Undergraduate Research

2012 Projects

Abdullah Alsaeed

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Bradley Olsen, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: Volunteer

Protein nanopatterning templated by self-assembled block copolymers in thin films

Enzymes have shown a great potential for catalyzing reactions outside of living bodies. They can be used in many applications such as energy, biosensors, and many others. However, one limiting factor is the stability of these enzymes in vitro. To solve this issue, block copolymers can be used to stabilize and immobilize the enzyme for increasing activity. However, a major problem facing such complexes is the diffusion of the reactants through this matrix. We are developing a model to explain this diffusion, taking into account other factors such as the availability of the active site and interface equilibrium. Also, we are experimenting with such systems using a sample enzyme, organophosphate hydrolase.

Cecilio Aponte

Materials Science and Engineering

Advisor: Amy Glasmeier, Urban Studies and PlanningSponsor: BP

Curriculum development for geospatial energy class

I am working with Amy Glasmeier and another UROP student, Dylan Joss, to develop a new class on economic geography. The class title is “Geography of the Global Economy: Energy, Resources, Conflict and Governance” and its purpose is to allow students to understand the strong link between the areas mentioned in the class title from a geographic perspective. Our role is to perform background research, collect class materials, and test out or formulating ideas for the class. I will focus on renewable energies and resources, since that is the field I’m interested in and want to further study.
This class, being proposed for the Energy Studies minor, would allow students, even those from an engineering background, to understand the impact of their work and to analyze policy decisions on a global scale.

Eben Bitonte


Advisor: Christopher Knittel, ManagementSponsor: BP

The response of commercial aviation to fuel price shocks

Alongside oil prices and the average global temperature, talk about clean, renewable energy sources is on the rise worldwide. Everyone is looking for the “next big thing” in energy, be it wind power, solar power, or nuclear power, among others. However, economic barriers stand in the way of these potential solutions. Governments and firms have little reason to change their ways. I was drawn to the field of energy economics with these dilemmas already on hand around the globe. Yet, after talking to Professor Christopher Knittel, I realized that we still do not even fully understand how we currently operate economically, let alone how we could operate under one of these new solutions. The value gained by the study of industries’ and companies’ reaction to a world where oil demand growth continues to threaten supplies can lead to efficiencies that may not have previously existed. Through the study of energy economics this summer, I look to learn not only about how basic economic research is conducted, analyzed, and presented, but also to make breakthroughs that could potentially help the world function more efficiently today.

Linh Bui

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Yuriy Román, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: Friends of MITEI

Synthesis of SSZ-13 and SAPO-34 nanosheets

In Prof. Román’s research group, we are studying zeolite nanosheets, a novel type of zeolite with potentially extraordinary properties over traditional zeolites. Zeolites are of particular interest to the petrol industry because they are capable of size and shape-selective catalysis due to strong acid sites in the microporous crystalline framework. At the same time, the microporous nature of the material limits application to small molecules that can diffuse through the pores. One way to overcome this limitation is to create nanosheets of the desired zeolites (ideally with a thickness of a single crystal cell) to maximize molecular diffusion. Within the summer project, we hope to synthesize, characterize, and find test reactions to showcase the utility of these organic-inorganic hybrid materials. I am excited about this project because not only am I learning how to synthesize these important catalysts, but also because this work will dramatically improve their efficiency and consequently their usefulness in industry.

Jose Burgos

Materials Science and Engineering

Advisor: Ronald Ballinger, Nuclear Science and EngineeringSponsor: Alfred Thomas Guertin PhD ’60

Mechanical properties characterization of a functionally graded composite for the generation IV Pb-Bi cooled fast reactor

During the summer, I plan on continuing the development process by characterizing the mechanical properties of the structural layer/corrosion resistant layer interface for a Generation IV Pb-Bi Cooled Fast Reactor. As a freshman my knowledge of the research area was, and still is, fairly limited. By participating in this UROP, I feel that the new skills and experiences that I gain will help reassure me that materials science and engineering is right for me as I plan to declare my major later this spring. I am excited about the fact that I will be able to see the practical applications of materials science in combination with nuclear science and engineering towards the goal of more efficient energy, while knowing that the work that I do has the potential to advance the future of nuclear reactors and impact millions of people who would use its power. I hope to learn how to use materials science outside the classroom and get a sense of what it is like in research and development as well as industry while gaining some necessary experience that will carry into my future professional career.

Khetpakorn Chakarawet


Advisor: Christopher Cummins, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: Jerome I. Elkind ’51, ScD ’56

Catalysis of molybdenum metaphosphate for solar water splitting

Since metal phosphates are shown to be potential candidates in catalytic water splitting processes, the chemistry of cobalt cyclotrimetaphosphate and cobalt cyclotetrametaphosphate were studied by Montag et al. The utilization of cyclometaphosphate ligands is carried on to the current project. This project focuses on earth-abundant metal molybdenum because of its known applications in oxidation catalysis, making it a potential alternative to precious metals such as platinum previously used as catalyst. In this project, derivatives of molybdenum cyclometaphosphates, stemming from the discovery of [Mo(P3O9)(CO)3]3- by Clough et al, will be a subject of study for the possibility of a water splitting catalyst. The catalysis of molybdenum metaphosphate has never been investigated before, and therefore a fertile ground of molybdenum metaphosphate science is waiting to be discovered.

Priyanka Chatterjee

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: Michael Triantafyllou, Mechanical EngineeringSponsor: BP

Designing a small-­scale, efficient wave power system for electricity generation

I propose to research and design a small-­scale, efficient wave turbine system under the supervision of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering Professor Michael S. Triantafyllou. The small-­scale system shall be mounted on the MIT-­Singapore kayak and used to produce enough energy to power a sensor strip that connects to the research and testing equipment of ongoing projects on the kayak. The overarching aim of this project is to evaluate the potential of wave power systems for sea craft and for deployment on littoral zone regions that encounter constant tidal and wave patterns.

Anthony Concepcion

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: William Green, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: William Chao ’78

Desulfurization of crude oil by supercritical water

Conventional methods of creating clean fuels use energy-inefficient methods to remove sulfur-containing contaminants. We are exploring a completely different approach, based on new (and so far poorly understood) chemistry occurring in supercritical water. The project studies the mechanism of supercritical water desulfurization of model organic compound mixtures. I will operate a batch reactor and/or a CSTR to treat various mixtures with supercritical water and analyze the gas and liquid product. The analysis will be done with various gas chromatography methods and an X-­ray detector.

Michelle Dutt

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Advisor: Ruben Juanes, Civil and Environmental EngineeringSponsor: Friends of MITEI

Leakage of CO2 gravity currents through faults

In this UROP project, we are going to study the major physical processes that control leakage of gravity currents through discrete fractures. We will conduct bench-­scale experiments with analogue fluids and flow cells. Specifically, I will be involved in designing the experiments, manufacturing the flow cells, conducting the experiments, as well as analyzing the data.

Dan Eisenberg

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Howard Herzog, MIT Energy InitiativeSponsor: BP

BP-­MIT Conversion research program: Estimating capital costs for building gasification plant

This summer I will be joining a process modeling team in Howard Herzog’s Energy Initiative research laboratory within the “BP-­MIT Conversion Research Program.” The project team is investigating different potential methods for the conversion of biomass into liquid fuels through gasification and the Fischer-­Tropsch process. My role is to help the team develop estimates for the capital cost of building a chemical plant that would perform this process. I will be using Aspen Plus (advanced chemical process modeling software), Microsoft Visio, information from vendors of chemical-­processing equipment, and publicly available data to build the economic model. Additionally, I will be organizing equipment lists, estimating the electrical and thermal load of the proposed plant, and helping the team draw simplified process and utility flow diagrams.

Aaron Fittery

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: Harry Asada, Mechanical EngineeringSponsor: BP

Design of highly maneuverable robots for nuclear power plant inspection

The chief purpose of this research project is to develop fully functional robots that can enter the piping systems and send images back of critical components. Underwater robotics is an advanced field already, but the highly confined spaces and presence of numbers, sensors, and obstacles in nuclear plants present some unique challenges. The research project has focused on using jet propulsion. The maneuvering jets are controlled by high speed valves that can very efficiently redirect the jets at high speed. The newest design has involved combining this jet propulsion with highly efficient propellers. The jets are used for maneuvering and fine control, while the propeller is used to travel long distances efficiently.

Ryan Friedrich

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Michael Strano, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: BP

A hyperstable chloroplast biofuel cell enabled by nanotechnology

This UROP will be exploring the transition from chloroplast photosynthesis to biomimicry in solar cells. In particular, it will incorporate nanomaterials and naturally occurring molecules into encapsulated chloroplasts to promote self-repair and indefinite photoactivity. It will also attempt to increase photosynthetic efficiency by using concentrated antennas and reaction centers in chloroplast. The end result will be a more efficient solar cell.

Julia Hsu

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: Anette Hosoi, Mechanical EngineeringSponsor: Shell International

Preparing and improving MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team’s solar car for future solar car designs

The goal of this project is to improve, test, and race the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team’s Chopper del Sol in the American Solar Challenge and to use this experience to start designing for the next solar car. The project will focus primarily on the mechanical area of the car including the braking system and its smaller aspects such as the parking brake. The general braking system performs well, but I will seek solutions to a lighter and even more efficient braking system to increase the solar car’s efficiency. In addition, the parking brake must be modified and adjusted for the solar car.

Dylan Joss


Advisor: Amy Glasmeier, Urban Studies and PlanningSponsor: Shell International

Curriculum development for geospatial energy class

Professor Amy Glasmeier, head of MIT Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning; Cecilio Aponte, MIT undergraduate; and I are working to develop the underlying materials for a new class in the energy minor. The goal of the class is to introduce students to the basic principles of economic geography and to give them the tools to understand how and why resource distribution begets conflict and legislation. Specifically, Cecilio and I are helping Prof. Glasmeier map out the 13 weeks of the course, as well as view and select supplemental instruction (readings, films, and other media). The two of us hope to provide valuable feedback from a student’s perspective as the course is created: what method of instruction we think would be best in a given scenario, what readings we feel are helpful or superfluous, etc. Currently, I am working to understand the economics behind resource maintenance, extraction, distribution, and consumption.

Katie Lee

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Michael Strano, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: Albachiara Rinnovabili S.r.I.

Graphene and single-­walled carbon nanotube growth for photovoltaic applications

During my UROP, I will be optimizing graphene quality, growing aligned single-­walled carbon nanotubes (SWNT), and investigating the quality of the SWNT/graphene junctions through photoconducting atomic force microscopy. The goal of this UROP is to study the photovoltaic behavior of these junctions to build a solar cell that has the potential to store more energy through this interaction between the energy bands and excitons.

Kyumin Lee

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Jean-François Hamel, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: BP

Sorghum hydrolysis and ethanol production

Sorghum is a drought-tolerant crop rich in starch that grows readily in many environments. In addition, it is not as widely consumed as a staple as other plants such as corn and cassava. As a result, sorghum is a very attractive source of starch for ethanol production. The ethanol production process from sorghum is still not well optimized, and Professor Hamel’s laboratory has been working on studying this process. I will be working especially closely with graduate student Jordi Kucharski this summer. My major is Course X-B (chemical-biological engineering), and one of the areas of research in this field that I am most interested in is biofuel research. As the need for alternatives for fossil fuels grows, I believe that the development of a viable means of synthesizing biofuels will become increasingly vital. I believe that this UROP position will be a good opportunity for me to see what conducting research in this field is really like.

Dillon McConnon

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: Steve Banzaert, Mechanical EngineeringSponsor: Natalie M. Givans ’84

Racing in the American Solar Challenge

My goal for this UROP is to understand the basic concepts behind building and racing small, light-weight vehicles. Along with that, I plan to get more comfortable working in a collaborative environment of my peers and to understand how to manage time to meet hard deadlines. I also hope to gain a greater understanding of the software used to model manufactured parts, such as SolidWorks, and I hope to better understand how to model the energy of a system and how to use the model to optimize energy usage.

Yukino Nagai

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Paul Barton, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: BP

Optimizing ethanol productivity using dynamic flux balance analysis

Over the summer, I will be working alongside Dr. Kai Hoeffner, a postdoc in the Process Systems Engineering Laboratory (PSEL). My task will be to model the metabolism of two other microorganisms, Desulfovibrio vulgaris and Methanococcus maripaludis, based on a paper by Sergey Stolyar et al. of the University of Washington. This project uses a method called dynamic flux balance analysis to model processes. Flux balance analysis allows a process to be simulated on a computer, which is far more efficient than physically running a process with its various parameters. Because there are two species involved, the model needs to be dynamic, to account for the interaction between the two species. The goal of this project is to find the optimal parameters for maximal production of ethanol.

Sarandeth Reth

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Advisor: Michael Greenstone, EconomicsSponsor: William Chao ’78

The impact of natural gas drilling on local health and economic outcomes

As drilling operations spread throughout the country, public debate surrounding the environmental implications of natural gas production has intensified, and hydraulic fracturing has been a target of particular concern. Scientists and public health advocates have raised questions of how fracking might contaminate the air, soil, or even drinking water in areas adjacent to drilling operations. Working directly with Professor Greenstone’s team, I will be responsible for building and maintaining a one-of-a-kind dataset of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling operations in the United States. I will also assist the team with data cleaning and preliminary data analysis.

Jean Sack

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: Evelyn Wang, Mechanical EngineeringSponsor: BP

Improving efficiency of solar thermophotovoltaics

For this UROP, I will be working with Andrej Lenert and Nenad Miljkovic under Professor Wang on improving efficiency of solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs). The main focus of the project is designing and improving selective absorbers to accept a larger solar spectrum. The other aspect of the project is removing excess heat through encouraging dropwise instead of film condensation. Experimentation with surface finish and materials will be done to determine the best combination for most effective cooling.

Alexander Siegenfeld


Advisor: Daniel Nocera, ChemistrySponsor: George R. Thompson, Jr. ’53

Synthesis and study of novel water oxidation catalysts

The most basic goal of this project is to synthesize and analyze new compounds that have the ability to oxidize water to oxygen gas. The analysis of these compounds will enable us to better understand how transition metals catalyze water oxidation and to determine how catalytic activity and electrochemical properties are affected by the choice of the transition metal center of the corroles and how such properties are related to the electronic structures of the catalysts. Determining how modification to the “hangman” xanthene backbone affects catalytic activity is another goal. Hopefully, this project will provide insight into both how to create better water oxidation catalysts and also how to tune current catalysts for maximum performance.

Scott Skirlo


Advisor: Michael Demkowicz, Materials Science and EngineeringSponsor: BP

Investigating elastic properties of heterophase interfaces

The goal of this project is to use atomistic modeling methods to develop models of the elastic properties of heterophase interfaces. When a composite material contains a high volume fraction of interfaces, its elastic properties depend both on the intrinsic elastic properties of its constituents as well as the elastic properties of the interfaces between them. The latter in turn depend on the type interface present. This work has the potential to impact design of thermoelectric materials.

Sean Tang


Advisor: Sheila Kennedy, ArchitectureSponsor: George R. Thompson, Jr. ’53

The SOFT House Project: Continued development of smart, dynamic, energy harvesting curtains

My UROP with Professor Sheila Kennedy will focus on continuing her research of smart, solar curtains within Professor Kennedy’s on-­going SOFT House project. The research will focus on the design of smart curtains that use DC clean energy from PV system to power solid state lighting with efficient low voltage, the study of micro-climates created by configurations of curtains in conjunction with radiant floors and the development of graphic design and design interfaces for the smart curtain system.

Arvind Thiagarajan

Biological Engineering, Physics

Advisor: Timothy Lu, Electrical Engineering and Computer ScienceSponsor: Shell International

BioBatts: Intercepting bacterial respiration to convert sugar efficiently to electricity

The work for this summer UROP can roughly be broken down into three subproblems, namely optimizing the bacterial cell, optimizing the quantum dot, and optimizing the interaction between quantum dot and semiconductor electrode. This research and its extension into the subsequent school year are intended to culminate in the production of a cheap, long lasting battery. We have calculated that a AA-­sized battery, powered by this technology, would have at least twice the energy density of a lithium-ion battery, six times the lifetime of a AA battery, and could be sold at profit for half the cost of a AA battery.

Sterling Watson

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: Gang Chen, Mechanical EngineeringSponsor: New York State Energy Research and Development Authority

Designing a test rig for characterizing thin-­film photovoltaics

The NanoEngineering group in the Mechanical Engineering Department is developing a light-trapping technique to enable thin-­film crystalline silicon solar cells to reach efficiencies that are competitive with conventional bulk silicon photovoltaics. I will begin my project with an in-depth independent study on the operation, fabrication, and characterization of photovoltaics. Given that solar electricity is not yet grid-­competitive in most electricity markets in the world, the cost reductions associated with reducing material mass in silicon solar cells is needed to allow thin-­film silicon solar cells to become a competitive electricity source, enabling an economically feasible transition from conventional fuels toward clean, renewable energy.

Spencer Wenck

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Kristala Jones Prather, Chemical EngineeringSponsor: Shell International

Metabolic engineering of E. coli for biofuels

Over the summer, I will be working in the Prather Lab to metabolically engineer E. coli to produce many products. Although all of these products may have potential uses, they are also intermediaries in the process of producing isohexanol. Ideally we hope to create a process where isohexanol is created by glucose alone. The significance of this project is twofold: it could produce bacteria that can synthesize viable amounts of isohexanol, and it will increase my understanding and interest in biofuels, sustainable production, as well as techniques for working with bacteria.

Dennis Wilson

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Advisor: Una-May O’Reilly, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence LaboratorySponsor: Shell International

Wind farm turbine layout optimization

The project I am working on is the optimization of wind turbine layout in wind farms. The U.S. is the home of the most and the largest on-shore wind farms, with the largest wind farm in the world being the Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas. While this farm boasts an impressive 627 turbines, the farm is continuously growing, and so the capacity of our algorithm must also be high. We would like an algorithm, or multiple algorithms, that interact with existing wind farm design tools, such as OpenWind, to maximize the power output of up to 1,000 turbines.

Hannah Wood

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Advisor: Ruben Juanes, Civil and Environmental EngineeringSponsor: BP

Calibration of a sonar lander to detect methane ebullition from lake sediments

Methane is a gas that plays significant roles in energy and climate change. Methane is generated in many different ways, one being by organic-rich sediments located at the bottom of oceans, lakes, and other bodies of water. The goal of my UROP is to calibrate a sonar lander to detect methane ebullition in Upper Mystic Lake. The data gathered by the lander could inform us about which processes allow methane bubbles to collect into distinct pockets in the sediment, how long the accumulation pockets last, and how the ebullition is triggered by changes in hydrostatic pressure.

Rebecca Zhang

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Advisor: Vladimir Bulović, Electrical Engineering and Computer ScienceSponsor: Philip Rettger ’80

Solar cell testing and quantum dots

For my UROP I will be working in the ONE Lab, directed by Professor Vladimir Bulović. I will be fabricating quantum dot solar cells in the lab and testing them to see how certain characteristics affect the solar cells’ performance. I will learn the techniques needed for building the devices like metal evaporating and spin coating. My project will be a subproject of one of the ONE Lab researchers and the process of solar cell testing will hopefully teach me a lot about the current and future technology behind solar cells.