University of Notre Dame – iSURE Program(International Summer Undergraduate Research Experience)

The University of Notre Dame's International Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (iSURE) provides opportunities for undergraduate students from select international universities to participate in science and engineering research at the University of Notre Dame. The iSURE program provides students with valuable hands-on research and helps students nurture their academic passion and identify future paths in academics and career.

Students will work closely with Notre Dame faculty and graduate students on a variety of current research projects. The summer program not only provides each student direct experience with a specific project but also offers students important exposure to other areas of science and engineering research.

This program is available to students from select universities that have made special arrangements with the University of Notre Dame.

2013 Program Details

Program Dates:

  • Arrival in South Bend, IN--Monday, July 1, 2013
  • Departure from the University--August 17, 2013

Housing: On-campus accommodation in residence halls provided by the University of Notre Dame for the duration of the program. Students will be rooming with other iSURE students.

Meals: Students who receive the full program support will receive a full meal plan. Students who recieve partial support will pay for their own meals.

Health Insurance: University of Notre Dame will provide health insurance to students for the duration of the program.

Visas: The University of Notre Dame’s Immigration Services Office will issue the invitation letters required to process B-1 visas. In accordance with U.S. immigration laws regarding B-1 visas, the invitation letter will note that the students will engage in independent research with a member of the Notre Dame faculty. The letters will also state that the research conducted at Notre Dame will not fulfill a requirement of the student's degree at home institution nor receive credits from the University of Notre Dame. Students will be responsible for paying for the visa application fees.

Airfare: Airfare will be the responsibility of the student’s home institution. University of Notre Dame will provide airport pickup on July 1 at the South Bend Regional Airport. Students will be responsible for the airport return on August 17.

Cost: Selected students will either receive full program support or partial support from the University of Notre Dame and their home institution. Students who receive full support will only need to pay for their visa application fees (approximately US$150). Students who receive partial support will need to pay for the visa application fees and the meal plan at the University of Notre Dame (approximately $800). All students should bring money for personal spending, such as phone, laundry, activities outside school, etc.

Orientation and Services: The University of Notre Dame’s International Office will provide students with an orientation upon their arrival and provide additional program assistance.

Status: The students will be registered as non-credit (receiving) undergraduate research assistants. In order to have campus IDs that allow them to use the university’s facilities, they will need to be registered into 0-credit research course.

Application Process: Students should review the projects listed below and complete the online application by Monday, March 4, 2013. Please direct questions regarding the application process to Miranda Ma in the Notre Dame Asia Office in Beijing:

Description of Research Projects available for iSURE 2013

Important Dates:

  • January 2013: Announce program to students
  • March 4, 2013: Student application deadline
  • March 20, 2013: Selection notifications
  • March 29, 2013: Student confirmations
  • April 8, 2013: Visa application letters issued
  • April-May 2013: Confirm arrival flight, room & board, registration
  • Selected students are required to start technical discussions with their Notre Dame research advisors as soon as the selection process is completed
  • July 1, 2013: Airport pickup from South Bend Regional Airport
  • July 2, 2013: On-campus orientation, and welcome
  • July 3- August 16, 2013: Research Program
  • August 17, 2013: Departure from campus

Below please find the description of Research Projects available for iSURE 2013. You can apply for multiple projects, but please limit the number of the applied projects within three. You can save, exit, continue and submit your application before Monday, March 4, 2013 with created username and password. Please follow instructions on the application. Please note once the application is submitted, you won’t be able to retrieve and make further changes. If you run into any technological difficulties during your application, please e-mail Mr. Kevin Hao at

Research Projects available for iSURE 2013

Note: The department affiliations provided in this project description just indicate the academic units the faculty advisors belong at Notre Dame, and do not directly translate to the units that participating students must be from.

Department of Computer Science and Engineering

Network Mining in Computational Biology

Project description: A network (or graph) consists of a set of nodes and a set of edges connecting the nodes. Networks model many real-world phenomena in various research domains. Examples include technological networks such as the Internet, information networks such as the World Wide Web, social networks such as Facebook, ecological networks such as food webs, or biological networks such as protein-protein interaction (PPI) networks. Owing to fast growth of available real-world network data, as well as their noisy, dynamic, and heterogeneous nature, there is a need for sophisticated techniques for analyzing the networks to gain insights intos their function. We are developing novel graph theoretic and computational approaches for network mining, i.e., analyzing, modeling, clustering, and comparing large real-world networks to enable efficient extraction of functional information from network structure (or topology). We primarily focus on computational biology: we apply our methods to biological networks to address many important problems in biomedicine, such as predicting protein function or identifying novel disease genes and drug targets. The focus of this summer project would be on using our existing network analysis methods, or developing and using novel methods, to analyze biological network data in the context of novel research questions. See for details.

Background and skills needed/desired: Exposure to basic graph theory is required -- applicants should have taken one or more of the following courses: Discrete Mathematics, Data Structures, Algorithms, Graph Theory. For example, applicants should be familiar with the majority of the following topics: basic graph definitions, such as those of the shortest path or node degree, graph traversing algorithms such as breath first search or depth first search, shortest path algorithms, such as Dijakstra~Rs algorithm, subgraph isomorphism, and computational complexity (big-O notation). Good programming skills are also needed. Basic knowledge of biology (e.g., of the protein synthesis process) is preferred but not required. Prior research experience and prior research experience in network analysis in particular is a plus.

Contact: Professor Tijana Milenkovic (

Modeling and Performance Analysis of Novel Nanoscale Devices

Project description: In both electrical and computer engineering fields, there are tremendous research effort directed toward finding new technologies in order to continue both the device and performance scaling trends associated with Moore's Law. One of technologies that show great promise is nanomagnet logic (NML). NML exploits near-neighbor coupling among nano-scale magnets for both computation and signal propagation. Simple Boolean logic gates have already been experimentally demonstrated. NML based systems offer the advantage of being lower power, non-volatile, and radiation hard. The NML project is being supported by a number of federal agencies and industry. A major effort currently is to investigate performance potentials of larger NML circuits and systems. Students participating in this project will use a micromagnetic simulator to study tradeoffs between performance, energy and reliability for different NML circuits. Students with good device modeling backgrounds can also participate in the effort of designing high-level models for NML circuits.

Background and skills needed/desired: Basic knowledge in digital logic, computer architecture and electronic circuits are required. Knowledge in advanced circuit theory, probability/statistics and prior research experience in related areas are desired.

Contact: Professor X. Sharon Hu (

Applied and Theoretical Algorithm Problems in Computational Geometry

Project description: This project aims to study an array of important computational geometry problems in several applied areas such as medicine, biology, biomedical imaging, and data mining, and to develop new algorithmic solutions for these problems in biomedical applications. In addition, the project also seeks to investigate a set of fundamental theoretical geometric problems and to forge new geometric computing techniques.

Emerging biomedical imaging technologies and modalities have been revolutionizing the field of disease diagnosis and prognosis, pushing a paradigm shift in diagnosis and prognosis study and practice from qualitative to quantitative and from tissue/structure level to molecular/cellular level. Molecular/cellular imaging holds the promise of transforming modern diagnosis and prognosis, and offers numerous advantages over the traditional practice. This project will apply geometric computing techniques and data mining methods to develop new algorithms for vital cell identification and analysis problems in microscopy images, such as computing and analyzing the architectural structures of dendritic cells and other types of cells in multi-spectral microscopy images of tumor-draining lymph nodes for prognosis of breast cancer, and detecting and classifying cells in histology images of joint tissue for diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Radiation therapy/surgery is a major modality for modern cancer treatment. This project will design new algorithms for an intriguing type of geometric motion planning problems that seek a set of paths to cover target tumor regions under special constraints and criteria. These problems arise in dynamic Gamma Knife radiosurgery and are at the core of a novel radiosurgery approach for breast cancer treatment. Besides, the project will develop new algorithmic techniques for solving a number of theoretical problems that are among the most fundamental tasks in computational geometry, such as computing optimal paths, visibility, Voronoi diagrams, geodesic diameters and centers, geometric clustering, and shape approximation. The research plan of the project includes a crucial component of algorithm implementation, experimentation, evaluation, software development, and practical applications. This research will integrate and enhance the power of computer algorithms and modern biomedicine to solve critical applied and theoretical problems in computational geometry and biomedical applications, and help improve the quality of life in today's society. This project is supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

Background and skills needed/desired: Algorithms design and analysis, image processing, or computer vision.

Contact: Professor Danny Chen (

Exploiting the Power of GPU as Hardware Accelerators

Project description: Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) has become an effective platform for accelerating computationally expensive applications. Many GPU-based systems have been developed for applications from a wide range of domains. However, simply porting a sequential program to GPU cannot really harness the raw compute power of GPU. Techniques in program parallelization, memory partitioning and sharing are needed. Our group has developed GPU-based solutions for a number of medical applications and some key functions in finite element analysis. The student intern will have an opportunity to work with graduate students to evaluate different design options in order to improve the performance of existing implementations and develop new implementations.

Background and skills needed/desired: Knowledge of computer architecture and basic GPU programming is required. Familiarity with parallel algorithm design is desired.

Contact: Professor X. Sharon Hu (

Probabilistic Impact Analysis

Project description: Programmers are constantly making changes to software but often overlook the consequences of those changes. Change-impact analysis comes to the rescue by providing a picture of what parts of the software may be affected by a change. However, current techniques provide coarse impact results and often mark the whole software as impacted, which is not very useful. To solve this problem, this project will develop algorithms that compute measures of the strength of the impact of a change on different parts of the system. This way, developers can focus their attention on the most affected parts first. (Alternatively, the impact strength of a change on component A can be seen as the probability that the change affects the execution of A.)

Background and skills needed/desired: strong programming abilities and at least intermediate-level knowledge of Java.

Contact: Professor Raul Santelices (

Visualization of changes and dependences in software

Project description: For programmers to understand the role of a code fragment in a software system (how the fragment affects the rest of the system) and to decide what changes they can make in those fragments without unexpected side effects, they need to visualize the potential impacts of the fragment in a system. This project aims at creating an interactive visualization of the strengths of dependencies and change impacts in which the system is represented by a 2-dimensional map where colors are used to show the degree of impact of a code fragment on each point in the system. Developers can zoom in for more detail and zoom out for a bigger picture. Ideally, this visualization will be a plug-in for Eclipse where developers can switch between the code editors and the visualization via clicks or menu options.

Background and skills needed/desired: strong programming abilities and at least intermediate-level knowledge of Java.

Contact: Professor Raul Santelices (

Functional approximation of program fragments

Project description: To enable automatic test generation and program-behavior prediction, it is imperative to model a program or fragments of it by abstracting some features away while retaining essential aspects of their behavior. One such model proposed in this project is the approximation of a program by looking at it as a function where the input is the initial program state and the output is the state at the end. If a function can give a good approximation of what the end state in terms of the initial state, it can be used to manipulate the input in order to force the program to produce specific outputs, such as errors that later need debugging. The approximating function can be created using machine learning, algebraic techniques, or a combination of multiple approaches.

Background and skills needed/desired: strong programming abilities and at least intermediate-level knowledge of Java.

Contact: Professor Raul Santelices (

Continuous analysis and testing while coding

Project description: Modern integrated development environments (IDEs) such as Eclipse and Visual Studio have made the life of the programmer much easier. The IDE can quickly provide a wealth of information about a project and the relationships among its components or individual lines of code. However, IDEs work in a reactive way. The next generation of IDEs must be proactive, and this project proposes one technology that will speed the creation and maintenance of reliable code. We propose a task running in the background (and exploiting idle parallel resources) that executes existing or new analysis algorithms that produce new tests and find errors in the fragment of code currently under construction. As the programmer modifies the fragment, some tests become obsolete but others remain valid. The surviving tests will reveal errors detected during coding that the programmer missed after completing the coding task.

Background and skills needed/desired: strong programming abilities and at least intermediate-level knowledge of Java.

Contact: Professor Raul Santelices (

Department of Electrical Engineering

Graphene THz Devices

Project description: Terahertz waves, lying between the highest energy radio waves and the lowest energy infrared waves, are notoriously difficult to produce, detect, and modulate. But they are important to harvest for a wide range of applications including communications, imaging, and spectroscopy. Recently, for the first time, we showed [1,2] that THz intensity modulation as high as 100% is achievable in electrically driven solid-state devices (similar to the transistors used in computers) using graphene, a 2-dimensional semiconductor made of a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms. The significance of a modulated wave is that it carries information; this finding thus paves exciting and new avenues to put THz waves at work in the near future. The student will work closely with the graphene and THz teams at Notre Dame to design, fabricate and testing a series of novel THz devices using graphene. This interdisciplinary project will expose the student to new frontiers of nano- and meta- materials, electronics and optics science and engineering.

[1] Sensale-Rodriguez, Fang, Yan, Kelly, Jena, Liu, and Xing. Unique prospects for graphene-based THz modulators. Appl. Phys. Lett., 99, 113104, (2011).
[2] Sensale-Rodriguez, Yan, Kelly, Fang, Tahy, Hwang, Jena, Liu and Xing. Active tuning of THz beam transmission using graphene. Under review, Nature Communications, (2012).

Background and skills needed/desired: Strong interests (prior experience preferred but not required) in electromagnetic wave distribution and propagation, semiconductor properties and devices.

Contact: Dr. Huili (Grace) Xing ( and Dr. Debdeep Jena (

GaN Electronics and Optoelectronics

Project description: Gallium nitride (GaN) research at Notre Dame, led by Profs. Debdeep Jena and Huili (Grace) Xing, is gaining increasing attention in the community. In January 2010, the team reported in Science polarization-induced hole doping in GaN structures [a]. More recently, the team demonstrated the state-of-the-art GaN transistor speed of > 370 GHz [b,c], the highest reported in this material system. These findings have been published in IEEE Electron Device Letters and Applied Physics Express [d] and highlighted by Semiconductor Today and APEX SPOTLIGHTs. GaN transistors are promising candidates for high speed and high power applications, especially in the field of radio frequency (RF) communications. The student will work closely with the GaN epitaxy and device teams at Notre Dame to model, design, fabricate and testing a series of the start of the art GaN devices. This project will expose the student to the cutting edge engineering of semiconductor devices but with a firm root in fundamentals of semiconductor physics.

[a] Simon, Protasenko, Lian, Xing and Jena. Polarization-induced hole doping in wide-band-gap uniaxial semiconductor heterostructures. Science, 327, 60 (2010).
[b] Guo et al., MBE regrown ohmics in InAlN HEMTs with a regrowth interface resistance of 0.05 ohm-mm. To appear in IEEE Electron Dev. Lett., (2012).
[c] Yue, et al., 370-GHz InAlN HEMTs. Submitted to IEEE Electron Dev. Lett., (2012).
[d] Wang et al., Si-containing recessed ohmic contacts and 210-GHz quaternary barrier InAlGaN HEMTs. Appl. Phys. Express, 4, 096502, (2011).

Background and skills needed/desired: Strong interests (prior experience preferred but not required) in electromagnetic wave distribution and propagation, semiconductor properties and devices.

Contact: Dr. Huili (Grace) Xing ( and Dr. Debdeep Jena (

Characterization and Modeling of GaN-based Transistors for Millimeter-wave Applications

Project description: GaN-based devices are emerging not only for power applications, but for high-speed, high-performance applications as well. In this project, aggressively-scaled GaN-based devices will be characterized (DC, CV, RF/millimeter-wave) and models developed to describe the observed performance. Physical insights into the internal operation of the devices (e.g. dispersive phenomena) are of particular interest, and the use of the characterization to more fully understand these effects will be a key focus of the project. Work will include on-wafer testing of devices (DC measurements, low- and high-frequency CV, and on-wafer RF-millimeterwave (10 MHz-220 GHz) network analysis).

Background and skills needed/desired: Familiarity and/or interest in RF/microwave measurement techniques and hands-on experimental work will be beneficial.

Contact: Professor Patrick Fay (

Ultra-low energy computation

Project description: Anyone who owns a laptop knows that power dissipation and the associated heat are a problem for the microelectronics industry. As electronic devices scale down in size, they use less power (and hence energy), but is there a lower limit to the energy that must be dissipated by each device? Recent experimental measurements have demonstrated our ability to measure energy dissipation in the range of a ~50 yJ (1 yJ is 10-24 J), and we are building complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) circuits to operate in this range. Projects in the group of Professor Gregory Snider will explore the limits of ultra-low power computing, and designing, building and measuring circuits that test these limits. The projects will include building circuits and amplifiers for energy measurements of the CMOS circuits as well as the actual measurements. A student involved in these projects will gain experience in programming, fabrication, CMOS design, and device measurement techniques.

Background and skills needed/desired: None.

Contact: Professor Gregory Snider (

Nanoelectronics from two-dimensional materials

Project description: Students in this project will build and test electron devices constructed from single-layer materials like graphene. These materials are of wide interest for energy-efficient transistors, ionic switches, memories, solar energy converters, or batteries. A wide range of projects are possible depending on student interest: modeling, fabrication, characterization, and circuit design.

Background and skills needed/desired: None.

Contact: Professor Alan Seabaugh (

On-chip lasers

Project description: CPU speeds are currently limited by their power density, and multicore processors need supremely fast buses to each other and to memory. Both of these could be solved by using optical interconnects. But Si doesn't emit light, so we can't make lasers with silicon. On the other hand, germanium is already used in CPUs, and strained Ge will emit light. In this project, the student will implement a straightforward technique for creating tensile strain in Ge films in order to study the maximum strain available using the stress liner technique and identify future improvements. The optical properties of the strained films will be measured using photoluminescence (PL) and other techniques. The student will be expected to produce research suitable for publication, with assistance from Prof. Wistey and other members of the research group.

Background and skills needed/desired: None.

Contact: Professor Mark Wistey (

Design and evaluation of CNN-based circuits using beyond-CMOS devices

Project description: A Cellular Neural Network (CNN) architecture is comprised of cells that are locally connected to just near neighbor cells. The dynamic behavior of this network is governed by a set of non-linear, differential equations. CNN architectures can outperform Boolean equivalents for a variety of important information processing tasks (e.g., in the realm of image processing). However, realizing CNN architectures in hardware is still a challenge for many important image processing applications. Novel beyond-CMOS devices, such as TFET and SymFET, being investigated at the SRC's LEAST Center at Notre Dame, may offer new opportunities to implement CNN architectures. We are looking for students who are interested in the circuit and architecture aspects for novel devices to participate in a project that develops numerical/analytical CNN circuit models, and conducts simulation-based study of how CNN cell functionality is affected when different types of LEAST devices are employed in a CNN cell.

Background and skills needed/desired: None.

Contact: Professor Sharon Hu (

Stochastic computing and nanomagnet logic (NML)

Project description: By placing nano-scale magnets in carefully crafted patterns, logic computation can be performed. Such nanomagnet logic (NML) circuits provide a drastically different way of processing data from traditional CMOS. NML circuits have many desired properties, including lower power, non-volatility, and radiation hardness. Basic structures of NML circuits have been experimentally demonstrated. NML circuits, however, are fundamentally more error prone than charge-based devices. Stochastic computing employs bit streams that encode probability values to represent and process information. If designed properly, a small number of bit flips (regardless of their position) in a long bit stream causes small fluctuation in the value represented by the bit stream. This desirable error tolerance feature is extremely attractive for NML technology. By participating in this project, students will learn fascinating properties of nanomagnets, become proficient with micromagnetic simulation tools, simulate different stochastic NML circuit structures, and investigate the performance and power of these structures. Bolder students will get a chance to try out their own stochastic NML circuit designs.

Background and skills needed/desired: None.

Contact: Professor Sharon Hu (

Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

Fabrication of Polymer Nanofibers with Anomalous Thermal Conductivity

Project description: Amorphous polymers are known as thermal insulators with a thermal conductivity of ~0.1-0.3 W/mK. However, they can be more thermally conductive than many metals if we can reform them into highly aligned nanofibers (thermal conductivity > 50 W/mK). This suggests that polymers can be used to replace metals in many heat transfer devices and equipment, such as in electronic packaging and heat exchangers, with the additional advantages of reduced sweight, chemical resistance, and lower cost. In this project, the visiting student is expected to fabricate polymer fibers with nanometer diameters by ultra-drawing fibers from polymer melt. Different candidate polymers such as polyethylene and Teflon will be studied. The study will also help characterize the nanofibers using electron microscopes, X-ray scattering and measure thermal transport properties using scanning thermal microscopy.

Background and skills needed/desired: basic knowledge in chemistry.

Contact: Professor Tengfei Luo (

Department of Chemistry

Synthesis and Catalysis of Bimetallic Nanocatalysts

Project description: Research of Franklin (Feng) Tao group is in the interdisciplinary field of heterogeneous catalysis and nanoscience for efficient energy conversion. We focus on nanocatalysis crucial for efficient energy harvest and conversion, chemical transformation, and environmental remediation. The goal of our research projects is to develop efficient nanocatalysis using different syntheses that build on in-situ operando studies of nanocatalysis using new analytical techniques including in-house (using Al Kα) ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy available in our group. Our research activity includes synthesis of nanocatalysts, measurement of catalytic performance and energy efficiency, and in-situ characterization under reaction conditions. We currently work on synthesis and catalysis in generation of hydrogen from methanol steaming reforming and partial oxidation, conversion of carbon dioxide to fuel molecules through thermal catalysis, selective production of transportation fuels from syngas, generation of hydrogen from water through photocatalysis, and catalysis toward high selectivity in environment remediation. In addition, we collaborate with a few groups by using multiple in-situ techniques including environmental TEM (ETEM) and extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXASFS) toward a deep and fundamental understanding of nanocatalysts at molecular and atomic.

Background and skills needed/desired: Experience in synthesis of nanomaterials with colloidal chemistry is a plus.

Contact: Professor Franklin (Feng) Tao (

Large area Solution-Liquid-Solid growth-enabled epitaxy for low cost solar cells

Project description: Rapid developments in the growth of low-dimensional materials (e.g. colloidal quantum dots and semiconductor nanowires) represent timely opportunities for advancing third generation solar cells that aim to transcend the Shockley-Queisser limit. This stems from their unique size- and shape-dependent properties, which open up opportunities for enhancing and even controlling charge separation at the molecular level. However, the use of chemically synthesized nanostructures is not without drawbacks. An unavoidable problem when using colloidal nanomaterials in solar cells is the presence of interfaces/heterojunctions that act as charge recombination centers. These interfaces suppress resulting device power conversion efficiencies to values below those of conventional 1st and 2nd generation devices. As a consequence, much effort has gone into suppressing their effects. This study begins by asking if there isn’t a better way to make 3rd generation devices by avoiding the use of chemically synthesized nanostructures. Specifically, we propose to grow large area, coherent, semiconductor nanolayers by combining the underlying principle of low cost, low temperature solution-liquid-solid nanowire growth with planar substrates. Resulting semiconductor nanolayers will be used as active materials in subsequent Schottky junction/metal-insulator-metal photovoltaics wherein the absence of interparticle junctions will boost device efficiencies. The flexibility of the approach also enables the creation of compositionally complex nanolayers, planar heterostructures and even electronically graded materials which should foster efficient photogenerated charge separation. The proposed growth strategy simultaneously leads to the creation of two-dimensional nanomaterials, enabling fundamental explorations of their thickness-dependent optical/electrical properties as well as dielectric sensitivities.

Background and skills needed/desired: No prior experience required.

Contact: Professor Masaru Kuno (

Capillary electrophoresis for bottom-up proteomics

Project description: Bottom-up proteomics typically employs a liquid chromatographic separation of the tryptic digest of a complex protein sample, followed by electrospray ionization and tandem mass spectrometry analysis. This technology is robust and very widely employed. Nevertheless, there is a need for simpler and less expensive alternatives. This group is developing a set of electrophoretic techniques to replace liquid chromatography for bottom-up proteomics. The candidate will spend the summer evaluating capillary zone electrophoresis for the separation of tryptic peptides. The candidate will receive training in capillary electrophoresis, operation of an Orbitrap mass spectrometer, and in proteomic sample preparation and data analysis.

Background and skills needed/desired: Some experience in chromatography or other analytical separation method would be useful.

Contact: Professor Norm Dovichi (

Computational Design of Catalytic Materials

Project description: Quantum mechanics provides the mathematical rules that describe the chemical properties of materials, and with modern computers it is now possible to use those rules to understand the properties of current materials and predict those of those yet undiscovered ones. In the Schneider group we use these tools to predict the behavior of catalytic materials---substances that accelerate catalytic reactions. In this project the student will learn to apply these tools to one of the problems currently being worked on in our group. These problems relate to the efficient storage and use of energy, from catalyzing the production of hydrogen fuel to capturing carbon dioxide to prevent its released to the atmosphere to cleaning up nitrogen oxides produced during combustion. The student will be paired with a graduate student or post-doc, will be trained in the use of these high performance computer codes, and will complete and present and individual project on computational materials design. More information can be found at the Schneider group website,

Background and skills needed/desired: Desirable to have completed Physical Chemistry.

Contact: Professor Bill Schneider (

Synthesize Hyperbranched Polymers with Uniform Structure and Explore Their Application in Gene Therapy

Project description: Recently, a new synthetic strategy is developed in our research group that successfully produces hyperbranched polymers with high molecular weight (Mn ~ 106) and uniform structure (Mw/Mn ~ 1.2) using a one-pot microemulsion polymerization technique. The initial success reveals a general strategy of using a discrete confined space to produce functional hyperbranched polymers with tunable molecular weights and hierarchical structures. The current project is to fully investigate the features of this robust technique and to expand its application to obtain functional hyperbranched polymers for potential application in siRNA delivery.

Background and skills needed/desired: List of preferred skill: Polymer synthesis and characterization

Contact: Professor Haifeng Gao (

Storable Chemiluminescent Molecules

Project description: The goal of this research project is to invent chemiluminescent versions of a radiotracer. That is, a suite of molecules that can be stored and transported at typical kitchen freezer temperature and then made to emit visible or near-infrared light by simply warming them to room or body temperature. These molecules have potential as biological imaging agents. They are called squaraine rotaxane endoperoxides (SREP), and they are interlocked molecules with unusual structure and photophysical properties. The student will synthesize new types of SREPs and study their properties by fluorescence, chemiluminescence, and NMR spectroscopy.

Background and skills needed/desired: Organic synthesis preferred.

Contact: Professor Bradley Smith (

Resolving Energy Harvesting at the Nano and Mesoscales

Project description: Novel nanoscale materials with unique physical properties are highly promising for applications in the next generation of solar energy conversion devices. The frontier in solar energy conversion utilizing nanoscale materials now lies in learning how to integrate functional entities across multiple length scales to create optimal devices. This challenge has initiated recent research attention on mesoscale science, aiming at creating architectures with targeted mesoscale phenomena and functionalities.

To address this new frontier, we have been developing novel ultrafast microscopy techniques to resolve multi-scale energy transfer, migration, and dissipation processes with simultaneous femtosecond temporal resolution and nanometer spatial resolution. Importantly, strategies will be developed to design functional architectures to control energy and charge flow. This research focuses on nanostructured solar energy harvesting and fuel production systems. A unifying theme of these research projects is to understand the role of individual functional components and system-wide energy flow.

Background and skills needed/desired: Physical Chemistry

Contact: Professor Libai Huang (

Radiation Damage during Macromolecular Crystallography

Project description: Radiation damage due to the photoelectrons released by X-ray absorption during crystallographic data collection at synchrotron sources continues to sharply limit the rate of successful structure solution for large biomolecular targets. Global damage leads to a systematic reduction in the intensity of diffraction spots with associated loss of achievable resolution. Specific damage to redox sensitive sites is also widespread and can cloud the assignment of biological function.

We seek to provide an understanding of the characteristic order in which this specific damage is observed to occur. Factors controlling site susceptibility will be evaluated and modeled by techniques drawn from computational quantum chemistry. Predictions will be made of distinguishing features generated in the damaged sites. Such markers can be probed by complementary spectroscopic approaches to help assess the efficacy of proposed mitigation strategies.

Background and skills needed/desired: Quantum Chemistry

Contact: Professor Ian Carmichael (

Catalytic Approaches to NO2 activation

Project description: Nitrogen dioxide is an abundant an inexpensive gas that is surprisingly gentle in its reactivity toward most organic compounds. This project involves exploration of possible transition-metal catalyzed approaches to activating NO2 for selective functionalization of organic compounds. Possible targets include transformation of boronates into nitro compounds and ligand directed nitration of C-H bonds. Approaches to be taken include combinatorial as well as mechanistically-directed strategies for finding and optimizing possible catalytic systems.

Background and skills needed/desired: Two semesters of organic chemistry and corresponding laboratory.

Contact: Professor Seth Brown (

Development of catalysts for the activation of Carbon Dioxide

Project description: Polycarbonates are an economically valuable class of polymer, yet the traditional synthesis of these materials utilizes phosgene and produces toxic gases making this process environmentally unfriendly. More recent advances have been able to utilize ‘waste’ carbon dioxide; however, these processes often use environmentally and biologically harmful metals (Co, Cr, Sn) and fail to achieve high turn-over numbers (TONs). This would be very attractive from an energy perspective as CO2 generated by fossil fuel utilization could become a useful starting material for a value added product. Thus, this would help offset some of the costs for CO2 separation processes, in turn making these more economically viable. We have initiated a new project in our laboratory to investigate the use of s-block metals (Li, Na, K, Mg, Ca) as a replacement for the mentioned toxic and costly metals. The light s-block metals are biologically and environmentally begin; additionally, these metals are earth-abundant, making them cost effective alternatives. In addition, these metals offer a gradated palette of physical and electronic properties, allowing tremendous control over the fine tuning of the catalysts.

Background and skills needed/desired: None

Contact: Professor Ken Henderson (

Semiconductor Quantum Dot Assemblies for Solar Energy Conversion

Project description: In recent years, nanomaterials have emerged as the new building blocks to construct light energy harvesting assemblies.1,2 Efforts are being made to design organic and inorganic hybrid structures that exhibit improved selectivity and efficiency towards light energy conversion. In this project will evaluate the performance of solid state quantum dot solar cells. The project involves synthesis semiconductor quantum dots, assembling them in a solar cell and evaluation of their photovoltaic properties. Quantum dots (CdSe, Sb2S3, CIS, etc.) are deposited on mesoscopic TiO2 or ZnO film serve as the photoanode. A hole scavenger such as CuSCN, or Sulfide/Polysulfide redox couple is then deposited onto these photoactive films. A counter electrode is then attached to complete the construction of solar cell. Upon photoexcitation of the semiconductor QDs, the electrons are driven towards the oxide layer and the holes are driven towards the metal contact and thus generate photocurrent. Spectroscopic technique will also be employed to probe the excited state interactions. The overall goal is to extend the photorespone of the solar cell into the infrared and overcome the electron recombination at the grain boundaries.

Background and skills needed/desired: None

Contact: Professor Prashant V. Kamat (

Post-translational regulation of ZNF217 contributes to breast cancer progression

Project description: My research program is focused on understanding the contributions of the epithelium and surrounding microenvironment/stroma to both cancer progression and normal tissue development in the mammary gland and prostate. We use this research to understand the mechanisms of cancer progression and to develop relevant cancer biomarkers and therapies to prevent or reverse cancer in patients. We use integrated biological approaches to understand the contributions of specific genes in vivo at multiple points in cancer progression, spanning from normal mammary development to tumor progression to metastasis to chemotherapy resistance. One cancer biomarker that we study is ZNF217. ZNF217 was identified as a candidate driver of 20q13.2 poor prognosis based on molecular mapping of 20q13.2. ZNF217 was found to be upregulated in tumors relative to normal mammary glands. We previously showed that ZNF217 overexpression is prognostic of poor prognosis in cancer patients. However, no studies have looked at the expression or regulation of ZNF217 protein in mammary tumors or cell lines. In this study, we will look at the protein levels and localization of ZNF217 (and mutant ZNF217) during multiple phases of the cell cycle.

Background and skills needed/desired: General biology; general chemistry; at least one of the following: cell biology or genetics or biochemistry

Contact: Dr. Laurie Littlepage (

DNA origami

Project description: Take the genome of m13mp18, a small virus. Add 226 short synthetic strands of DNA, the "staple" strands, and you can fold it into a flat rectangle as shown in the picture (left). This is an example of the DNA origami technique. We are conducting research on DNA origami as structural templates for nanoelectronic and nanomagnetic devices by binding non-DNA components to specific staple strands. In this project, the NURF student will work with a researcher to chemically modify a DNA oligonucleotide with a functional group that can bind to metals. The project involves a little organic synthesis, followed by biomolecule derivatization and purification of the oligonucleotide by HPLC and/or gel electrophoresis. If pure oligos are obtained, the student will assemble the DNA origami in the presence and absence of metal ions and characterize them by atomic force microscopy. Two semesters of organic lab are required, and some experience working with biomolecules (DNA or proteins) would be a plus.

Background and skills needed/desired: None.

Contact: Professor Marya Lieberman (

Synthesis of nanocatalysts

Project description: Heterogeneous catalysis is performed on the surface of particles of metal or oxide or composited metal and oxide at the nanoscale. Size is critical as coordination of the environment and electronic structure of atoms on the surface of nanoparticles with different size depends on the size and shape of the catalyst particles. One specific type of nanoparticle catalyst is alloy nanocatalyst. The second metal typically modifies the electronic state of the atoms of the first metal and, therefore, their catalytic performances. In this project, we focus on new synthesis, which can produce new bimetallic nanocatalysts with controllable size and shape. We also measure their catalytic performance (conversion rate and selectivity), therefore building a correlation of structural factors at the nanoscale with catalytic behavior. This correlation is critical for design of new catalysts. More information can be found at

Background and skills needed/desired: None.

Contact: Professor Franklin Tao (

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Home-Use Nanosensors for Screening Chronic Diseases

Project description: Professor Hsueh-Chia Chang’s group at the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering department at Notre Dame is integrating microfluidics, plasmonic optical nanosensors and aptamer molecular probes into biochips for the first generation of home-use turn-key medical devices that can monitor cardiovascular, diabetic and cancer miRNA biomarkers. Their device is enabled by recently engineered hairpin aptamer probes that can dramatically change its conformation and the end-substrate distance upon molecular capture, such that the fluorophore at the end of the aptamer would not be quenched by the gold substrate via Forster Resonant Energy Transfer (FRET). The group has developed several metal and semiconductor nanopore and nanocone fabrication technologies to complement these FRET apatamer sensors by using photoconductive and plasmonic effects.

These nanotechnologies are integrated with his earlier micro/nanofluidic technologies to lyse cells and concentrate protein/nucleic acid micro/nanofluidic technologies to yield the turn-key devices. His group works with a startup (FCubed, LLC : See Chicago Sunday Times coverage and has an outstanding record of placing alumni at top industrial and academic positions (

Contact: Professor Hsueh-Chia Chang

Nanocolloid – Biomembrane Interfacial Interaction and Assembly

Project description: With the increasing use of smart molecular probes and functional nanocolloids for various biomedical applications, it becomes critical to understand the interaction of nanomaterials with cell biomembranes in order to effectively use them with minimal cytotoxicity. Prof. Zhu’s Interfacial Soft Materials Lab has employed state of the art instruments, including single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy and imaging, combined with other traditional experimental characterization, to examine how, nanocluster macroions, nanoparticles, and ionic liquids interact with model cell biomembranes. Interesting and surprising results, including nanocluster induced phase transition and interfacial supramolecular fibril assembly, are observed. Ongoing work includes interfacial assembly of proteins at biomembrane interface for molecular design of novel light-harvesting energy materials and polymeric membranes for efficient energy and ion transport.

Students working in this group will be immersed in a dynamic interdisciplinary research environment and obtain hand-on experience in materials synthesis and/or characterization and modern techniques in fluorescence imaging and image analysis as well as interfacial dynamic detection at a molecular level.

Zhu’s group would like to seek 2-3 summer visiting students from top universities in China. Junior or seniors in the following majors are welcome to apply: Chemical engineering, bioengineering, materials science, chemistry, physics and other related majors. Applicants should have taken the following pre-requisite courses: Thermodynamics, physical chemistry, transport phenomena, introduction of materials science.

Contact: Dr. Yingxi Elaine Zhu (

iSURE Program