REU in Advanced Materials

Advanced Materials REU students relax over strombolis at Stuff Yer Face.
Advanced Materials REU students relax over strombolis at Stuff Yer Face.

Overview

Rutgers is the home to a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site on Advanced Materials. This program is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and serves a diverse population of students to whom cutting-edge research experiences are not typically available and thus broadens the pipeline to graduate school for a wide range of students. The current program is led by Professors Meenakshi Dutt (PI) of the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department and Deirdre O’Carroll (co-PI) of the Materials Science and Engineering Department.  The interdisciplinary nature of this REU provides opportunities for undergraduate students to carry out research in a broad array of advanced materials such as nanomaterials, hybrid soft materials, patterned surfaces, glasses, inorganic polymers, and advanced ceramic composites. These materials can be applied to wound treatment, biosynthesis, optical waveguides, catalysis, tissue engineering, polymer solar cells, biological nanoparticles, wind turbine blades and phase transformation investigations. The research experience is complemented by weekly exercises aimed at professional development. Currently, the program has a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, and shepherds the students through the process of viewing their research in a creative scientific context and with ultimate commercialization as a goal. The 2022 Advanced Materials REU program will run from May 31 to August 5. All students will receive a stipend of $6,000, free on-campus housing, travel reimbursement to the campus of up to $500 and a free GRE prep course values at $1,300. The Advanced Materials REU at Rutgers is a partner program of Rutgers RISE summer program and holds workshops, and social and recreational activities in partnership with RISE (https://www.rise.rutgers.edu/). To apply see instructions at the end of this webpage.

Student Activities

The primary activity of a REU student will be to conduct research in the lab of their assigned mentor/faculty. In addition, the students will participate in weekly professional development workshops and seminars. Professional development activities include topics, such as data management, academic integrity, and application to graduate schools. Seminars, covering topics such as abstract writing, poster and oral presentation preparation, and, will be conducted by the participating faculty. The curriculum will begin with simple exercises that will help the students acclimatize to their host research laboratories, first identifying what the laboratory is doing and then focusing on their specific project and how they will approach it. The curriculum will also cover topics to help students communicate their research results. Each week students will report their results and experiences and discuss them. This format helps develop communication skills and nurtures team building. By the end of the summer, each student will have acquired an in-depth knowledge of his/her research project. In addition, s/he would be aware of all the other projects being undertaken in the Advanced Materials REU program, thereby broadening their understanding of the field of Advanced Materials.

Examples of Research Projects

The underlying theme of the REU research projects is Advanced Materials. Advanced materials have played a critical role in technologies pertaining to diverse disciplines. These include traditional disciplines related to mechanical parts in heavy machinery or modes of transportation to state-of-art developments in areas related to biomedicine, energy, and nanomaterials [1-4]. Scientists and engineers have taken advantage of the structure-property relationships to develop novel advanced materials. Students will select from an array of projects within the field of advanced materials. All of the projects have a nanoscale research component, either directly dealing with nanostructure or indirectly dealing with macroscopic properties by controlling nanoscale structure. Applications include particle adsorption on nanospheres, bioactive glasses for soft tissue engineering,  mitigation of health threats by airborne nanoparticles, nanoparticle catalysts design, ceramic-matrix composites, devices such as polymer semiconductors and light-emitting materials, surface patterning, chronic wound treatment by nanomaterials, and biosynthesis. Although projects covered in this REU Site are broad, from polymers to ceramics, from nano-scale to macroscale, and from theoretical to experimental, the common theme in these projects is the development of novel, advanced materials for high-tech applications by using state-of-art methods. The REU student projects are summarized below. Each student will be assigned to a particular project based on their academic subject area, their research interests and the project availability.

(1) Development of Effective Nanostructured Materials for Chronic Wound Treatment (Asefa)

Millions of people suffer from chronic wounds related to diabetes and accidents. Currently, the way hospitals approach this is by using an array of products such as gauzes, ointments, and antibacterial solutions, which need to be replaced several times a day and require staff specifically dedicated to this. This project, in which REU students can participate,  focuses on the synthesis and development of novel nanostructured antibacterial agents  that are highly effective against biofilm forming microbes  for wound treatment. The nanomaterials will be synthesized to have high adsorption capacity for the drugs/antibacterials and controlled release properties of the payloads of drugs and antibacterial agents to wound. The undergraduate students will learn the synthesis and characterizations of various nanostructured and nanoporous materials, their surface functionalization by various organic and polymeric groups and understand their properties for drug adsorption, release and rates/ kinetics and potential applications and in biology and medicine. They will also be involved in the studies of the antimicrobial properties of the materials in collaboration with Asefa’s collaborators around Rutgers.

(2) Biosynthesis of value-added bioproducts from renewable materials (Zhang) 

The research at the Zhang group aims at developing robust biological systems for high-efficiency biosynthesis of various value-added chemicals and materials. To this end, we engineer the selected microorganism's genetic and metabolic settings in order to create microbial factories to generate the desired products. In particular, our study focuses on biosynthesis using renewable feedstocks, such as lignocellulosic biomass, as the starting materials. Advanced methodologies, such as co-culture engineering, biosensor techniques, metabolic rewiring, and bioprocess engineering are employed to establish and optimize the production process to achieve high biosynthesis performance.

(3) Multi-component Surface Reconfiguration via Electrostatically-induced Nanoparticle Adsorption (Dutt)

Multicomponent soft spheres can be combined with nanoparticles to create novel advanced materials.  One possible approach is to decorate a specific area (or patch) on the nanoparticle surface with a charged chemical moiety and promote its electrostatically-induced adsorption onto the soft sphere. The adsorption can be controlled by tuning the chemistry of the nanoparticle patch and the molecules constituting the sphere. Molecular Dynamics simulations and coarse-grained force fields will be used to simulate the adsorption of patchy nanoparticles on a spherical surface. Preliminary observations suggest that (a) electrostatic attraction between the nanoparticle patch and the polar lipid head groups promote clustering of the lipids and adsorption of the nanoparticles; (b) the nanoparticle patch size controls the degree of clustering; and (c) the interactions between the nanoparticle patch and the polar lipid head groups is long-lived. Undergraduates will learn to develop computational characterization tools capturing the dynamical properties and spatial configuration of the adsorbed nanoparticles and the amphiphiles constituting the spherical surface. The work will be guided by graduate students who have experience in various simulation methods.

(4) Nanostructures made from Ionomers (Hara) 

Ionomers are ion-containing polymers containing a small amount of ionic groups, where nm-sized ionic aggregates are formed via self-assembly of ionic groups. When ionic aggregates containing cations (e.g., Cd2+) react with H2S, semiconductor nanoparticles (e.g., CdS) are formed.  When ionic aggregates containing cations`, such as Pd2+`, are reduced`, metal nanoparticles of Pd are formed. In these cases`, ionomers work not only as a template for forming nanoparticles but also as a protecting agent. Also`, due to ionic interactions involved`, a cationic ionomer and an anionic ionomer can form alternating multilayers. Due to the strong attraction achieved in a nonpolar organic solvent, multilayers can be formed even when a number of ions are very small. A student will study a combined system, in which metal or semiconductor nanoparticles are formed and dispersed in multilayers (e.g., PS/PMMA). These structures may be used as an efficient catalyst for gas phase reaction. The student will make nanostructures (nanoparticles and multilayers) and characterize them using X-ray, UV/Vis spectroscopy, and electron microscopy. 

(5) Pattering Hybrid Silica Surfaces (Klein)

Functional surfaces require a regular, repeating texture for applications, such as microfluidics, waveguides, and microlens arrays. Techniques for patterning surfaces traditionally have required photo-lithography, where a light curing polymer and multiple steps are used to establish a pattern. A simpler method is soft lithography, where a mold is pressed into a softened polymer, followed by cooling and release.  A variation of transfer molding involves capillaries, where a replica is formed when the material rises in the capillary spaces in a pattern.  The sol-gel process has been used to produce silicate materials essentially at room temperature.  The precursors for silica can be modified, so that the silica solution, which forms a gel by hydrolysis and condensation polymerization, retains organic moieties.  Even after the gel is dry, hard and rigid, the organic content allows the silica gel to soften at modest temperatures, around 100˚C.  These so-called melting gels are candidate coatings for the study of embossing and capillary molding. Preliminary tests have been performed with a melting gel and a stamp made out of poly(dimethyl siloxane): the fidelity of the pattern is important, as shown in the pictures, where a cartridge of staples has been used to create uniform grooves for water harvesting.  To explore the molding process, the student will become familiar with hybrid sol-gel silicas containing methyl and phenyl groups.  Then, the student will conduct a systematic study of rheology, surface energy, and functionalization to select materials that transfer a pattern with good definition and fidelity.

(6) Borosilicate-based bioactive glasses for soft tissue engineering (Goel)

Owing to their fast but tunable degradation kinetics (in comparison to silicates) and excellent bioactivity, the past decade has witnessed an upsurge in the research interest of borate/borosilicate-based bioactive glasses for their potential use in a wide range of soft tissue regeneration applications. Nevertheless, most of these glasses have been developed using trial-and-error approaches wherein SiO2 has been gradually replaced by B2O3. One major reason for using this empirical approach is the complex short-to-intermediate range structures of these glasses which greatly complicate the development of a thorough understanding of composition– structure–solubility relationships in these systems. Transitioning beyond the current style of composition design to a style that facilitates the development of bioactive glasses with controlled ion release tailored for specific patients/diseases requires a deeper understanding of the compositional/structural dependence of glass degradation behavior in vitro and in vivo. In this project, the REU student will (1) synthesize borosilicate glasses by melt-quench technique; (2) study their structure by FTIR and Raman spectroscopies; (3) dissolution kinetics of borosilicate-based bioactive glasses. The aim will be to establish composition – structure – property relationships in these glasses leading towards a rational design of third generation bioactive glasses for applications in soft tissue engineering.

(7) Computational Modeling and Molecular Simulation of Nanomaterials (Neimark) 

Nanomaterials, whose building blocks vary in size from 1 to 100 nm, are now widespread in all branches of engineering and science, from healthcare and cosmetics to solar batteries and fuel cells, and to drug delivery and biotechnology. To understand the properties at such small scales, we apply the computation methods of atomistic Monte Carlo (MC) and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and coarse-grained dissipative particle dynamics (DPD). Students will learn how to use modern computational and molecular simulation methods and will get hands-on experience in using specially designed software packages. The results of this work will contribute to our current NSF-sponsored project, “Interactions of Airborne Nanoparticles with Lung Surfactant Films.” The project addresses a topical problem of mitigation of the health threats of airborne nanoparticles. The lung surfactant, which covers the alveoli as a thin liquid film, represents the first line of defense against inhaled nanoparticles. Using a combination of MC, MD, and DPD computations, we study the effects of physicochemical and structural properties of nanoparticles on interfacial flow behaviors and the stability of surfactant films. The results will also help better understand the fate of biological nanoparticles, such as  coronavirus virions, in the lungs, which may have practical implications in nanomedicine.

(8) The Roles of Dislocations during Martensitic Transformations (Sills)

Martensitic phase transformations are vital for the strength and toughness of many structural metals. One aspect of these transformations which is poorly understood is how interactions between dislocations and the phase boundary affect the transformation process. In this project, the student will perform and analyze results from Molecular Dynamics simulations of martensitic transformations in steel. Simulation input files and analysis approaches will be developed in advance so the student can have a highly productive research experience.

(9) Photon Recycling in All-Polymer Photovoltaic Materials (O'Carroll)

Polymer photovoltaic devices exhibit one of the shortest energy-payback times of all renewable energy technologies, which is a marker of their sustainability. However, they have not displaced established photovoltaic technologies because of their lower efficiencies. This project will take a unique approach to addressing the low efficiency by applying photon recycling polymer semiconductors that have high radiative recombination efficiencies. The objectives of the project are to understand, control and optimize photon recycling in organic polymer semiconductor thin films. The REU students will be involved with polymer thin film processing, nanostructure fabrication, time-resolved photoluminescence characterization and optoelectronic device testing. This project builds upon the work of O’Carroll on organic optoelectronics and plasmonic  metasurfaces and will allow the REU students to gain knowledge and experience of optical nanomaterials relevant to energy conversion technologies.

(10) Carbonate Materials (Riman)

Dense ceramics are strong and durable, making them useful for a variety of applications that demand robustness. However, processing of conventional ceramics requires high temperatures, making the fabrication highly carbon positive. In addition, the shrinkage experienced by ceramic parts during densification precludes them from emerging manufacturing methods to create large complex shapes, such as wind turbine blades. In this research project, a paradigm for densifying ceramics at low temperatures will be investigated using a process called Low Temperature Solidification (LTS).  The REU student will explore the utilization of materials that have cementitious properties when exposed to carbon dioxide. They also gain considerable hands-on experience in advanced ceramic processing methods as well as hydrothermal solution chemistry during the course of this project. The student will learn how to operate an x-ray diffractometer to characterize the CO2 curing reaction as well as measure various physical properties of the cement, such as bulk density, apparent density, pore size and porosity.

Applications-- We encourage you to apply and welcome all applications, just follow these steps:

Eligibility

  • All participants must be US Citizens or Permanent Residents.
  • Preference is given to students who have completed their junior year.
  • Outstanding sophomores and first-years may be considered.
  • Graduating seniors are not eligible.
  • Persons from groups traditionally under-represented in science and engineering professions are particularly encouraged to apply.
  • Please note: this program is designed to bring external students to Rutgers for the summer. Therefore, Rutgers students are not eligible.

 General Instructions

  • Follow this link to apply:  https://www.rise.rutgers.edu/apply
  • The common application for summer research programs at Rutgers will open in a new browser
  • Make sure to check "Advanced Materials" as one of the programs
  • Follow its directions completely.

The following must ALL be submitted to form a complete application:

  • The completed application form
  • A transcript
  • Two letters of recommendation (sent separately by letter writers)
  • All applications and supporting materials must be received by March 15, 2022.
  • Review of applications and rolling admissions will commence in late January 2022.
  • Early application is encouraged, as the program is highly competitive.

Students will be notified of admission via the Grad Portal and/or email.  We hope to see you this summer.

-- Professors Dutt and O’Carroll