Research Experiences for Undergraduates
Research Projects

Research overview:

The colors of butterfly wings, the strength of an abalone shell, and the adhesive properties of gecko feet arise from the arrangement of smaller building blocks which comprise these structures. These beautiful examples inspire scientists to understand principles of assembly and develop new biomimetic and abiotic systems where the internal organization and individual building blocks give materials with higher density and longer-term information storage, therapeutic delivery, applications in catalysis and electronics, and more.

REU students will engage in in-depth study of materials chemistry and, in particular, how materials assemble from smaller entities (atoms and molecules) into larger structures and the function of assembled forms. The projects for REU students include both synthesis and characterization of materials and their building blocks, with opportunities for students with interests in all areas of chemistry.

Lane Baker

Nanopipettes for local sample analysis.

Students will learn to fabricate, manipulate and innovate nanoscale probes for chemical analysis. Analysis is coupled to electrochemical or mass spectrometric detection. Samples range from molecules to tissue, and can include higher-order structures.

Lyudmila Bronstein

Synthesis of magnetically recoverable catalysts.

REU students will master syntheses and characterization of magnetically recoverable catalysts where catalytic species are placed on top of iron oxide nanoparticles for magnetic separation. The students will explore various stabilizing molecules to allow desired morphologies. These catalysts are designed for such sustainable processes as biooil conversion into chemicals and the conversion of methanol to hydrocarbons.

Caroline Jarrold

Probing the electronic and chemical properties of metal oxide cluster models for heterogeneous catalyst defect sites.

Anion photoelectron spectroscopy will be applied toward mapping out the unique structural and electronic properties of mass-selected transition metal oxide clusters. Results of these studies will point to particular oxidation environments around metal centers that enhance activity in applied metal oxide catalysts.

Trevor Douglas

Hierarchical Assembly of Virus-like Particles Across Multiple Lengthscales.

REU students will learn the bio-synthesis and characterization of virus-like particles that encapsulate catalytic centers (enzymes and small molecules) and develop the assembly of these particles into large ordered 3-D arrays. These hierarchically organized materials will be investigated for their applications in coupled catalytic transformations.

Bogdan Dragnea

Physical chemistry of bioinspired materials.

Our laboratory finds inspiration in the self-organized structures of virus particles and sunflower heads. Previous undergraduate researchers have worked on nanoparticle encapsulation in virus capsids (image), on improving and developing nanotechnologies for virus properties characterization, and on photonic structures obtained by self-assembly or top-down nanofabrication.

Amar Flood

Synthesis, and Self-Assembly Properties of Anion-Binding Macrocycles.

REU students will learn organic synthesis for the preparation of macrocycles and test their ability to self-assemble together and/or to capture anions. These assemblies will have applications in water quality for the stewardship of the planet and in the programmed creation of matter for organic solar cells.

Stephen C. Jacobson

Characterization of Nanoscale Particles with Nanofluidic Devices

Virus assembly is a coordinated process in which typically hundreds of subunits react to form complex, symmetric particles. We use resistive-pulse sensing to characterize the assembly of Hepatitis B Virus core protein dimers into T = 3 and T = 4 icosahedral capsids. This technique counts and sizes intermediates and capsids in real time, with single particle sensitivity, and at biologically relevant concentrations. REU students will learn to fabricate these nanofluidic devices and optimize the nanochannel geometries to detect particles with high signal-to-noise ratios. After device fabrication, REU students will conduct resistive-pulse sensing experiments to sense particles of different sizes, monitor assembly of virus capsids under different reaction conditions, and compare their results with conventional methods.

Nicola Pohl

Synthesis of Oligosaccharides with Applications to Vaccines and Vaccine Adjuvant Design.

REU students will learn how to synthesize basic carbohydrate building blocks and design modifications for these blocks to assist in incorporating sugars into polymer/nanoparticle-based vaccine platforms. These new materials will be tested for their immune system response with a network of collaborators.

Sara Skrabalak

Synthesis and Optical Studies of Self-assembling Stellated Nanocrystals.

REU students will learn how to synthesize and characterize novel nanostructures and assist in assembling these structures into larger ordered arrays. These superstructures should facilitate new light-matter interactions, with potential applications in chemical sensing and stealth coatings.

Steven L. Tait

Supramolecular Self-assembly at Surfaces.

REU students in the Tait Surface Chemistry Group will learn scanning tunneling microscopy atomic-resolution imaging methods to learn how chemical structure of small organic building blocks leads to specific and regular self-assembled networks and functional architectures at surfaces. These studies advance our understanding of supramolecular chemistry, surface functionalization, and novel organic semiconductor materials.

Yan Yu

Directing Protein Assembly and Organization in Cell Membranes with Patterned Surfaces.

REU students will learn how to synthesize surface-patterned particles that are biologically active, and investigate how such particles influence immune cell functions. This research will generate new biomaterials with potential application for cancer immunotherapy and drug delivery.

Xingchen Ye

Precision hybrid nanocrystals for scalable mesophase assembly.

Multicomponent nanocrystal assemblies represent an interesting class of materials that derive emergent properties from mesoscale structure. REU students will learn solution-phase synthesis of colloidal nanocrystals, establish design principles for the organization of multicomponent hybrid nanocrystals into periodic and aperiodic arrays, and develop scalable fabrication methods for creating dynamically reconfigurable assemblies.


Prof. Stephen Jacobson
REU Program Director
Prof. Sara Skrabalak
REU Program Co-Director
Maria Sievers
REU Program Assistant