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IExE Research Experience for Undergrads (REU)


The National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) is an experiential course which provides experiential learning research Experential Learning Diagramopportunities to students and their faculty advisors from institutions that do not typically offer research experiences to undergraduate students, with a particular emphasis on under-represented minority groups.  Fellows will learn the benefits of experiential learning through hands-on research projects, active discussion and feedback, reflection of pursuits, and awareness of how their effort fits into the broader scientific and engineering challenges associated with energy and the environment.

The Institute for Energy and Environment (IExE) REU program consists of an intensive eight-week summer research experience in which each student will work closely with a faculty mentor and their research group within the energy and the environment team on a specific research problem. Participating students will develop key learning and working skills that will serve them throughout their careers. These include:

  • Research problem identification, critical literature review, and hypothesis development
  • Research plan design and implementation
  • Research techniques, including new methods and/or skills
  • Results dissemination in both written and oral form

In addition to research, IExE REU participants will participate in a range of activities (Schedule subject to minor modifications).

The 2017 IExE REU program will run from June 19 - August 11, 2017. Women, minorities, and students with disabilities are especially encouraged to apply.

Week 1

A one-day orientation will familiarize participants with staff, participating faculty, campus facilities, and living at Drexel and in Philadelphia. IExE REU participants will meet with member(s) of their experiential learning team to discuss research project details. We will arrange for Drexel ID cards, a library tour, and lab safety training.

Weeks 2 - 7

IExE REU participants will work directly with their teams on the selected research project and the educational outreach program. Students will attend weekly Seminars and How lectures, cultural events, with potential biweekly field trips, and biweekly intergenerational mentoring meals to complement the intensive laboratory experience.

Week 6

IExE REU participants will write personal statements, or essays to reflect on their previous research experiences or on their proposed plan of research, which can be used either for graduate school or fellowship applications, and are reviewed by the team.

Week 7

IExE REU participants will have an outreach event sometime around this week, presenting their work to local K-12 children or an equivalent workshop for promoting STEM in primary education.   

Week 8

IEXE REU participants will present their summer research at a poster presentation. Students will be strongly encouraged to submit their research to professional conferences.

Week 8+

After the program, IExE REU participants will remain in contact with the team through a LinkedIn group. Students are encouraged to continue research with the faculty mentor at their home institution.

Enrichment Activities

You can find the previous 2016 schedule of IExE REU enrichment activities as an example here.

Program Details and Application Process

Thank you for your interest in the IExE's REU program. The application period for the 2017 program has now closed, but the program will be held again in the summer of 2018.  Please check back in late 2017 for program details for the 2018 program. 

Support:  Accepted applicants will receive a fellowship payment (approximately $500/wk), and on-campus housing for the duration of the program. Limited travel funds available, priority will be given to those who live more than 500 miles from Drexel University.

Requirements:  Applications must be 18 years of age or older, a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident and have completed at least 3 semesters or 4 quarters of college level coursework.

Applications will be accepted starting January 1, 2017.  Review of applications will begin February 22, 2017 and will continue until all slots are filled.

Research Project Descriptions

A brief description of ongoing IExE Research Projects available to REU participants (projects subject to minor modifications)

Non-Thermal Gliding Arc Engineering System Design for a Cleaner Environment.

This project focuses on the design of large scale non-thermal gliding arc plasma systems required for industrial level production of plasma treated water, cleaning of exhaust gases and reforming of different hydrocarbon fuels and wastes. The challenge is that the plasma system developed for the treatment of a small water volume cannot be easily scaled up to a large volume application as both the electrode configuration and power supply have to be completely redesigned and must maintain a practical and economical design. Non-equilibrium gliding arcs in reverse vortex (Tornado) flow (GAT) at low power level (1-3kW) are proved to be a highly efficient plasma stimulators of several plasma chemical and plasma catalytic processes, including hydrogen/syngas generation from biomass, coal and organic wastes, exhaust gas cleaning, fuel desulfurization, and wastewater treatment. In this project the xREU Fellow will be exposed to cutting edge research on development of largest in the world non-equilibrium gliding arc Tornado plasma system for water treatment with focus on plasma physics and modeling that identify the limiting factors of plasma system size. This is a truly interdisciplinary plasma engineering project where the Fellow will work on mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering challenges as well as plasma diagnostic methods, such as spectroscopy and gas chromatography. (PI:  Professor Alexander Fridman)

Novel Materials for High-Performance Microscale Energy Storage Devices.

Recently a new family of two-dimensional (2D) transition metal carbides and carbonitrides, named MXenes, were discovered by Materials Scientists at Drexel University. We found that these 2D MXenes can be fabricated into free-standing MXene films, which show excellent electrochemical properties as electrode materials for supercapacitors and Li-ion batteries. Because of this, MXenes have also drawn attention for applications in microelectronics, namely as microscale power sources. Different methods (printing, spray-coating) have been employed to produce microscale energy storage devices from MXenes but the method of electrophoretic deposition has yet to have been employed for device fabrication. Electrophoretic deposition enables controlled deposition of materials onto many different types of substrates that are not suitable for other methods, this method has the potential to produce novel, high-performance energy storage devices. The goal of this project is to have NSF REU students systematically investigate electrophoretic deposition of MXenes and how this will affect the properties of the resulting MXene coatings and films. The structure of these MXene films will be characterized by electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction. Their mechanical and electrical properties, as well as their electrochemical performance for supercapacitor materials, will be evaluated and compared. The results of this project will improve the understanding that different solution-based electrode fabrication processes have on the properties of MXene materials. This project will also provide comprehensive guidance for the fabrication of high-performance electrode materials for energy storage devices.  (PI: Professor Yury Gogotsi, Nanomaterials Institute)

Assessing Geophysical Fluid Flows for Ocean Dynamics Prediction.

Geophysical Fluid FlowsGeophysical fluid dynamics (GFD) is the study of natural large-scale fluid flows, such as oceans, the atmosphere, and rivers. GFD flows are naturally stochastic and aperiodic, yet exhibit coherent structure. Coherent structures are important because they enable the estimation of the underlying geophysical fluid dynamics. Which enables the prediction of various physical, chemical, and biological processes in GFD flows. Nevertheless, the data sets that describe GFD flows are often finite-time and of low resolution which limits the our ability to find and track coherent structures on such flows. This project focuses on developing a general mathematical and control framework for distributed autonomous sensing and tracking of geophysical fluid dynamics in 2D space over time (2D+1) and in 3D space over time (3D+1). The proposed strategies leverage the spatio-temporal sensing capabilities of a team of mobile networked robots to collect, process, and interpret data in geophysical flows. The information is then used to quantify transport behaviors in natural fluid environments which directly impacts the energy-efficiency of underwater navigation, underwater electromagnetic wave propagation, and the accurate modeling and prediction of ocean dynamics. (PI:  Professor Ani Hsieh)

Investigation of Novel Flow Designs for Enhanced Mass Transport in Redox Flow Batteries.

Redox Battery FLowRaising concerns over the impact of fossil fuel production and consumption on the environment have motivated many researchers to come up with novel solutions to the energy demand of today. In this manner, renewable energy generation (i.e. solar and wind) has become one of the most cost effective and environmentally friendly ways of electricity production. However, intermittency of produced energy necessitates implementation of large-scale energy storage devices, which still remains to be the main concern over widespread utilization of renewable energy sources at the grid level. Redox flow batteries (RFBs) are one of the most promising electrochemical energy storage devices that can offer scalability, long cycle life, and cost effectiveness that is necessary for grid-scale applications. In RFBs, redox active species are in aqueous solutions where they get circulated through a reaction cell upon charging and stored in external tanks until discharge of the stored energy is necessary. Here, the capacity of the system is proportional to the size of the tanks whereas the power is only dependent on the size of the reaction cell. This decoupled power and energy ratings give RFBs a unique advantage of scalability over conventional energy storage devices such as lithium ion batteries. For instance, the design of the reaction cell plays a major role in the power output of the device, as the effective delivery of the reactants to the electrodes is vital for good performance. Motivated by this, the objective of this project will be to design, manufacture, and test various novel flow architectures for a laboratory scale RFB testing station. REU students involved in this project will learn how to manufacture cell parts, prepare redox active solutions, and learn how to test and analyze the performance metrics for a large-scale battery.  (PI: Professor E. Caglan Kumbur) 

Dynamic Fatigue & Fragmentation for Geological Resource Recovery & Planetary Formation Discovery.

FractureMany solar system bodies, and all geological resources are housed in nominally brittle materials that have varying porosity and heterogeneous microstructures under complex boundary and/or environmental conditions.  During both celestial formation of planetary bodies, as well as in the recovery of a geological resources, these materials are subject to sub-catastrophic, yet extreme impact histories that highly influence their behavior.  This is particularly important as impacts are a dominant process across the solar system, contributing to all stages of planetary evolution, and are the primary mechanism for terrestrial resource recovery methods.  Typically, estimates of a disruption threshold or dispersal of these materials are made with regards to the collision energy per unit mass. While these thresholds are useful in helping to define a time scale for complete fragmentation/disruption, it has been shown that sub-catastrophic prior impact events are also an important part of that body’s collision history, and influence their response. At the same time, the study of the large-scale fracture and fragmentation from impact events occurring at energies below the threshold for disruption or complete fragmentation (but those still able to cause damage and eventual complete failure) has received nominally less attention, and is the focus of this project.  Present work in the group is being conducted on basalt, a celestial body analogue material, as well as tungsten carbide, a material used in drill bits for resource recovery.  The REU student will work with his/her mentorship team to help elucidate the role that previous impact events (hysteresis) have on the dynamic fatigue, fracture and fragmentation properties of these materials in the lab.  The student will learn about and use full-field optical techniques to extract in-situ material behavior in experiments, as well as be exposed to finite element modeling (FEM) that simulates lab work, microscopy techniques to quantify aspects of the material samples both pre- and post-mortem, and conducting analysis on the data using MATLAB software.  (PI: Professor Leslie Lamberson)

Stability and Robustness of Engineered Surfaces for Power Generation.

engineered surfacesPhase-change heat transfer is used in a variety of industries and plays a critical role in power generation, chemical processing, water purification, and HVAC in buildings. As such, even modest enhancements of phase-change heat transfer processes will translate directly to substantial energy and cost savings on a large scale. The realization of technologies to enhance phase-change heat transfer is of critical importance due to its impact on the approaching energy, environmental, and water crises, as well as thermal management needs of next-generation electronics systems. As a result, a multitude of researchers have developed various technologies to enhance phase-change heat transfer using engineered surfaces comprised of micro and nano-scale structures, as well as surfaces with heterogeneous properties. While these surfaces have been shown to greatly increase the efficiency of the boiling, evaporation, and condensation processes, their long-term reliability remains un-proven. This project will investigate the lifetime and robustness of engineered surfaces during boiling and condensation heat transfer. IExE REU students will develop experimental apparatuses to characterize thermal performance of enhanced surfaces and its degradation over extended testing. REU students will work closely with graduate mentors and develop hands-on skills relevant to energy and the environment through a focus on experiential learning methodologies. (PI: Professor Matthew McCarthy)

Porous Nanowire Composite Membranes for selective ions removal in hybrid CDI.

nanowireCharged species can be removed from water using electrical surface sorption in capacitive deionization process (CDI), a new energy efficient technology for water desalination and purification. This project will investigate if ion removal capacity of CDI system may be increased by using redox active manganese oxide nanowires with tunnel crystal structures enabling intercalation of the dissolved ions with high capacity The IExE REU students will test selectivity of ions extraction from solutions containing multiple dissolved ions, most strongly resembling brackish and sea water, by varying tunnel size to match the size of the intercalated ions. Use of nanowires will enable short diffusion distances and high contact area between feed solution and electrode. In addition, nanowire morphology is advantageous for manufacturing of free-standing fiber based highly porous electrodes by fabricating composites with carbon nanotubes. In this work, the students will integrate wet chemistry materials synthesis methods with advanced electrode fabrication approaches and electrochemical characterization. (PI:  Professor Ekaterina Pomerantseva)

Failure Mechanisms in High-Voltage Cathode Materials for Electric Vehicle Batteries.

High VoltageNew high-voltage, high-energy oxide materials for lithium-ion battery cathodes such as LiNi0.5Mn1.5O4 may significantly improve the range and decrease the battery cost of electric vehicles [27-30]. However, the long-term stability of these materials is not satisfactory for commercial implementation. Poor lifetime is associated with dissolution of manganese and nickel from the cathode and deposition into surface films at the anode, but this failure mechanism of dissolution and deposition is not well understood. Better understanding of how metals detrimentally affect charge transport and reaction at the surface will lead to improved approaches for material and system design. This project will investigate the causes of battery failure in the presence of these high-voltage cathode materials using microfluidic testing cells and redox mediators to electrochemically probe transport and reaction in surface films. REU students will gain experience with device fabrication, materials synthesis, and battery testing as well as classic electroanalytical techniques such as cyclic voltammetry and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. (PI:  Professor Maureen Tang)

Designing Stronger Metallic Nanostructures for Energy Applications through Atomistic Modeling.

NanostructuresAs the need for more functional structures and devices increases in many emerging technologies, scientists and engineers have pursued methods to design materials starting at the nanoscale. However, even though nanotechnology has demonstrated that unique materials properties can be exploited by nanostructuring a material, the fundamental mechanisms for those improvements are often not well understood. Therefore, this project will utilize atomistic modeling to help design new metallic nanostructures with improved strength by leveraging a new understanding of the governing processes at the nanoscale that control material strength. For example, this project will study the influence of both interfaces and compositional chemistry on the simulated strength and stability of each nanostructure. To achieve this goal, we will use modern high-performance computing architectures to run large-scale atomistic simulations on novel metallic nanostructures and explore the various design parameters that can alter the physical strength of the material. The end result will include a more complete understanding of metallic nanostructure deformation and improved design criteria for emerging materials to help engineer new and more functional devices and structures. (PI:  Professor Garritt Tucker)

Systems Modeling of Food, Energy, and Water When Central Sources are Unpredictable and Insufficient.

Students at PeacTech LabFood, energy, and water (FEW) are basic human needs and their interdependencies have been a significant topic of discussion since the first major conference on the subject was held in Bonn iDetermining how humankind can produce and use food, energy, and water sustainably is remarkably complex when one takes into consideration climate change, conflict, economic development, urbanization, and inequalities in wealth, health and social power. However, the FEW nexus must be addressed in an integrated manner if we are to engineer appropriate and effective solutions that exploit and respect the interconnections between FEW system components. This is especially true in regions where resource scarcity and urbanization are increasing. (PI’s: Prof. James Tangorra, Prof. Mira Olson, Drexel Peace Engineering program)

The guiding objectives of this project is to develop a systems model that describes the interdependencies of food, energy and water at scales from a single dwelling to a large region, and to educate engineers to develop solutions within the context of resource unpredictability, intense climates, and conflict. Three goals will be pursued:

  1. Understand the dynamics of the FEW nexus. Develop a system based framework and community appraisal methodology that models the dynamics of the FEW nexus and of the community in which the nexus takes place.
  2. Investigate the sustainability and scaling of decentralized FEW nexus technologies. Conduct a critical review of existing systems, innovative technologies and FEW management solutions and develop a framework for the design, integration, and governance of systems that work along a continuum from centralized to off-grid.
  3. Increase community capacity for the management of FEW systems. Methodologies and engagement platforms to create synergy and collaboration among stakeholders involved in successful FEW resource management at the community level will be investigated and pursued.