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Join us for our summer IREC Program in North Dakota!
How do I apply?
Prepare the materials to fill in applications. You will need to have:
- a transcript of your academic record to be uploaded or emailed (may be an unofficial copy)
- your top three projects of interest (from the list below)
- a brief narrative that discusses your interest in this program, and your long-term career goals
- contact information (name, E-mail and phone) and a letter of recommendation from at least one professional reference to be uploaded or emailed
Application deadline is March 31st 2018 or until the positions are filled.
Available research topics:
Lignin Thermal Decomposition
Mentors: Kozliak (Chemistry), Seames (Chem. Eng.)
This project depending on the interest will enable involvement two to three undergraduate students studying controlled lignin decomposition to monomer phenolics as an attractive option for production of renewable replacements of petrochemicals. The problem is that lignin decomposition results in the formation of a complex mixture of oligomers which are not amenable to a traditional GC analysis. In particular, lignin biochemical decomposition yields a poorly defined mixture of oligomers. An additional problem is that thermal lignin decomposition, e.g., in subcritical water, results not only in desired lignin depolymerization but also re-polymerization of oligomers to form more recalcitrant polymers. The team consisting of chemists as well as two engineers, biochemical and chemical, will direct the IREC students (whose number is dependent on the interest) focusing either on reaction mechanism, and/or reactor engineering (or both). Application of several methods of chemical analysis, e.g., thermal optical and thermal gravimetric analyses, linked to GC via online pyrolysis-GC, may provide adequate information on the product composition and lead to novel ideas on how to obtain a defined product mixture.
Slag Modeling in Combustion Systems
Mentors: Krishnamoorthy (Chem. Eng.), Hoffmann (Chemistry)
Proposed methods for mitigating the environmental impacts of electric power generation include the use of carbon capture and renewable fuels, but their effect on combustion system performance is uncertain. This project will enable involvement of 2 IREC students to improve our understanding of the slagging characteristics and the evolution of ash particle size distribution during air-firing as well as oxy-fired combustion/gasification of pulverized fuels and establish their relationship with the ash particle’s form of occurrence in the parent fuel. A fundamental understanding of slagging characteristics under alternative combustion conditions is vital to ensure their viability as energy sources under increasing environmental regulations. Numerical simulations of pulverized fuel combustion using a new Euler-Euler modeling framework aim to overcome limitations of current Euler-Lagrangian approaches and lead ultimately to the development of sub-models that can be readily integrated into Large Eddy Simulation codes that will become commonplace in the coming years. Simulations will be carried out with the assistance of a chemical engineer experienced in computational fluid dynamics modeling of combustion systems. A very high fidelity in the slag model inputs will be ensured by employing molecular dynamics simulations (carried out with the assistance of a chemist) for computing particle transport properties and existing in-house models for ash vaporization that incorporate information from Computer Controlled Scanning Electron Microscopy regarding the form of occurrence of ash particles.
Analysis and Concentration of Valuable Metals in Geothermal Waters
Mentors: Pierce (Chemistry), Mann (Chem. Eng.), Gosnold (Geol. and Geol. Eng.)
Geothermal waters are extracted from their underground locations during either hydrothermal heat production or petroleum exploration. These waters represent concentrated brines similar in composition to seawater, but they are also rich in silica, which abundantly precipitates upon cooling of such waters. This precipitate, which is currently considered as environmental nuisance, may selectively concentrate certain metals representing both a potential environmental concern and a potential source of “mining” valuable minerals. The team consisting of a chemist as well as two engineers will direct the IREC students involved in research targeting 1) screening/analysis of valuable metal ions [Co(II), Ni(II), rare-earth, etc.] in geothermal water, 2) their selective precipitation with silica and 3) possibility of their selective dissolution from the silica-based precipitate.
Synthesis of Lithium Iron Phosphate Cathode Materials for Lithium Ion Batteries
Mentors: Mann (Chem. Eng.), Hou (Petroleum Engineering)
Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries (LIBs) are among the most promising clean and renewable energy technologies. Of all LIBs, Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries LiFePO4 (LFP) are specifically interesting because of its intrinsic crystal structure and chemical stability that leads to excellent safety and superior long cycle life. Moreover, the low cost, environmentally benign and abundant sources of raw materials Fe and PO4 3- moieties facilitate its large scale applications. However, a major challenge with the LFP-based LIBs is the poor “batch-to-batch” consistency of electrochemical performance. It has been widely accepted that the poor “batch-to-batch” quality consistency of the cathode material LFP is the major cause of this issue. The goal of the project is to develop a low cost, reproducible, and environmentally benign synthetic method for LFP to be used as cathode materials in LIBs that is scalable for mass production. The IRES students working on this project will: 1) learn laboratory techniques of synthetic chemistry; 2) learn advanced materials characterization techniques such as X-ray diffractometer and Field-Emission Scanning Electron Microscope; and 3) gain some hands-on experience in Lithium battery assembly at the factory of the project sponsor.
Synthesis of Biodegradable Polymers from Renewable Resources
Mentors: Du (Chemistry), Kolodka (Chem. Eng.)
The project will enable involvement of two undergraduate students working on the synthesis and characterization of polylactides/polyesters/polycarbonates polymers and copolymers from partially or wholly biobased monomers. Given the limited long-term supply of petroleum resources and environmental concerns, the current practices of production and disposal of synthetic polymers are not sustainable, and require a shift toward renewable feedstocks. Additionally, simple homopolymers may have limited property profiles that prevent them from wider applications. This research will build on our previous work with a series of versatile zinc and aluminum catalysts that are effective for the opening polymerization of lactides and with alternating copolymerization of epoxides using carbon dioxide or cyclic anhydrides. The team of one chemist and one chemical engineer will direct the IREC students on the synthesis of block copolymers consisting of multi-segments (e.g., polylactides and polyesters) that are bio-derived, and the characterization of their mechanical and thermophysical properties via various spectroscopic and analytical techniques including gel permeation chromatography and differential scanning calorimetry. These efforts will provide interesting samples of block copolymers and may lead to new sustainable materials with promising properties.
Chemical Transport in Severe Storms
Mentors: Mullendore (Atmospheric Science), Bowman (Chem. Eng.),
Severe storms take in air from near the surface of the earth (“the boundary layer”) and transport them quickly to the upper atmosphere, often over 7 miles in altitude. Many atmospheric science field campaigns have flown through these plumes of enhanced boundary layer air at high altitudes. This project would help go through the campaign data to find and investigate cases of boundary layer air injected by big storms, both over the U.S. and over other parts of the globe. By plotting concentrations of certain chemicals against each other (and by determining their altitude relative to the tropopause), we can learn more about how chemical transport in deep convection works. This team will be advised by both atmospheric and chemical engineering faculty with expertise in severe storms and chemical transport.
Atmospheric Aerosol Chamber Experiments with Agricultural Emissions
Mentors: Bowman (Chem. Eng.), Kubatova (Chemistry), Delene (Atmospheric Science),
Agricultural operations emit particle and gas phase compounds that undergo reactions in the atmosphere. These emissions have the potential to alter particle concentrations and compositions, impacting air quality, visibility, and cloud formation. Experiments will be conducted in a laboratory aerosol chamber to study particle aging and gas-particle conversion processes. The system consists of an 8 m3 Teflon reaction chamber within a temperature controlled enclosure surrounded by UV lights to mimic solar radiation. Gas-phase crop emissions and particle emissions from farm equipment 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 a series of chamber experiments exploring the formation of secondary aerosol from different gas and particle mixtures.
Cloud Condensation Nuclei Measurements
Mentors: Delene (Atmospheric Science), Bowman (Chem. Eng.)
Cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) are particles that water vapor condenses onto to form cloud droplets. The size and chemistry of a particle determines if it will act as a CCN for a droplet at a particular supersaturation environment. The concentration of CCN are very important in precipitation formation processes. On-going research projects use CCN counters to conduct aircraft, surface and chamber measurements. In collaboration with these projects students will learn how to conduct CCN measurements, analyze CCN measurements along with other aerosol and cloud measurements, and conduct laboratory calibration of CCN counters. Interpretation of aerosol measurements will focus on understanding the impact of aerosol chemistry on particle hygroscopicity and CCN behavior, e.g., differences between inorganic (ammonium sulfate) and organic carbon (exhaust emissions), and on CCN instrument performance.
Synthesis of Standards Necessary for Identification of Organic Compounds Produced during Lignin Degradation
Mentors: Smoliakova, Kozliak, Kubatova (Chemistry)
Lignin is the most abundant biopolymer, which can be isolated from wood in very large amounts. Molecules of lignin have various and quite complex structures; however, major structural units appear to be tri- and tetra-substituted cross-linked phenols. Raw lignin and products of its decomposition have a number of applications. However, only a limited number of organic compounds formed during lignin decomposition have been positively identified. Application of common analytical tools for identification of lignin degradation products often provides important but incomplete information about their exact structure. Therefore, it is important to synthesize a number of standards in order to compare their spectral properties with those of lignin decomposition products. The student working on this project will learn techniques used by synthetic organic chemists as well as those used in analytical laboratories.
Calibration of Air Quality Monitoring Instrument
Mentors: Delene (Atmospheric Science), Bowman (Chem. Eng.)
Poor air quality impacts human health and can result in premature death. Accurate measurements of particular matter (PM) and important atmospheric gases (ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides) are important for understanding, modeling and forecasting air quality. A summer project will focus on the calibration of air quality instruments (particulate matter sampler, ozone analyzer, sulfur dioxide analyzer, and nitrogen oxides analyzer). Performance checks will be conducted to determine if instruments are operating within their quoted uncertainties. Quality assurance procedures will be established to ensure the collected data is suitable for analysis.
Modeling Proteins Important for Environmental Chemistry and Epigenetic Gene Regulation
Mentors: Kathryn Thomasson (Chemistry), Turk Rhen, Rebecca Simmons, and Diane Darland (Biology)
The polycomb group protein complexes (PRC1 and PRC2) can remodel chromatin structure at the histone level, allowing for heritable shifts in gene transcription independent of changes in DNA sequence. These proteins are important for many aspects of embryonic development, including cell fate determination. Epigenetic modifications to the genome can occur in response to a variety of environmental factors (e.g., temperature, toxins, etc.). Being able to understand the structures of the proteins in the polycomb group complexes is crucial to understanding their individual and collective function, particularly in response to environmental factors. Working with the primary sequences of a large number of polycomb complex proteins, structural models can be generated via homology modeling so that a variety of the properties of the three-dimensional structures can best tested and explored. Simulations may include predicting circular dichroism (an aid to following the dynamic nature of protein structures) or Brownian dynamics to predict intermolecular interactions between different important biological molecules (e.g., members of the complex, small molecules, or DNA). This research lies at the intersection of chemistry, computer modeling, and developmental biology and is a great opportunity for students to learn protein modeling, to test a variety of locally developed algorithms, and to become involved in computer algorithm development.
Website for Atmospheric Air Quality Monitor Laboratory
Mentors: Delene (Atmospheric Science), Bowman (Chem. Eng.), Kubatova (Chemistry)
Poor air quality impacts human health and can result in premature death. Monitoring particular matter (PM) and important atmospheric gases (Ozone, Sulfur Dioxide, and Nitrogen Oxides) are important for understanding, modeling and forecasting air quality. A summer project will focus on the setup of a Website that provides continuous data from the air quality instruments setup in the Clifford Hall 430 lab in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Automatic data handling will be used to process, analyze and make available measurements from the air quality lab in real-time. Analysis will be conducted to compare the lab's measurements to the North Dakota network of monitoring sites.
Bio-based dielectric substrate based on sunflower seed shells for radio frequency antenna
Ali S. Alshami ( Chem Eng.) and Sima Noghanian (Mech Eng.)
North Dakota currently leads the nation in sunflower seeds production with over 45 percent of total US production. Shells or husks of sunflower seeds are a waste by-product from the industrial processing of edible oil. Bio-based composite plastics based on the shells of sunflower seeds offer an innovative, less expensive, and more sustainable alternative biomaterial to plastics produced purely from petroleum derivatives. In addition to the benefits of lower carbon footprint and reducing dependency on fossil fuels, bio-based plastics have proven themselves to be comparable to those of conventional petroleum-based plastics in terms of their physical and engineering properties. Bio-based materials are an innovative technology, one in which the US (particularly the Midwest region) has a well-established position to build upon and further development of bio-based materials can contribute to significant resource reduction and reliance on other synthetic materials. Hence, in this research we are investigating use sunflower seed shells as a starting material for producing a bio-based dielectric substrate to be used in a biodegradable radio frequency (RF) antenna. This is an innovative and a potential breakthrough in the emerging field of biomaterials for this particular intended application since developments so far seem to be exclusively limited to wood and wood-like fiber products. Our primary aim is to further improve the already existing natural fiber-reinforced plastics, and more particularly to reduce their costs in the production of the starting dielectric materials used for RF and microwave circuitry.