These projects are important parts of larger research programs funded by the NSF, DOD, DOE, NASA, NIH, and other federal and private funding agencies. All projects contain microscopy- and microanalysis-related investigations with sustainability-driven objectives (whether by direct investigation of climate change and ecology or material studies with applications in solar or fuel cell technologies). Each faculty member in charge of a project has experience with, and is committed to, mentoring REU participants and undergraduates. The seven weeks spent in each faculty mentor’s lab prove to be an insightful and singular experience that allows participants to witness the reality of academic research.
Biology and Environmental Science:
Sarah Eppley Testing Theories for Niche Segregation: One of the focus areas for this research group is to understand plant sexual systems. We are using Distichlis spicata, a dioecious, perennial grass that exhibits extreme spatial segregation of the sexes (SSS) within a population,as a model system to understand ecological niche divergence between males and females within a species. Using a sex-linked molecular marker to sex non-reproductive individuals, we have found differences in seed germination, seedling survival, and seedling competitive effects between D. spicata males and females. Currently, we are using reciprocal transplant experiments in the field and a multi-factorial greenhouse experiment to test potential mechanisms responsible for SSS. The REU student will work with graduate students to develop skills in molecular and field ecology.
Jeffrey Singer Ubiquitin Degradation System: Research in the Singer lab centers on ubiquitin signaling and how it affects proliferation. In order to gain a better understanding of how ubiquitin-signaling is regulated focus has been placed on the structure and function of an E3 ligase that we identified as a regulator of a cyclin called cyclin E. This cyclin is an important mediator of entrance into the cell cycle and thus is important in normal proliferative processes such as wound healing and liver regeneration as well as abnormal processes such as cancer. We have taken a broad approach that encompasses biochemical methods and proteomics, as well as mouse disease models, to determine how E3 ligases work. In doing so, we have uncovered unique in vivo roles for this E3 ligase as well as new molecular details regarding the structure of the active complex. For further investigation, REU students will work with graduate students and learn the necessary cell biology experimental procedures first. He/she will then take on one or two aspects of this project and conduct them independently.
Catherine de Rivera Salinity and Temperature on Survivorship: Our marine invasions research group studies the ecology and management of non-native marine invertebrates, including quantifying and mitigating ecological impacts, identifying factors that affect population growth and spread of non-natives, and predicting their potential for spread. An REU project would focus on an aspect of one of two research projects, both of which will examine the joint roles of salinity and temperature on survivorship of as well as sub-lethal effects to non-native tunicates or crabs. Results will be used as a management tool and a predictive tool and will also offer insight into population and community ecology.
Michael Bartlett The Role of Basal Transcription Factors in Gene Expression in Hyperthermophile Archaea. Our research focus is on the basic mechanism of transcription in the archaea. The transcription machinery in archaea is strikingly similar to that of eukaryotes, although considerably simpler. Our model system is the hyperthermophile archaeon Pyrococcus furiosus, which grows best at temperatures near 100°C. The roles of its transcription factors in transcription initiation and elongation are being studied using biochemistry and molecular biology. We recently developed a novel cross-linking technique to define protein-DNA interactions that relies on recombinant proteins containing unnatural amino acids. An REU project will involve introduction of mutations in surfaces likely to be involved in DNA-protein interactions, followed by characterization of the mutant proteins in biochemical assays. Through this, the REU student will gain experience in the design and introduction of site-directed mutations, protein purification, gel electrophoresis, PCR, and in vitro analysis of protein-DNA interactions. Understanding the specific positioning and roles of transcription factors will help develop a unified model for transcription initiation and elongation in eukaryotic-type transcription systems.
Ken StedmanViruses from Extremophiles: This work concentrates on the characterization of novel viruses from the environment of an acidic hot lake (Boiling Springs Lake) in Lassen Volcanic National Park. This unique ecosystem is completely microbial and viruses are predicted to be the only "predators." This work uses TEM, SEM, and EDS, together with light microscopy and molecular biology. This is a collaborative research project with colleagues at Humboldt State University (Profs. Patricia Siering, Mark Wilson) and California State University Chico (Prof. Gordon Wolfe) and may involve field work. In parallel, we investigate the viruses of the extremely thermophilic archaeon (also known as archaebacterium) Sulfolobus. These viruses are different, both in their structures and sequences, from other known viruses. New viruses and virus-like particles that we discover have unique ultrastructures and may offer insights into the thermal and acid stability of nanostructures in general—particularly those based on virus structures. In order to fully characterize these viruses and to determine their structures and chemical composition, we use high-resolution TEM, SEM, and EDS. REU students will work together with graduate students and focus on a few aspects of this investigation. This research is currently funded by the NSF (MCB #0702020) and NASA.
Electrical and Computer Engineering:
Christof Teuscher Intrinsic Computation with Self-Assembled Nanowire Networks: Intrinsic computation is the “intrinsic” spatial and temporal dynamics a system has while “designed” computation makes such dynamics useful to us. The technological promise of harnessing intrinsic computation has enormous potential for cheaper, faster, more robust, and more energy-efficient information processing technology. The goal of this project is to first build simple models for the self-assembly of nanowires into complex interconnect structures; this will allow REU students to learn how to use computer software to write programs and build the models. Next, the student will use these unstructured nanowire network models, which allow for limited functional control and typically have a dynamic behavior beyond simple switching, to perform simple computations by using principles from intrinsic computation. The long-term goal of the project is to validate and compare the models with actual experiments. The electron microscopy and microanalysis techniques that the REU students have gained from the short course will be very useful for them to collect experimental data for this project.
Robert Strongin Optical Indictors for Disease Monitoring: Our research group studies fundamental chemistry to enable new technology for diagnosing, understanding and treating major diseases via the design and synthesis of new organic reagents and therapeutics. Examples of current projects include assays for the detection of (i) early stage ovarian cancer, (ii) cardiovascular disease, (iii) mitochondrial and oxidative stress disorders (iv) and the molecular mechanism of chemotherapeutic and antibacterial side effects in causing deafness and kidney failure. Our work involves the organic synthesis of new dyes and pharmaceuticals, basic bioanalytical spectroscopy and collaborations with leading basic scientists and clinicians on the international scene. There are thus numerous opportunities and choices for REU students for a multidisciplinary and rewarding experience.
Tami Lasseter Clare Developing Protective Clear Coating for Outdoor Artwork: Research in Prof. Tami Lasseter Clare's laboratory focuses on the intersection of materials chemistry and art conservation. Airborne pollutants, like sulfur dioxide, have a deleterious effect on outdoor artwork, such as bronze sculptures, often leading to corrosion of the metal. Protective coatings for outdoor metalwork that mitigate corrosion must be highly resistant to degradation by ultraviolet light and to water penetration/absorption. Because of the desire to improve air quality by reducing the amount of Volatile Organic Components (VOCs) present in coatings, we work with industrial coatings companies, such as Arkema Inc., to evaluate and improve newly emerging commercial technologies that have low or zero VOC content. In addition, we investigate strategies to further improve coating performance, such as incorporating nanoparticles that may harden the coatings and/or make them more resistant to water penetration/absorption. REU students will learn analytical techniques to characterize coatings and metals corrosion including Infrared Microscopy, X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry, and Scanning Electron Microscopy.
Andrea Goforth Synthesis and Characterization of Photoluminescent Silicon Nanoparticles Decorated for Biomedical Imaging: Prof. Goforth’s lab investigates the synthesis, purification, and characterization of surface-functionalized targeted inorganic nanoparticles, which have an imaging handle compatible with existing medical technology. The goal of such research is to develop powerful imaging probes that can provide real-time information about biological processes on the cellular, sub-cellular, and single molecule levels. This information will aid us in our understanding of disease progression and the therapeutic efficacy of drugs. REU students in Prof. Goforth’s lab will work alongside graduate students to (1) develop new methods for synthesizing photoluminescent silicon nanoparticle cores, with particular emphasis on controlling their size, crystallinity, and colloidal stability, (2) impart silicon nanoparticle surfaces with desired functionalities for water-solubility and bioconjugation to targeted ligands using developed and novel surface chemistries, (3) separate silicon nanoparticles from synthetic impurities, leading to clean products for imaging studies, and (4) characterize the effects of synthetic and environmental parameters on the photoluminescence exhibited by the particles. REU students will manage a small aspect of this project, for example, carefully examining the solvent, concentration, and pH dependence of the silicon nanoparticle emission color. The REU participants will learn advanced synthesis techniques, including air-free methods, routine chemical/analytical characterization techniques, such as UV-visible, fluorescence, FT-IR, and NMR spectroscopies, as well as advanced imaging techniques, including TEM, SEM, and fluorescence microscopies.
Kevin Reynolds Renewable Petroleum: Petroleum is a finite resource and a vital commodity in today’s world. Its importance is exemplified in how we live, the policies that we embrace and the stability of world economies. Our dependence on a non-renewable resource, rising energy costs, undesirable environmental impacts and the desire for energy independence from foreign oil have prompted widespread interest and research in the development of alternative transportation fuels. One approach in the development of alternative fuels involves the use of specific enzymes derived from a variety of microbes. Recently, four proteins responsible for the generation of olefin, a potential biofuel, in a number of organisms have been identified. The proteins, and the genes that encode them, are in hand at PSU. The project involving REU students will entail the determination of the catalytic role for each of the proteins in the conversion of 2 activated fatty acid thioesters into a monounsaturated olefin. Students will carry out a detailed biochemical examination, with respect to substrate specificity, product formation and catalytic mechanism, for each of the proteins. It is expected that a thorough understanding of the proteins helps to improve the yield of the desired biofuel product.
Carl Wamser Incorporation of n-type Semiconductors into Nanofibers of Conductive Polymers for Solar Cell Application: Research in the Wamser lab is focused on solar energy conversion, using an approach called artificial photosynthesis. The long-term goal is development of a solar cell that efficiently collects solar energy and converts it to a useful form of chemical energy, such as the decomposition of water into hydrogen and oxygen using the energy of sunlight. Many of the design strategies are roughly based on natural membrane systems as used in photosynthesis. For example, the light-absorbing molecules used in the research are porphyrins, structural analogs of chlorophyll. Porphyrins are specifically organized in various ways to enhance their ability to collect solar energy, transfer their excitation energy to a reactive site, and initiate electron transfer reactions. Currently, there are three main lines of research active in the Wamser group: interfacial polymerization, TiO2 semiconductor electrodes, and the oxidative electropolymerizations of aminoporphyrins. The REU project in the Wamser group will involve materials synthesis, microscopy characterization, and electrochemistry & photochemistry investigation. REU students with SEM and FIB training are beneficial to this project.
Erik Johansson Renewable Energy: In recent history our society has relied on non-renewable sources (such as coal, oil, and uranium) to satisfy our energy needs; we could continue doing so for thousands of years before running out of fossil fuels (coal, especially, is abundant). However, it is likely that our consumption of fossil fuels is having a significant impact on our habitat, the earth, through anthropogenic global warming. Carbon dioxide, which is produced when burning fossil fuels, is a green-house gas. Carbon-neutral energy sources allow us to enjoy modern comforts while affecting our environment less. The sun supplies far more energy to the earth than we are currently consuming, yet we are still relying on fossil fuels to meet most of our energy needs. Solar-energy will likely not be our main source of energy until it is economically competitive with fossil fuels. Less expensive, and thus more competitive, solar-to-usable energy conversion devices can be realized by improving efficiency, and reducing the cost of the materials used to make photovoltaic (PV), and PEC (photoelectrochemical) devices. My research interests are all aimed at addressing these issues. The research provides great opportunities for working on solving present problems, while doing fundamental science. Researchers will have the opportunity to explore electronic, electrochemical and chemical properties of materials and surfaces.
Fei Xie Physical Artifact Virtual Experience:Physical Artifact Virtual Experience (PAVE) is a content delivery system that provides users virtual experiences of remotely residing physical artifacts, which are close to experiences through directly accessing these artifacts. PAVE provides educational accesses of physical resources to underserved populations: extending online training by involving artifacts that require physical accesses, facilitating sharing of and online competition around amateur physical projects, and enabling inclusion of physical aspects to online gaming. In the past year, we have developed a PAVE prototype that can support a small number of projects and concurrent users simultaneously. We have also acquired a number of physical artifacts such as robotic arms and embedded system platforms. This has already enabled small-scale trial use of PAVE. The REU participants will be involved in research on how to scale up to hundreds of projects that are simultaneously accessed by thousands of users and allow a variety of access methods through web, mobile, and game consoles. Particularly, a real-time video broadcast system needs to be designed so that many users can experience the same project with minimum delay. In addition, the REU participants will also be working on acquisition and integration of new physical artifacts into PAVE.
Andrew G. Fountain Glacier Change in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica: The glaciers of the McMurdo Dry Valleys have been in equilibrium over the past century based on the discovery of the region by R.F. Scott in 1905. Although much of the planet has warmed in the past few decades this trend has not included this region of Antarctica. Indeed, we have observed a cooling trend from 1990 to 2005. Since 2005, it appears the region may be warming again based on net mass loss from the glaciers. Whether that warming is due to advection of warmer air temperatures, increased solar radiation, or a changing wind regime is not clear. The REU participant will be involved in examining meteorological records, testing hypotheses using models already developed, and investigating physical changes using satellite remote sensing methods. Specifically, the student will aid in trend detection from the data collected from a network of 12 meteorological stations deployed in the region.
Mechanical & Materials Engineering
Derek Trethaway Fabrication of Ultrahydrophobic Surfaces for Micro- Total Analysis System Development: With the promise of higher throughput, increased sensitivity, rapid analysis, decreased reagent and sample consumption, less waste, portability, disposability, and automation, micro total analysis systems (mTAS) have experienced explosive growth over the past decade and a half . The goal of mTAS research and development is to integrate an entire ‘lab-on-a-chip’ which performs complete analysis cycles including sample preparation, chemical reactions, analytical separations, detection, and data handling. Surprisingly, sample preparation including liquid-liquid extraction remains substantially off line (off chip), and as a result is often the bottleneck of modern procedures . Since the surface to volume ratio scales inversely with length, the importance of surface effects on fluid motion increases as the dimensions of microfluidic devices decrease. With current characteristic length scales on the order of tens of microns and the push for even smaller integrated devices, multi-scale surface modification provides a truly novel methods for manipulating fluids, particles, or macromolecules. In this research, REU students will work with graduate students to exploit the increased importance of surface effects at the microscale to provide precise fluid control in microchannels as a means to enable passive liquid-liquid or liquid-gas separations as well as pre-concentration of chemical species. REU students will work with graduate students to design, develop, and fabricate novel ultrahydrophobic surfaces by micro/nanofabrication techniques. Through quantitative experiments, they will examine the interaction between fluid motion and textured surfaces, compute and design optimal hydrophobic surface features to enhance fluid motion and control, and develop the technology for passive micro-scale phase separations that exploit discontinuous hydrophobicity patterns which develop from 3-D nano-scale features in 2-D microscale arrays.
Mark Weislogel Macro- and Micro-fluidic Capillary Phenomena: When the forces of gravity are reduced, the often negligible effects of wetting and surface tension play a dominant role in fluids transport. This is especially true for capillary flows and phenomena occurring in the fluids systems aboard spacecraft. Research at PSU in this field is funded by NASA, and experiments are constructed for testing in a new drop tower facility. We are also conducting research with two experiments currently aboard the International Space Station. The experiments to be conducted require experimental setup, data collection, imaging, and subsequent image analysis. Some experimental design and fabrication is also needed. Specific research themes will concern capillary flows in microgravity, the behavior of liquids on ultrahydrophic surfaces, 3-D wetting and spreading, and complex capillary flows in microporous structures and over highly regulated micro-porous surfaces. Computer simulations of fluid flow and stability are normally conducted in parallel with experiments, and REU students will be exposed to the current software employed to conduct such research. Publication quality work is expected for selected research activities.
Evan Thomas Sustainability of Water, Sanitation, Air and Energy Interventions in Developing Communities: Nearly a billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water, two billion have inadequate sanitation facilities, three billion use biomass for their daily energy needs and nearly half the world's population live in rural isolation, lacking access to the most basic human services. Combined, these limitations are a leading cause of the perpetuating cycle of poverty and political insecurity. Meanwhile, the majority of international development agencies are responsible for self-reporting project outcomes. At best, expert spot-checks are conducted in the field occasionally. These results tend to show individual project success, while meta-surveys indicate on-going challenges in the sector.
Remote monitoring via distributed in-situ sensors, may provide solutions to many of the issues around sustainability of water, sanitation, air and energy interventions in developing communities such as unreliable survey data and relying on spot checks to assess performance. Data can be used to understand programmatic, social, economic, and seasonal changes that may influence the quality of a program. Additionally, behavioral patterns of the user can be studied to better understand how and when water, sanitation, infrastructure and energy technologies are being used. How the sponsors of the intervention respond to the data and adjust their implementation programs can also be evaluated.
The SWEETLab™ is currently demonstrating this concept in water, sanitation, household energy and rural infrastructure programs with diverse partners including Mercy Corps, the Lemelson Foundation, Bridges to Prosperity, and the Gates Foundation, in several countries including Indonesia, Haiti, Guatemala, India and Rwanda. The SWEETSense™ technology can provide objective, qualitative and continuous operational data on the usage and performance of programs across a range of sectors and communities. The data is then directly integrated into SWEETData™, an internet database presenting summary statistics on performance and usage of the monitored technologies to front-end users.
David Sailor Exploring the Unintended Consequences of Urban Sustainability
Solutions: Integration of sustainable technologies in building designs and urban
planning is a growing challenge and opportunity. Architects and Design
Engineers are developing buildings that rely increasingly on natural
ventilation. They are also installing very high performance building
envelopes and integrating solar photovoltaic power generation on
building facades. At the other end of the spectrum, urban planners are
actively deploying heat island mitigation policies and strategies ranging
from increased urban vegetative cover to highly reflective roof and road
surfaces. There is growing recognition, however, that such technologies
interact. Our research explores these interactions and the potential
unintended consequences of individual technologies or policies. The
REU participants will be involved with computer modeling of the indoor
and outdoor environmental effects of various sustainable development
strategies. They will receive training on cutting edge software for
modeling building energy consumption patterns and for exploring
energy flows in the urban environment. They will also use equipment
in the Green Building Research Laboratory to evaluate material thermal
and radiative properties. They will work closely with graduate students
and be given opportunities to contribute to research publications and
Physics and Electrical & Computer Engineering:
Jun Jiao Development of Nano-Modified Anodes for Improved Power Densities of Microbial Fuel Cells: Alternative and renewable energy is becoming increasingly important as the natural energy crisis is a pressing concern. Greater output of energy with less environmental impact is the driving force for advancing technologies in this field. One sustainable approach to power generation is the microbial fuel cell (MFC) [7–8]. MFCs use microorganisms to simultaneously break down bio-mass and generate electricity. One of the greatest challenges in the practical application of MFCs is to sufficiently increase their power generation. One effective effort discovered by Prof. Jiao’s group is to use nanostructures to modify the electrodes of the MFCs [9–12]. In this technique, efficiently transporting electrons across the microbe to the anode surface is the key to increasing the power output. Our research has demonstrated that nanomodification of the anode could offer one possible solution to increase a stronger bond/pathway between the microbe and anode surface and thus to increase the power density of the MFC. The REU participants will be involved in the fabrication and characterization of nanomaterials for the modification of the fuel cell anodes. Students will learn and carry out the synthesis processes for the growth of nanoparticles and aligned multi-walled carbon nanotubes. They will be trained on the use of a magnetron sputter coater, chemical vapor deposition reactor, and plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition reactor. Students will also use SEM to characterize nanostructure-modified anode samples.
Erik Sànchez Development of Ultra-high-resolution Near-field Microscopes: The research in Prof. Sánchez’s group focuses on the development of novel imaging and spectroscopic techniques utilizing field enhancement concepts [5–6] for the study of biological and semiconductor systems. Recently, other non-optical microscopes have been developed utilizing neutral atoms. The optical microscopes developed in Prof. Sánchez’s group are used for imaging samples using nano-Raman, nano-fluorescence, and magnetic domain techniques. He utilizes computational modeling of electromagnetic fields in order to design probes for generating a high field enhancement for imaging. Once a probe design has been determined, the group uses both high-resolution SEMs and FIBs to assist in the design and modification of these novel near-field probes. Apertureless probes typically require milling by a FIB system, which is then followed by inspection with a high-resolution SEM. The recent non-optical microscope development involves the usage of neutrally charged helium atoms projected to a sample and scattering off the surface, which allows the user to look at magnets, insulators and other materials difficult or impossible to see in an electron or ion microscope. So far, the resolution is roughly 250 nm, but can be better with more development. REU Students will take part in the design and fabrication of key components of these instruments.
Rolf Könenkamp Fabrication and Characterization of Nanodevices for Alternative Energy Applications: One of Prof. Könenkamp’s research projects focuses on the nanofabrication and characterization of nanodevices. For this research, oriented and patterned arrangements of compound semiconductor nanocrystals, such as CdSe, CdS, ZnO, and ZnTe, will be prepared on poly-crystalline conducting substrates and then processed further to basic devices (solar cells , nanostructured light-emitting diodes , and detectors). Successful processing, however, requires extensive characterization—particularly at the early stages of the preparation process. This information can be provided by microscopic, spectroscopic, and diffraction techniques, such as analytical TEM and SEM, electron diffraction in a TEM, and electron backscatter (Kikuchi) diffraction in SEM. REU students, equipped with knowledge of electron microscopy and microanalysis, will quickly be able to take on structural characterization. Basic insight into device fabrication techniques will also be introduced to the students.
Andrew Rice Understanding Recent and Current Trends in the Growth Rate of Greenhouse Gases Using Stable Isotopes: This research group specializes in using abundances of rare stable isotopes to understand trace gases with impacts on atmospheric chemistry and the climate of Earth. We use various characterization tools to provide insight as to the causes for changes in the growth rate of greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. To measure isotopic differences at sufficient levels of precision is both analytically challenging and a laborious endeavor. The REU students will be involved in the development of highly precise mass spectrometric and gas chromatography analytical techniques and the application of these techniques to characterize samples that are collected in environments ranging from the polluted urban atmosphere to the remote stratosphere. REU students will also be involved in field campaigns and data analysis.
Rajendra Solanki Bi-inspired Self Assembly of Nanoparticle Crystals: Bio-inspired nanotechnology research is entering a new phase, with the focus shifting from proof-of-principle laboratory demonstrations to the development of practical fabrication strategies that enable real-world applications. We have been developing a route to fabrication of complex nanostructures based on the controlled protein-based covalent attachment of nanoparticles and nanowires to suitably functionalized surfaces or to each other. This approach is very versatile and can lead to long-range ordered bulk nanocomposites, thin film structures, or even well-defined superstructures formed by two or more nano-structures. We expect to fabricate unexplored materials by successive multilayer formation on functionalized substrates. This procedure can be repeated many times to build up an arbitrary number of well-defined layers. The dominant application of these structures is to manipulate properties of light. It is well known that when exposed to light, metal or semiconductor surfaces produce plasmons, which are resonant modes that involve the interaction between free charges and light. Structuring the metal or semiconductor nanoparticles into arrays changes the nature of the plasmonic response. REU students will be involved in the fabrication of these novel nanostructures and use electron microscopy to characterize them as well as test their plasmatic properties.