Research Projects

Below are the focus areas of our REU


Mesoporous Thermoelectric Materials Enabled by Block Copolymer Templating and Nanoscale Self-Assembly

Prof. Michael T. Pettes, Mechanical Engineering pettes-resConverting waste heat to power has a technical potential of 14.6 GW with market penetration estimated at 2.9 GW, and since over 40% of the total potential for waste heat is in the petroleum refining sector, conversion of this energy to electrical power will have the largest impact, with a market penetration estimated on the order of $80B. Thermoelectric energy conversion holds the potential to convert this heat directly into electricity, however, without the development of new material systems with controlled nanoscale size distributions, these technologies will be limited to efficiencies below 20% of Carnot efficiency. The objective of this REU project is to develop mesoporous architectures of chalcogenide-family thermoelectrics and evaluate their performance. Students will be directly involved in the synthesis, characterization, and thermophysical property measurements. Upon completion of this project, REU students will have been instrumental in transforming a new scientific field, mesoporous thermoelectrics, and will have demonstrated four new and scalable nanostructured thermoelectric materials capable of increasing the energy conversion efficiency of current thermoelectric technologies by at least 85–105%. Pettes Group Web | Top of Page

Magnetoelectric Nanocomposite Thin Films

Prof. Menka Jain, Physics small-graphicMagnetoelectric (ME) materials are those in which there is a strong coupling between magnetic moment and electric field (or conversely, electric polarization and magnetic field). An alternative to single phase ME materials, which suffer from low ME coupling, is to combine piezoelectric materials with magnetostrictive matials in a single device. Such composite materials can achieve high ME coupling at room temperature and will enable new high-efficiency vibrational energy harvesting applications, in addition to magnetic field sensors and electrically and magnetically tunable radio frequency devices. Additionally, one way to circumvent the problem of high leakage currents is to nanostructure the composite, which reduces the amount of magnetostrictive material nesseary for high ME coupling. The objective of this REU project is to use solution-based techniques to synthesize nanocomposite ME thin-films comprising of piezolectric and magnetostrictive materials and study the effect of processing conditions on the ME coupling via strain transfer between the two phases. Students will be involved in the synthesis and charaterization of these ME composite thin-films. By the competition of this project, the REU students involved will have developed extensive experimental scientific research skills, and significantly contributed to the scientific knowledge in the field of ME materials. The ME composite thin-films synthesized for this project, if successful, are anticipated to demonstrate the strongest ME coupling observed in any thin-film composite, owing to the nanoscale control over the distribution of the respective phases. Jain group Web | Top of Page

How Dynamic Adhesion of Erythrocytes Contributes in Vaso-Occlusive Episodes in Sickle Cell Disease Patients

Prof. George Lykotrafitis, Mechanical Engineering ge-lyko-researchMillions worldwide live with sickle cell disease (SCD), the most common inherited blood disorder. SCD is due to a single point mutation in the -globin gene, resulting in the production of abnormal hemoglobin (HbS). In the deoxygenated state, HbS polymerizes to form relatively stiff filaments, forcing red blood cells (RBCs) to assume an irregular shape. It is these “sickled” RBCs that are thought to cause vaso-occlusive episodes (VOEs), which are the hallmark of the disease, by occluding small blood vessels, resulting in microvascular infarction, widespread organ dysfunction, and early mortality. The objective of this REU project is to quantitatively investigate the mechanism of RBC adhesion and vaso-occlusion in blood from patients with sickle cell disease during crisis and at steady state and compare to healthy individuals. Students participating in these experiments will have the chance to realize how modern developments in engineering can help us to study human diseases at a very fundamental level. Lykotrafitis Group Web | Top of Page

Generation of electrical power from deformation of a nanofiber mat/patch of an electroactive polymer 

Prof. Thanh Duc Nguyen, Mechanical Engineering 

Human body exhibits exciting and important physical activities such as electrical impulses from nerves, and deformations from heart and lung tissues. Such signals are inherent to biological functions and physiology. They also signify health status of cells, tissues and organs. To monitor these physical activities and employ them to repair damaged organs or treat diseases, it is necessary to develop devices (e.g. biosensors, bioactuators, and drug carriers) and functional materials which are biocompatible and can be easily integrated with biological systems. As biological systems are often soft and built upon tiny curvy cells, these devices and materials need to be flexible and constructed at small scales. Ideally, they should be also biodegradable so that they can self-vanish and leave no harm after finishing their tasks. Our lab focuses on the fundamental study and development of biointegrated materials at nano- and micro-scales and their device applications for drug-delivery, biosensing and tissue engineering.

Specifically, the objective of this REU project is to develop a 3D micro-manufacturing platform which is used to make drug-delivery microdevices. Mechanical Engineering students with experiences in making of mechanical parts (machine-shop type of work) and part assembly for device fabrication would be preferable.

Nguyen Group Web | Top of Page

Nanoscale Electro-Thermal Effects in Next-Generation Phase Change Memory Devices

Profs. Helena Silva and Ali Gokirmak, Electrical & Computer Engineering nanoscale-researchElectronic and thermal transport studies at the nanoscale have a direct impact on electronic device design including memory devices and thermoelectric energy conversion units. This is an important issue in next-generation memory technologies, and the UConn Nanoelectronics Laboratory led by Profs. Silva and Gokirmak has a collabotive effort with IBM Watson Research Center where nanoscale phase change memory devices are fabricated. The objective of this REU project is to identify mechanisms governing electrical and thermal energy dissipation mechanisms in next-generation phase change memory devices. Undergraduate students involved with this site will design and implement experiments to characterize electronic, thermal and thermoelectric transport of Ge2Sb2Te5 phase change materials at the nanoscale. Silva / Gokirmak Group Websites:, | Top of Page

Computational Study of Strain Effects on Electronic Properties of 2D Materials

Prof. Avinash M. Dongare, Materials Science & Engineering graphThe ability to synthesize stable atomically thin two dimensional (2D) crystals and their ability to be used as building blocks for the next-generation of miniaturized electronic devices has led to an extraordinary amount of interest from both theoretical and experimental investigations. The transition from the indirect-to-direct electronic band gap at monolayer dimensions shows significant promise for applications as channel materials in field-effect transistors (FETs). The structure of TMDs consists of hexagonal layers of transition-metal (M) atoms (Mo, W, Nb, Re, Ni, or V) sandwiched between two layers of chalcogen (X) atoms (S, Se, or Te) with a MX2 stoichiometry. The understanding of the links between interface structure, stacking sequence and electronic properties in 2D materials will allow for the possibility of unprecedented performance improvements for the miniaturized devices. The objective of this REU project is to investigate the electronic properties of various 2D heterostructures using density functional theory (DFT) calculations. The proposed research program will undertake important tasks to gain a fundamental understanding of the relationship between the atomic scale structure, chemistry, strain and the electronic properties of various configurations of stacked 2D materials. REU students will identify the various effects that are associated with changes in atomic level structure, chemistry, and strains for TMDs.

Dongare Group Web | Top of Page


Cyber-enabled Design of Size- and Shape-controlled Liposome-like Nanoparticles for Drug Delivery

Ying Li

Despite extensive efforts made by a large cadre of scientists and clinicians looking for effective cancer treatments, cancer still accounts for approximately 25% of annual deaths in the US. Nanoparticle (NP)-based drug carriers are designed to alter the bio-distribution and pharmacokinetic profile of small molecules and enable their selective delivery to the diseased tissue. To date, several classes of NPs have demonstrated promising properties as therapeutic carriers, such as liposomes, dendrimers, micelles and gold NPs. Among them, liposomes have been widely used as drug delivery vehicles due to their biocompatibility and degradability. Despite the breakthrough in producing vesicles with controlled geometry and surface properties, the current design of liposomes faces challenges in one or more of following aspects: 1) it remains a challenge to control the size and shape of vesicles within nanometer precision; 2) some existing size-control methods are limited to specific lipid composition without adaptability; 3) liposomes have limited stability during the early phases of drug delivery within blood flow and can leak their contents before arrival at their intracellular target due to pore formation and degradation.

The objective of this REU project is to computational design and synthesizes size- and shape-controlled liposome-like NPs for efficient delivering therapeutics and imagining agents with high stability. Students will be directly involved in computational modeling, simulation and visualization on the self-assembly process of the size- and shape-controlled liposome-like NPs. By the competition of this project, the REU students involved will have developed extensive computational scientific research skills, and significantly contributed to the scientific knowledge in the field of nanomedicine.

Ying Li Lab | Top of Page

Prof. Jason Lee, Mechanical Engineering

Low cost nanomaterials such as nanoclays can drastically enhance the thermal stability of polymers. They have even been applied to ablative applications, with high heat flux and pressure environments. Similar use of nanoclay and fire retardants have been attempted and applied to nanofibers. Current fire protective clothing is built with multiple layers. These layers provide thermal barriers and moisture dissipation. A single fiber can be processed with these multiple layers. An outer layer would create a char while the inner layers continue to provide a significant thermal layer. By building a polymer nanocomposite layer over a nanofiber using coaxial electrospinning the benefits of both may be achieved. The objective of this REU project is to identify a polymer nanocomposite formulation and process to form a multilayer fiber with a nanofiber as the inner layer. The findings of the REU students will continue to develop the field of polymer nanocomposite fibers for thermal applications. For each task, students will learn material processing and characterization techniques.

J. Lee Group Web | Top of Page

Mechanical Characterization of Materials at Small Length Scales

Prof. Seok-Woo Lee, Materials Science & Engineering

For the reliable design of mechanical devices with micro- or nano-sized materials, nanotechnology has always called for a fundamental understanding of the mechanical properties of materials at small length scales. Therefore, it becomes more important not only to design nanostructured materials with the optimum mechanical properties (nanofabrication), but also to develop a new experimental capability to measure their mechanical properties (nanomechanical characterization). Thus, the next generation of experimental mechanics research for ‘true’ engineering applications should add the complexity of environmental changes, notably temperature. This is particularly important for space or marine applications, however characterization methods are not widely available. The objective of this REU project is to develop fundamental insights into nanomechanical properties of single crystalline metals at various temperatures in order to design nanosized metals with tailorable mechanical properties. Students will be able to learn equipment design, nanofabrication, nanomechanical characterization, and stress-strain data analysis at the forefront of the “mechanics of materials” field through the following efforts. The results will include the stress-strain data of single crystalline metallic nanopillars at various temperatures and scanning electron microscope images of deformed nanopillars. The results will provide the insight in fundamental understanding of nanomechanical properties of single crystalline metals at various temperatures. In the end, the data will be a key resource to design nanosized metals with desired mechanical properties.

S.-W. Lee Group Web | Top of Page