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 2024 is February 29, 2024. The program dates are May 28 to August 02, 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.
- $6,000 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; these projects may change).
- 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: Ji (Chem Eng), Zhao (Chem), Goriacheva (Chem Eng)
This project will immerse students in the world of nanomaterials synthesis and allow them to develop a broad set of high-demand research skills. Specifically, students will: gain hands-on experience with carbon dot synthesis via pyrolysis; practice several advanced spectroscopy techniques (optical spectrophotometry, dynamic light scattering, and time-resolved photoluminescence); and raise environmental awareness via repurposing industrial waste products for practical applications.
Mentors: Du (Chem), Kolodka (Chem Eng)
The project will enable involvement of two REU students working on the synthesis and characterization of (bio)degradable polymers from partially or wholly biobased monomers via catalytic approaches. These include polycarbonates, polyesters, poly(silyl ether)s, as well as their copolymers with multiple segments (e.g., polylactides-co-polyesters, polycarbonates-co-poly(silyl ether)s). Their chemical and thermo-mechanical properties will be characterized via various techniques including NMR spectroscopy, gel permeation chromatography, thermogravimetric analysis, and differential scanning calorimetry.
Mentors: Seames (Chem Eng), Kozliak (Chem)
In this project REU students will explore the use of common bacteria widely used in water treatment plants for balanced lipid/ carbohydrate production while treating wastewater. This will be accomplished using in-house 5-liter reactors that were originally built for microalgae. Bacteria will first be grown under “clean” conditions ideal for growth. The growth cycle will be defined during these tests (~ 10 days for algae). Next, the bacteria will be transitioned to bioreactors containing wastewater. The decrease in carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen in the wastewater over the growth cycle period will be measured. The lipids and carbohydrate content of the harvested bacteria will be determined.
Mentors: Seames (Chem Eng), Du (Chem)
In this project, REU students will help investigate a direct polycondensation process to eliminate the steps associated with lactide formation and purification. The key to achieving high molecular weight PLAs is continuous removal of the water by-product produced during polymerization using progressive vacuum and high temperatures in combination with a suitable catalyst. A lab-scale system will be setup and then initial polymerization experiments will be performed with model racemic lactic acid mixtures by varying reaction parameters including reaction temperature, reaction time, catalyst, and catalyst loading. The obtained polymers will be confirmed by NMR and GPC techniques and further characterized for their thermomechanical and physical properties. The goal is to demonstrate the feasibility of this polymerization method.
Mentors: Hou (Institute for Energy Studies), Ji (Chem Eng)
We developed an in-situ synthetic technology using Lignite-derived humic acid as the raw materials to prepare high-performance composite materials for LIBs. The preliminary test shows 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 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: Hoffmann (Chem), Kubatova (Chem)
REU students will use widely distributed computational chemistry software (e.g., Gaussian, GAMESS, NWChem) to perform density functional calculations and simple post-Hartree-Fock wave-function-based correlated (MP2) calculations on target compounds with constraints on positions of surrounding solvent molecules and/or parts of macromolecules. REU students will regularly meet with faculty and graduate students to ensure training and effective progress on the assigned tasks. Deliverables are the barrier heights of reactions, which will be converted to estimated kinetic rates using available transition state theory software.
Mentors: Kubatova (Chem), Simmons (Biology)
For initial investigation, bulk pollen will be used to complete all research tasks; the developed method will be applied to specific types of pollen and matched to DNA analysis to reveal characteristic markers. The specific activities include: 1) Evaluation of methods for dissolution/breakdown of sporopollenin, including acetolysis and thermal breakdown, which are at 1st stage of work monitored by microscopy; 2) Characterization of pollen fragments employing thermal desorption pyrolysis with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (TD-Pyr-GC-MS) w/wo derivatization. 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; 3) Use of DNA to identify the plant sources of atmospheric pollen. We expect the analysis will reveal characteristic identification profiles enabling fingerprinting in atmospheric samples; 4) (Aspirational) These “fingerprints” patterns will then be compared to those observed in air particulate matter samples collected during the harvest season in ND.
The students will learn the basics of wet chemistry and essential safety within research tasks. The first assessment of their work will be done with microscopy to observe physical breakage as shown in the figure, which is helpful, especially when many other aspects of the research project are abstract. GC-MS analysis will be done in collaboration with a graduate student providing essential technical support and training as has been done with previous REU and undergraduate students. The analytical and biological assays will be conducted by a team of two REU students, working in each lab, sharing their results, and jointly contributing to the overall outcome of the project.
Mentors: Chelmo (Mech Eng), Kubatova (Chem)
REU students will measure bulk activity coefficients using two different methods, followed by compiling the data into Ks measurements and comparison with literature data. 1) Determine desired chemical composition of aqueous aerosol bulk mimics. REU students will plan for making 16 sample solutions containing a pair of one electrolyte (NH4Br, NH4I, NH4HSO4, NaHSO4) and one organic (3-methylglutaric acid, 3-methyladipic acid, oxalic acid, levulinic acid). The salts affect the solubilities of the organic, and thermodynamic models such as AIOMFAC will be used to determine the appropriate concentration ratios of these electrolytes and organics; 2) Mix ternary solutions containing one electrolyte, one water-soluble organic, and water; 3) Measure Setschenow constants using shared headspace method with GC-MS analysis; 4) Measure constants using solid phase microextraction SPME with GC-MS analysis for negligible depletion; 5) Compile the data from Activities 3-4 and introduce it to the framework in Equation 1 to determine the empirical Setschenow constants for these systems; 6) (aspirational) Identify any trends or parameterization for these systems and check if it is consistent with literature parameterizations for systems that have been previously studied.
Mentors: Delene (Atm Sci), Fevig (Space Studies)
REU students will use 3D-printing technology to build instruments for balloon packages. Students have the opportunity to work with the open source hardware and software community to develop, test and deploy instruments and control systems. For example, students can work on adapting temperature, humidity and pressure measurement components of the 3D Printed Automatic Weather Station (3D-PAWS) for use on a balloon package system. Further activities include development of a package cut-down system and a Raspberry Pi based down-linking system. The software and hardware documentation of the developed equipment will be released in open repositories with a focus on material that can be used in an educational setting.
Mentors: Majdi (Atm Sci), Delene (Atm Sci)
The NSF-sponsored project, “RAPID: North Dakota Field Measurement Campaign to Improve Understanding of Fog Processes,” utilizes the Meteorological Observation Trailer to measure aerosol concentration along with concurrent meteorological data including wind parameters. REU students will obtain data from a CHORDS server and create visualization using a Grafana site. Students will conduct both case study analysis and statistical data analysis to investigate how changes in aerosol concentration relate to changes in wind parameters. Such relationships between wind parameters and aerosol concentration enable atmospheric chemical processes that affect aerosols, cloud droplet concentration, and fog formation to be inferred.
Mentors: Goriacheva (Chem Eng), Kozliak (Chem), Ji (Chem Eng)
In this project, REU students will carry out a sequence of chemical reactions to functionalize the surface of carbon nanodots with the purpose of 1) enhancing their photoluminescence response and 2) achieving long-term colloidal stability. To evaluate the outcome of performed functionalization, carbon dots will be analyzed with the help of several spectroscopy techniques. Upon completion of the project, students are projected to: gain substantial background in surface chemistry applied to carbon nanodots; design experiments and carry out surface reactions; become experienced users of Fourier-Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy; and learn to analyze and present data.
Mentors: Sui (Chem), Zhao (Chem)
This project is specifically designed for the REU program, and students will first synthesize new NIR BODIPY dyes based on the precursors made in the group, and then the absorption and fluorescence emission properties of the new dyes will be determined using a fluorescence spectrophotometer. Finally, these new fluorescent dyes will be incubated with cancer cells and imaged under a fluorescence microscope. Through the project, REU students will learn basic skills in organic chemistry and use them to make new substances, and gain knowledge spectroscopy and fluorescence chemistry as they determine the absorption and emission spectra of the dyes. In addition, students will get research experience in cellular biology while performing cell culture and cell imaging.