Interdisciplinary Renewable and Environmental Collaborative REU 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 2019 application is Feb. 28, 2019. The program dates are June 3 to August 9, and are flexible to accommodate different college schedules.
Who are we looking for?
- 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students
- Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Atmospheric Science majors
What are we offering?
- 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
How do I apply?
Prepare the materials to fill in application. 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
Available research topics:
Mentors: Ji (Chem Eng), Kozliak (Chemistry), Sun (North American Green Pulp, Inc.)
Researchers have found that nitrogenous humic fertilizer can be produced by the oxidation of lignite coal. According to North Dakota Geological Survey, North Dakota has an estimated 25 billion tons of economically mineable coal, which will last over 800 years at the current consumption rate of 32 million tons per year. North Dakota also generates huge amount of agricultural waste annually such as wheat straw, corn stover and sunflower hulls. Fertilizers from biomass waste will be renewable and sustainable for the economic growth of our state. In this project, we will oxidize lignite into an acidic mixture and process the agricultural waste into an alkaline stream. Then, the two streams will be mixed to produce near neutral pH organic/inorganic fertilizer. Dr. Yun Ji (Chemical Engineering Department), Dr. Evguenii Kozliak (Chemistry Department) will co-advise the students who will be working on this project. Dr. Hua Sun (North American Green Pulp, Inc.) will provide technical support in the conversion of agricultural waste into using chemical streams.
Mentors: Kubatova (Chemistry), Delene (Atm Sci), Bowman (Chem Eng)
Atmospheric particulate matter consists of both solid and liquid particles within the atmosphere. These particles can contain high levels of both organic carbon and elemental carbon and are known to have an effect on the public’s overall health as well as the radiation balance of Earth’s atmosphere. To understand the impact of these particles the total carbon content and chemical speciation of particulate matter can be determined using thermal optical analysis (TOA) and thermal desorption – pyrolysis – gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (TD-pyr-GC/MS), respectively. The TOA instrumentation allows for the determination of the percentage of organic and elemental carbon that make up the total carbon fraction of particulate matter. TD-pyr-GC/MS uses a unique analysis technique that allows for the speciation of the carbonaceous fraction of particulate matter. For this project, REU students with accompanying graduate student mentors will conduct air sampling and analyze atmospheric particulate matter collected during the summer months in Grand Forks, ND. The students will get to work with a bevy of instrumentation and develop an understanding of instrument calibration, analytical techniques, and measurements that together allow for a comprehensive picture of these particles in our atmosphere.
Mentors: Wayne Seames (Chem Eng), Alena 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: Kubatova (Chemistry), Kozliak (Chemistry), Ji (Chem Eng)
Lignin is viewed among the most promising potential sources of bio-renewable materials as the third most abundant biomass component accounting for up to 30% of biomass feedstocks, with its global production reaching 1.1 million metric tons per year. However being the most resilient of the three main feedstocks, lignin conversion into high-value chemicals presents a significant challenge in terms of yield, efficiency and selectivity. One of the notorious problems is with the analysis of lignin. GC, the “workhorse” of the modern organic chemical analysis, is applicable only to a small volatile fraction of this material. Furthermore, whenever lignin is attempted to be broken down into smaller fragments, either thermally (with a variety of catalysts) or biologically, a significant product fraction, phenolic oligomers, is not GC-elutable either. Drs. A. Kubatova and Kozliak (UND Chemistry), in collaboration with Dr. Yun Ji (UND Chem. Engineering), have developed a comprehensive suite of methods to analyze all lignin and lignin decomposition product fractions including thermal carbon analysis, GC, multistep GC-Pyr (with online thermal evolution), LC-GPC (gel permeation chromatography, for MW distribution analysis), and 31P-NMR (in collaboration with Dr. I. Smoliakova, UND Chemistry). We have started some applications of this method to biological and thermal lignin degradation but this work will continue with REU students who will learn multiple chemical analysis techniques in application to renewable materials.
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 two perspectives. On the one hand, students will synthesize (bio)degradable polymers from partially or wholly biobased monomers via catalytic approaches. These include polycarbonates, polyesters, polysilylethers, as well as their copolymers. 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. On the other hand, students will explore photo-based strategies that can accelerate the degradation of polymers including both biodegradable and non-biodegradable polymers.
Mentors: Wayne Seames (Chem Eng), Dan Laudal and Xiaodong Hou (Institute for Energy Studies), Steve Nordeng (Geology)
Rare earth elements (REEs) have been identified by the United States Geological Survey as critical mineral commodities. New reliable, economic and environmentally suitable domestic REE resources must be realized. REEs have been found in concentrations that may be viable for recovery and purification in geologically young organic sediments (i.e. coals and crude oils), yet not in all sources. While there are hypotheses about why REEs are found in certain coals and crudes, no systematic study has been performed that would allow resource extractors to forecast where viable REE concentrations are found. In this project, the student will study selected core organic sediment samples to increase our understanding of REE geological distributions from Williston basin geological strata. The student will work with the geologists to identify a suite of samples to study, with the chemical engineers to learn how to dissolve the inorganic minerals out of the coal, and then learn and use a graphite furnace atomic adsorption spectrometer to determine the concentration of one or more target rare earth elements from the dissolved samples.
Mentors: Nasah (Institute for Energy Studies) and Mann (Chem Eng)
Chemical Looping Combustion (CLC) is a promising power generation technology where Carbon Dioxide from fossil fuel combustion can be easily captured for storage or utilization. It consists of using a metal oxide such as Hematite (rust) as an oxygen carrier that “loops” oxygen between an air reactor and a fuel reactor. This ensures that fuels such as coal can be combusted in a Nitrogen-free environment to produce a pure, capture-ready stream of Carbon Dioxide. However, several challenges need to be overcome before the technology is ready for commercialization, with the biggest ensuring complete conversion of solid fuels. Solid fuel combustion in CLC involves a solid-solid reaction between the fuel and oxygen carrier at moderate temperatures when compared to current technology. This results in Kinetic and mass transfer challenges which need to be addressed. At UND, research is currently ongoing to overcome these limitations through development of more effective oxygen carriers and reactor vessels. In this project, REU students will assist with designing, procuring and testing multiple bench and laboratory scale systems. They will learn about important chemical engineering principles such as kinetics, transport phenomena and thermodynamics viewed through a CLC lens.
Mentors: Xiaodong Hou (Institute for Energy Studies) and Guodong Du (Chemistry)
The overall goal of this project is to develop novel polycarbonate-based electrolytes for all solid-state Li-ion batteries (LIBs). The dominant electrolyte in todays’ commercial LIBs is a liquid solution of lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6) dissolved in a mixture of cyclic and linear organic carbonates (e.g., ethylene carbonate (EC), ethyl methyl carbonate (EMC)). The extreme flammability of those carbonate-based solvents and the sensitivity of LiPF6 to moisture are causing great challenges in safety and the cycling life at elevated temperatures that are stilling the main barriers for applications in Electric Vehicles (EVs). All Solid-state battery with a solid electrolyte is debatably the next generation of Li-ion battery as it is expected to be a fundamental solution to the safety issue. This collaborative work will capitalize Dr. Du’s expertise in polymer synthetic chemistry and Dr. Hou’s experience in LIBs. REU students working on this collaborative project will: 1) learn laboratory techniques of synthetical chemistry; 2) learn advanced materials characterization techniques such as NMR and DSC; and 3) gain hands-on experience in Lithium battery assembly and electrochemical performance testing.
Mentors: Mann (Chem Eng) and Hou (Institute for Energy Studies)
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 materials to prepare high-performance composite materials for LIBs. The resulting batteries is expected to 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: Julia Zhao (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 low 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)
The overall goal of this project is to conduct life cycle analysis evaluating the environmental impacts of various biofuel pathways that could be viable in North Dakota. Focus will be spent on modelling biochemical and thermochemical conversion of agricultural residues (i.e. corn stover, sugar beet pulp, straw), along with the production of energy crops (i.e corn, canola, soy) to biofuels. These pathways will be compared to current fossil fuel production, as well as evaluating the indirect effects of land use change from food to fuel crops. Environmental impacts that will be evaluated are: greenhouse gas emissions, eutrophication, acidification and water usage.
Mentors: Bowman (Chem Eng), Delene (Atm Sci), Kubatova (Chemistry)
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, IREC students will help perform a series of experiments exploring the formation of secondary aerosol from different gas and particle mixtures. Chemical analysis of collected samples will include gas chromatographic/mass spectrometric characterization using either direct injection or thermal desorption with pyrolysis and will be used to compare measured and predicted changes in particle size and CCN behavior.
Mentors: Mullendore and Delene (Atm Sci)
Fog has a large impact on transportation and affects atmospheric composition due to the oxidation of sulfur that occurs in the aqueous phase. Fog occurs approximately 8 % of the time during February and March in Grand Fork, North Dakota and the surrounding area (Red River Valley). During the 2019 winter, a suit of surface instruments made measurements to improve our understanding of fog. The droplet size distribution during fog events was measured by a Droplet Measurement Technologies Fog Monitor (Model FM-120). During this project, measurements will be combined with weather model forecasts to understand the occurrence of fog.
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.