Interdisciplinary Renewable and Environmental Collaborative REU Program
Research Experience for Undergraduates Program
This National Science Foundation supported Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program gives research opportunities to undergraduate students with priority to first generation college students and students from tribal colleges and other primarily undergraduate institutions. Participants work alongside UND faculty and students on interdisciplinary summer research projects at the intersection of chemistry, chemical engineering, and atmospheric sciences. Students also receive training in science communication and community outreach.
The deadline for Summer 2022 is February 28, 2022. The program dates are May 31 to August 05, and are flexible to accommodate different college schedules.
REU program applicants must be:
- 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students
- Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Atmospheric Science, or related majors
REU Program Benefits
- On-campus housing and meal plan.
- $5,000 stipend for the ten-week research experience.
- Unique exposure to scientific approaches from two or more different disciplines.
- Travel reimbursement opportunities.
Prepare the materials to fill in the REU application. You will need to prepare:
- 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.
Available REU Research Topics
Mentors: Seames (Chem Eng), Kubatova (Chemistry)
This project will look at the impact of solvent polarity on the quality of extracted materials from micro algae. The objective is to determine if changing the polarity of the solvent can lead to a higher, more specific recovery of lipids (oils used for renewable fuels) with lower concentrations of carbohydrates and pigments. Your work will support the work of a graduate student and use that student’s microalgae resources and solvents to conduct the study. It will involve running extraction experiments with solvent mixtures to adjust polarity and then analyzing the samples using high pressure liquid chromatography and other analytical techniques to determine the quality of the extracted samples.
Mentors: Seames (Chem Eng), Kubatova (Chem), Ji (Chem Eng)
The cellulose and hemi-cellulose in plants can be converted into sugars which can then be reacted to produce levulinic and lactic acids. Lactic acid is used to produce polylactic acid (PLA) which is an important biodegradable plastic. In previous work, the high levels of conversion into lactic acid achieved with model compounds were not realized when reacting an actual microalgae sample. We postulate two possible causes, the catalyst-to-sugars ratio or the presence of inhibiting compounds in the extracted carbohydrates. In this project, you will explore these two hypotheses in a series of laboratory experiments and hopefully demonstrate that high concentrations of lactic acid can be achieved.
Mentors: Kubatova (Chemistry), Kozliak (Chemistry)
Lignin, a carbon rich renewable resource, is regarded as an auspicious sustainable raw material for manufacturing organic products. However, lignin decomposition, either thermal or biochemical, proved to be challenging. Therefore, selection of process breakdown conditions and additives is critically important for achieving efficient lignin decomposition. Conducting this process in various media e.g., different pH, in presence of biomass and/or subcritical (hot pressurized) water, requires careful experimentation with significant logistics and safety precautions. The bottleneck is the analysis of lignin conversion products, because phenolic oligomers are too large to be GC-elutable. Thus, developing a method of quick catalyst/process condition screening is desired. We propose to simplify the protocol by using lignin model compounds instead of lignin, i.e., phenolic dimers containing a target link to be cleaved. Several dimers will be tested under varied conditions promoting hydrolytic, oxidative and reductive cleavage of ether and C-C bonds. Suitable product analysis protocols will be developed. The student will be working with modern chemical analysis instrumentation and receive training in accurate and comprehensive data processing.
Mentors: Du (Chemistry), Kolodka (Chem. Eng.)
Synthetic polymers are indispensable in our modern society, yet the current reliance on petroleum resources and the persistence of plastic wastes in the environment have required new strategies such as a shift toward renewable feedstock, (bio)degradable materials, and accelerated degradations. The team of one chemist and one chemical engineer will direct the IREC students to tackle the issue from multiple perspectives. On the one hand, students will synthesize (bio)degradable polymers from partially or wholly biobased monomers via catalytic approaches. These include polyesters, polycarbonates, poly(silyl ether)s, as well as their copolymers. On the other hand, novel polymer architectures such as cyclic and brush type polymers will be constructed to explore their unique properties and potential applications. Special attention will be given to functionalized polymers that are stimuli-responsive or self-healable. Their thermo-mechanical properties will be characterized via various spectroscopic and analytical techniques such as gel permeation chromatography, differential scanning calorimetry, and dynamic mechanical analysis.
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng), Delhommelle (Chemistry)
Membrane units can be used in numerous processes. The application area can range from purification or recovery of gas streams to ion separation in contaminated water. For better control and management of the membrane fabrication process and minimizing the technical risk, it is essential that computational models be used. The idea of the current work is to develop a machine learning (ML) algorithm by using big data for comparing more than 1000 polymers and predict the best composition for membranes. By this means, better and more reliable formulations can be implemented without the need for time-consuming experimental and pilot studies by using an accurate machine-learning algorithm. ML techniques will help us to test all the materials that exist for a particular application and find the materials that combine the best characteristics to come up with the best possible performance.
Mentors: Hou (Institute for Energy Studies) and Korom (Engineering)
Estimating reactive ferrous iron [Fe(II)] concentrations in the environment is an important research topic, particularly for reactions involving a transfer of electrons (“redox” reactions). Current methods to measure Fe(II) range from complete digestion of earth materials in hydrofluoric acid to limiting analysis to the fraction of Fe(II) that is easily cycled biogeochemically in soils. While the former method is expensive, requires specialized laboratory equipment, and is dangerous; the latter method is simpler, but focuses on soil environments. We are developing a Fe(II) index that is relatively simple, uses hydrochloric acid, and will be tested using geologic mineral standards (such as fayalite, augite, siderite, and magnesite), rather than soils. Our mineral standards have been collected from localities around the world, such as Elba Island, Italy; Kakanui, New Zealand; Itabira, Brazil; and Ivigtut, Greenland; and include samples of specimens housed in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Participating research undergraduates will work in our Environmental Analytical Research Laboratory (EARL) and will gain hands-on experience with our analytical equipment, such as the ICP-OES (inductively coupled plasma – optical emission spectrometer).
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng) and Du (Chemistry)
Water is a critical element for the oil and gas industry in the US, since high amount is injected during hydraulic fracking. The injected water mixes with the formation water and returns as a flow-back water containing scale, toxic, and harmful ions and substances. The objective of the project is to develop formulations for fracking water treatment, specifically for scaling ions, toxic element, and harmful substance removal. The synthesis will be based on redox-initiator free radical polymerization technique. The tasks will be: 1) running the grafting chemical reactions, 2) optimizing the reaction conditions (temperature, concentration, etc…) to achieve the highest yield, 3) performance evaluation towards ions, toxic substance removal as well as scaling and metal corrosion inhibition.
Mentors: Hou (Institute for Energy Studies) and Mann (Chem Eng)
The overall goal of this project is to develop a low-cost synthetic procedure to prepare graphene-based composite materials for Li-ion batteries (LIBS). Since its discovery in 2004, the first 2D material--graphene has been considered an ideal material to make composite electrodes to improve the overall performance of LIBs because of its high charge carrier mobility (200,000 cm2V-1s-1), high theoretical surface area (2630 m2g-1), a broad electrochemical window, and other remarkable properties. However, the existing research on the preparation of such composite electrodes requires the synthesis of graphene in advance, which severely inhibits its practical applications, as cost-effective production of graphene at large scale is still a big challenge. We developed an in-situ synthetic technology using Lignite-derived humic acid as the raw material to prepare high-performance composite materials for LIBs. Preliminary tests show the composite electrode materials have much better electrochemical performance than market ones. REU students working on this project will: 1) learn laboratory techniques of synthetic chemistry; 2) learn advanced materials characterization techniques with instruments 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.
Mentors: Zhao (Chemistry), Du (Chemistry)
In bioscience, current bioanalysis and bioimaging mainly utilize visible fluorescent materials. However, in the visible region, the auto-fluorescence and absorption of radiation from biosamples are significant while the penetration of radiation into samples is superficial due to light scattering. These limitations result in low sensitivity and prevent access to inner structural information. In contrast, the near Infrared (NIR) region favors low background signals and deeper penetration of radiation. Therefore, biological samples under NIR conditions have low auto-fluorescence, absorption, and scattering. Nonetheless, challenges for traditional NIR fluorescent probes remain; namely, low signal intensity, poor water solubility and overlap of excitation and emission bands. To overcome these challenges, we are aiming to develop new NIR florescent nanomaterials. Given the unique advantages of the new graphene nanomaterials, such as tunable emission wavelengths, the super large surface area and the light weight (its density is two times of hydrogen), we are developing intense fluorescent and wavelength tunable graphene-based NIR fluorescent nanomaterials. These nanomaterials could be used to label target cells and tissues with high sensitivity.
Mentors: Klemetsrud (Chem Eng) and Kubatova (Chemistry)
The overall goal of this project is to conduct a life cycle analysis evaluating the environmental impacts of deriving transportation fuels and chemicals from the fast pyrolysis (i.e chemical recycling) of plastic waste. This research will aid in determining process conditions and optimizations of fast pyrolysis being conducted in Dr. Kubatova’s lab. These pathways will be compared to current fossil fuel production, and environmental impacts associated with plastic waste. Fossil carbon counting will be of importance in this research due to the fact that plastic when landfilled, emits carbon slowly as it decomposes over 500+ years. Comparison of transportation fuels derived from virgin oil streams and chemical recycling plastic pyrolysis oil will be compared in terms of GHG usage, landfill, water quality, and evaluated economically as well.
Mentors: Klemetsrud (Chem Eng) and Kubatova (Chemistry)
This work aims to determine the rates of primary reactions that occur during fast pyrolysis. Fast pyrolysis is the thermochemical conversion of solid materials into a pyrolysis oil that can be used as a fuel oil or upgraded into other high value fuels and chemicals. Much is unknown about the primary mechanisms that occur in the thermochemical degradation of plastic waste. This work will look at understanding and quantifying the time and temperature dependence of fast pyrolysis. This project will focus heavily on method development using a micro pyrolysis unit coupled with a GCMS. Various plastic feedstocks will be studied along with mixtures that are representative of municipal plastic waste.
Mentors: Kubatova (Chemistry), Simmons (Biology)
There is currently great interest in the biological components of atmospheric particles. For example, bacteria may be an essential source of ice nuclei, which enhances the concentration of ice particles in clouds. As part of ongoing research projects investigating air particulate matter, we want to understand the role of pollen as atmospheric particles. This research project will focus on the characterization of common sources of pollen, employing thermal desorption pyrolysis with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (TD-Pyr-GC-MS). We will also use DNA to identify the plant sources of atmospheric pollen. We expect the analysis will reveal characteristic identification profiles enabling fingerprinting in atmospheric samples. These “fingerprints” pattern then be compared to those observed in air particulate matter samples collected during the harvest season at North Dakota. The student will learn to operate TD-Pyr-GC-MS, employ suitable sample preparation methods, and evaluate GC-MS data using mass spectrometric data library and mass spectra interpretation.
Mentors: David Delene (Atm Sci) and Marwa Majdi (Atm Sci)
Fog is a high-impact weather hazard resulting from complex chemical and meteorological processes that cause serious disruptions to road traffic, marine transport, and especially aviation operations. The main impact of fog is visibility reduction that results in financial damages, severe road accidents, devastating aviation disasters, and loss of lives. Therefore, improved understanding of fog formation processes has broad societal impacts since such knowledge will result in improved models that enable a more reliable and efficient transportation system. Such improvements are especially critical for deployment of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in transportation since flights need to be near the ground and out of sight of the operator. Accurate atmospheric conditions help to ensure safe and effective deployment of UAS platforms.
Observations from National Science Foundation sponsored project entitle, “RAPID: North Dakota Field Measurement Campaign to Improve Understanding of Fog Processes” obtained measurements during the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. Measurements are obtain from the Meteorological Observation Trailer deploy to the Fargo airport, which include both aerosol (condensation particle counter and cloud condensation particle counter) measurements along with concurrent meteorological measurements that included wind parameters. Data from the meteorological observational trailer are available via a CHORDS website and time series visualization is available via a Grafana website.
The project’s objective is to conduct both case study analysis and overall statistical analysis of changes in aerosol concentration as related to changes in wind parameters. The change in surface wind speed, wind direction, and the vertical component of wind is related to aerosol changes. Such changes between wind parameters and aerosol concentration enables atmospheric chemical processes to be inferred that impart the affect aerosols and cloud droplet concentration, which impact fog formation.
Mentors: Delene (Atm Sci) and Mahmood (Geology)
Mercury emitted into the atmosphere can travel thousands of kilometers before being deposited to the earth’s surface by rainfall. Mercury impacts human health since methylmercury builds up in fish that are consumed. There are several mercury deposition stations across the United States, including one in Burke, North Dakota. The use of three dimensional (3D) printing enables building a low cost system to obtain rainfall measurements that can be analyzed for mercury concentration. The department of Atmospheric Sciences has build a 3D Printed Automatic Weather Station (3D-PAWS) as part of the Measurement Systems class during the Fall 2018 semester. This project will adapt the tipping bucket component of the 3D-PAWS system for the collection of water samples for mercury analysis. The project will develop and test the rainfall collection system. Mercury concentrations in rainfall will be compared to snow-pack and river water concentrations.
Mentors: Delene (Atm Sci) and Fevig (Space Studies)
Balloons are a critical platform for obtaining atmospheric measurements in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere. The University of North Dakota (UND) owns a Graw Radiosonde station and conducts balloon flights with several different instrument packages. Recently, a NASA funded, student led project to develop, build, and launch a thermosonde to measure optical turbulence was conducted at UND. The use of three dimensional (3D) printing enables building low cost instruments capable of making research quality measurements. The Department of Atmospheric Sciences has build a 3D Printed Automatic Weather Station (3D-PAWS) as part of the Measurement Systems class during the Fall 2018 semester. This project will adapt the temperature, humidity and pressure measurement components of the 3D-PAWS for use on a balloon package system. A system for down-linking data from the Raspberry Pi to a ground station will be developed, tested and utilized. The software and 3D models of the system will be released in open repositories.
Mentors: Krishnamoorthy (Chem Eng), Hoffmann (Chemistry)
The Department of Energy and the Power Industry have made significant investments towards the research and development of post-combustion carbon capture technology. These have primarily been on three main technologies: adsorption, absorption and membranes. While each of these technologies have energy and techno-economic advantages and disadvantages, uncertainties in the modeling methodologies employed to represent these processes constitute a significant roadblock towards the design and scale up of these processes to handle the range of conditions that may be encountered during commercial operations. On the molecular level, these uncertainties may stem from thermodynamic and kinetic sub-models to accurately represent the response of a solvent or a membrane. On the macroscopic level, models to adequately represent the multiphase flow characteristics in a scrubber or the mass transfer properties such as selectivity, gas permeability, and pressure drop across a membrane are required. To bridge these knowledge gaps, this project will carry out high-fidelity, first-principle modeling (Chemistry) in conjunction with Computational Fluid Dynamics (Chemical Engineering) based modeling of these systems to develop high fidelity sub-models for thermodynamics and kinetics, heat and mass transfer, and hydrodynamics that will be validated by comparisons against published experimental data in the peer reviewed literature.
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng), Du (Chemistry)
Membrane distillation (MD) is a separation process where a micro-porous hydrophobic membrane separates two aqueous solutions at different temperatures. The hydrophobicity of the membrane prevents mass transfer of the liquid, whereby a gas-liquid interface is created. The separation phenomenon can be described using the sweeping gas in a counterflow to a liquid feed in a plate-and-frame membrane module. Henceforth, work is needed via numerically solving coupled systems of equations involving heat, mass, and momentum transport through the membrane.
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng), Delhommelle (Chemistry)
Emerging membrane-based separation techniques such as reverse osmosis (RO) and forward osmosis (FO) are continually and progressively showing improvements in performance in water desalination processes. These membranes, nevertheless, still suffer from low productivity and serious performance defects. To fully realize the optimal performance of such membranes and to develop a successful defects-mitigating strategies, a better understanding of the role of physical parameters in fluid and mass transfer in the membrane and within the porous medium is very much needed. Hence, a miniature project can be developed to numerically investigate the analytical solution for flow in multiscale porous support to probe the structural parameters (e.g., porosity) on the velocity profile.
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng), Dhasarathy (Biomedical Sciences)
Biomaterial scaffolds are a promising approach for delivering therapeutic agents like proteins, growth factors, drugs, etc… However, developing an ideal scaffold is still challenging due to critical limitations in terms of biomaterials properties and manufacturing techniques. Here, we work on using advanced fabrication techniques to produce porous, biocompatible, and biodegradable composite scaffolds for bone tissue engineering. We aim to use these scaffolds as drug-delivery platforms to release therapeutic agents locally into the bone defected sites in order to improve their regeneration mechanisms performance.
Mentors: Van der Watt (Institute for Energy Studies) and Krishnamoorthy (Chem Eng)
Hydrogen can be produced from the decomposition of hydrocarbons, like methane, without the formation of carbon oxides. This process represents a highly favorable route for hydrogen production compared to industrial methods based predominantly on steam-methane reforming. Without the use of catalysts, the methane decomposition reaction needs to be performed at about 2200 ˚F. However, with the use of catalysts, the operating temperature can be decreased to 930 – 1500 ˚F. Unfortunately, these catalysts become deactivated due to carbon forming on them, and this deactivation leads to decreased hydrogen production. UND researchers are developing a cleaning method to remove carbon deposits from the catalysts using an electromagnetic energy-assisted mechanism. As part of this cleaning technology, the catalyst must be formulated and prepared into a suitable shape to maximize the cleaning effect. REU students working on this project will:
- Learn how to prepare catalysts using different experimental techniques
- Learn advanced material characterization skills using a thermogravimetric analyzer to study the changes in physical and chemical properties of the materials at different temperatures and gas compositions.
- Determine what conditions and types of catalysts favor the formation of easily removable carbon
- Gain an understanding of thermocatalytic reactions that apply to numerous industries
Mentors: Alshami (Chem Eng), Delhommelle (Chemistry)
Ultrathin nanoscale porous membranes present a great potential for proteins separation and purification. Their performance, however, remains limited due to the rapid fouling and low capacity, especially in the normal flow filtration (NFF). A key obstacle to overcoming the fouling and low capacity issues is a better understanding of the mechanism controlling the formation of the cake layer on the surface of the membrane and its consequences on the transmembrane resistance to flow. Therefore, a targeted, miniature study is needed to determine the steady-state value of the cake resistance as a function of membrane and flow parameters and protein concentrations.