.; Mazur, U. Correlating Elastic Properties and Molecular Organization of an Ionic Organic Nanostructure. Nanoscale 2014, 6, 316-327.

Hysteretic behavior in natural and synthetic magnetic nanomaterials (Advisor: John McCloy)

Understanding of magnetic hysteresis of oxide materials is important for pure science pursuits such as geomagnetism and also for technological applications in biomedicine, engineering, and electronics. For example, magnetic spinel ferrites have been commercially important for inductors and microwave devices and non-ferrites such as copper manganite and nickel cobaltite have recently been studied for their unique electric, thermoelectric, and catalyst properties. Natural iron oxides like hematite, goethite, and titano-magnetite are important for understanding environmental remediation of subsurface sediments and immobilization of radioactive elements. Magnetic properties are highly dependent on size, site distribution, and surface effects thus magnetic characterization methods offer a means to explore the effect of disorder on physical properties of nanomaterials. The REU student will study various natural and synthetic magnetic oxide materials, some nanosized, using a state-of-the-art magnetometer, and analyze first-order-reversal curve data to provide magnetic fingerprints for understanding switching behavior in these materials. Students will prepare samples, run the magnetometer, analyze results, and present their work. It is expected that the work performed during this project will be incorporated into a scholarly journal article.

3-D Electronics using Micro-Additive Manufacturing and Photonic Sintering (Advisor: Rahul Panat)

Microelectronics manufacturing over 3-D surfaces has been challenging since the current fabrication routes such as mask-based lithography techniques can work on 2-D surfaces. Recent advances in the printing of nanoparticle inks, however, have helped realize 3-D electronics. These fabrication methods are environmentally friendly since they do not create waste, require less number of fabrication steps, and do not require harmful chemicals during processing. The printed nanoparticle traces can then be sintered using laser, thermal, or photonic methods. In the proposed REU, an undergraduate researcher will utilize the existing infrastructure at WSU and carry out research on conformal printed sensors with different nanoparticle materials. The project will aim to complete four major tasks over the summer:

  1. Development of micro-additive manufacturing process for the direct dispense of metal nanoparticles over a substrate along with photonic sintering
  2. Study of porosity as a function of photonic power
  3. Explore different materials to create the electronics such as Cu and Ag. The REU may also explore the use of low meting temperature metals such as Indium and Tin to create highly stretchable interconnects1 if time permits.
  4. Carry out structural (SEM) and electrical (impedance) characterization of the printed electronic traces.

The student goals and objectives will be supervised by Prof. Panat and his PhD student to provide the required guidance throughout summer.

  1. Arafat, Y., Dutta, I. and Panat, R., “Super-stretchable Metallic Interconnects on Polymer with a Linear Strain of 100%”, Applied Physics Letters (In Review), 2015

Stochastic phenomenon during nanoindentation (Advisor: Pui Ching Wo)

Advances in nanotechnology have made measurement of nanoscale mechanical properties possible and demonstrated that properties of materials in nanoscale exhibit significant differences from macroscale. Several nanoscale materials characterization studies reported stochastic (instead of deterministic) behaviors in onset of plasticity and serrated flow, previously assumed to be noise in the data. The REU student involves in this NSF funded project will carry out microstructural characterization using electron microscopy and perform nanoindentation on different grains in a polycrystalline crystal. The REU student will analysis these experimental results to examine the influence of grain orientation on stochasticity observed during nanoindentation. This project offers the REU student opportunities to be involved in an interdisciplinary research and education environment, and obtain hands-on experience in nanoindentation and electron microscopy.

Modeling and simulation of advanced interface materials for high energy and corrosive environments (Advisor: Hussein Zbib)

Interfaces in metals, ceramics and alloys play an important, often decisive, role in determining mechanical behavior, particularly when the volumes of single crystals are small. To rationally design and accelerate discoveries of new material systems with novel thermo-mechanical properties-be it high temperature strength, corrosion resistance, fatigue life or any other mechanical property- the ability to predict the macroscopic properties on the basis of microstructure and interface structure is needed. The purpose of this research is to address this need by designing a realistic engineered type of metal/ceramic nanocomposites with engineered nanolaminte structures that will exhibit very high strengths, self healing, thermal stability and corrosion resistance under high energy environment which has not been attempted. The idea is to combine the superior properties of nanolaminte metallic structures with those of ceramics composites. The work involves both experimental and theoretical work. The REU student will perform finite element analyses of a metal pressure shell reinforced with a thin layer of metal/ceramic composite. This analysis will introduce the student to the finite element method and will use commercially available software. The computations will be performed in close collaboration with graduate students and faculty who are working other experimental and modeling aspects of the project.

Effects of denaturation conditions of plant protein on ionic conductivity and mechanical properties in protein-based solid polymer electrolytes (Advisor: katie Zhong)

Lithium-ion batteries represent the current advancement in energy storage technology. Liquid electrolytes have been dominating in commercial batteries due to the high performance for batteries. Yet in order to improve the safety and avoid environmental problems caused by the used the batteries, advanced bio-battery materials are highly needed. To this end, we propose to study a type of bio-based solid electrolyte s using abundant plants, such as soy product, canola, etc. these plant proteins have multiple functional groups and our preliminary studies indicated that they can have good interactions with of poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) that is considered as one of the best solid polymer electrolyte materials. Based on our exploratory studies on the denaturation processes the conductivity and flexibility of the soy-based electrolytes are highly dependent on the denatruation processes of the protein. In this work, the REU student will find out the effects of the denaturation conditions on the ionic and mechanical properties of the protein-based solid electrolytes, characterize new solid polymer electrolytes by performing microscopic imaging, x-ray diffraction for molecular structure analysis, and AC impedance spectroscopy. The results will contribute to our understanding of the influence of the ratios of the components, type of lithium salt added, and processing techniques on the electrolyte structure and the role of these nanostructures on the ion conduction behavior of the new solid polymer electrolytes.

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