REU in Advanced Materials

Jennifer Delgado discusses her poster on the Effect of Varying Electrolyes on Dye Sensitized Solar Cells with Professor Klein
Maricely Ramirez-Hernandez presents her poster on "Ionic Surfactants in the Processing of Inorganic Polymers."
Advanced Materials REU students relax over strombolis at Stuff Yer Face.

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Rutgers is the home to a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site on Advanced Materials. This program is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and serves a diverse population of students to whom cutting-edge research experiences are not typically available and thus broadens the pipeline to graduate school for a wide range of students. The current program is led by Professors Masanori Hara (PI) of the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department and Richard Lehman (co-PI) Chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department.  The interdisciplinary nature of this REU provides a rich environment for research in a broad array of materials topics ranging from graphene composites to the application of computational materials concepts to advanced catalysts for use in the pharmaceutical and petroleum industries.  The research experience is complemented by weekly exercises aimed at professional development. Currently, the program has a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, and shepherds the students through the process of viewing their research in a creative scientific context and with ultimate commercialization as a goal.







Program runs from May 29 – August 3, 2018 

Applications accepted through March 15, 2018 

10 week paid research experience 

Participants will receive $4500 stipend, travel expenses, on-campus housing, and free GRE preparation course 

State-of-the-art research facilities 

Additional funding to support conference travel 


(1) Multifunctional Nanomaterials for Targeted Delivery of Anticancer Drugs [Asefa]  

This project focuses on developing novel multifunctional nanostructured materials (or nanomedicines) for cancer treatment. The nanomaterials are designed and synthesized in such a way that they have improved adsorption capacity for the drugs and controlled release properties to targeted cancer cells. This project is part of one of the most important and rapidly growing research areas in nanobiotechnology today. The development nanomaterials that efficiently and controllably perform drug delivery to targeted cancer cells is among the most burgeoning research areas in cancer treatment as current chemotherapy treatment methods are still far from being ideal. Specifically, undergraduate students in Asefa lab develop new classes of functionalized nanoporous organosilica materials and demonstrate their potential for improved adsorption of anticancer drug, cis-platin, and study its release properties by changing temperature and pH in the solution. The students design and synthesize nanostructured materials with different terminal and bridging organic groups and investigate the effects of the functional groups on the adsorption and release properties of the materials to the drug molecules at different temperatures and pH. They also determine the biocompatibility, bioactivity and potential therapeutic properties of the materials using various cancer cell lines. Many of the students involved in these projects have co-authored at least one paper, if not more.


(2) Phase Engineering in Two Dimensional Transition Metal Dichalcogenides [Chhowalla]

Two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides (2D TMDs) exhibit versatile chemistry and consist of a family of over 40 compounds that range from complex metals to semiconductors to insulators. Complex metal TMDs assume the 1T phase and semiconducting TMDs assume the 2H phase. Unlike mechanical exfoliation and chemical vapor deposition, chemical exfoliation of semiconducting layered TMDs yields monolayered nanosheets with heterogeneous atomic structure consisting of metallic (1T) and semiconducting (2H) phases. Metal to semiconductor transition can be achieved via mild annealing of exfoliated materials. Semiconductor to metal transitions can be achieved via chemistry. The 1T phase in semiconducting TMDs has scarcely been studied but it deserves urgent attention as it exhibits promise as a hydrogen evolution catalyst and as contact electrode in electronic devices. We will explore these phase transitions in semiconducting TMDs and learn to exploit them for novel electronic effects.

The overarching goal of this project is to elucidate the fundamental science and explore the technological implications of two-dimensional TMDs exhibiting solid-solid transitions between phases with disparate properties. We will engineer novel field effect transistors (FETs) with low resistance contacts using the metallic 1T phase as the source and drain electrodes and the 2H phase as the channel. We will electrically induce reversible metal/semiconductor phase transitions using high field ionic liquid gating. We will develop a generalized scheme to uniformly functionalize a variety of semiconducting TMDs without introducing defects by exploiting the free electrons of the 1T metallic phase. Undergraduates involved in this project will learn to synthesize TMDs by chemical vapor deposition, characterize them using Raman spectroscopy along with atomic force and electron microscopies. They will also gain experience in making field effect transistors using state of the art photolithography processes.


(3) Computational Design of Hybrid Materials via Self-assembly of Diblock Copolymer Functionalized Virus Capsids [Dutt] 


Viruses encompass a hard icosahedral shell or capsid that stores genetic material. The high Young's modulus of viral capsids along with their storage capacity makes attractive building blocks for multi-functional hierarchically structured materials with applications in microelectronics, energy, medicine and sensing.  One possible route for harnessing viral capsids in creating novel advanced materials is to decorate specific sites on the capsid surface with polymers and promote controlled aggregation by tuning solvent quality, as shown in the figure. Via the use of the Molecular Dynamics simulation technique and coarse-grained force fields, we will simulate the aggregation dynamics of amphiphilic functionalized icosahedral capsids, representing the Cowpea Mosaic Virus capsid, when grafted with diblock copolymers of polyethylene glycol and polylactic acid. We will examine variations of the self-assembled structure dynamics and morphology by changing the polymer grafting density and capsid volume fraction. Our preliminary observations suggest that (a) the excluded volume of the icosahedra and (b) the polymer grafting density play the largest role on aggregation dynamics and morphologies when compared to the other variants.  Undergraduates working on this project will learn to develop characterization tools capturing the structural, morphological and dynamical properties of the self-assembled structures. The work will be guided by graduate students who will train and advice the undergraduates.


(4) Nanostructures Made from Ionomers [Hara]

Ionomers are ion-containing polymers containing a small amount of ionic groups, which can interact strongly with other ions to form unique morphology and structure. For example, nm-sized ionic aggregates are formed via self-assembly of ionic groups in ionomers. When these ionic aggregates containing divalent ions (e.g., Cd2+) are reacted with H2S, semiconductor nanoparticles (e.g., CdS) are formed. When ionic aggregates containing divalent ions, such as Pd, are reduced, metal nanoparticles of Pd are formed. In these cases, ionomers work not only as a template for forming nanoparticles but also as a protecting agent. Also, due to ionic interactions involved, a cationic ionomer and an anionic ionomer can form an alternating multilayers. Due to strong attraction achieved in a nonpolar organic solvent, multilayers can be formed even when a number of ions are small. A student will work with a combined system, in which metal or semiconductor nanoparticles are formed and dispersed in multilayers (e.g., PS/PMMA). These structures may be used as an efficient catalyst for gas phase reaction. The student will make nanostructures (nanoparticles and multilayers) and characterize them using X-ray, UV/Vis spectroscopy, and electron microscopy.


(5) Pattering Silica Surfaces [Klein] 

Many surfaces require a regular, repeating texture for applications such as microfluidics, waveguides, or microlens arrays.  Patterned surfaces can be used for scaffolds for cell growth, as well. The important features of the surfaces are the arrangement of the three-dimensional pattern, the definition of the features and their aspect ratio. Techniques for patterning surfaces traditionally have required photolithography, where a light curing polymer is used to establish a pattern.  Transferring the pattern to the surface requires further steps, often with selective etching of components.  A simpler method for transfer is called soft lithography.  In this case, the process ideally is a one-step molding or embossing.  A variation of transfer molding is molding in capillaries, where the pattern results when material in the substrate rises in capillary spaces to replicate the pattern. 

The sol-gel process has been used to generate oxide materials essentially at room temperature.  A high temperature material, such as silica, can be processed using a chemical route.  The precursors for silica can be modified, so that the silica solution, which forms a gel by hydrolysis and condensation polymerization, retains organic moieties.  Even after the gel is dry, hard and rigid, the organic content allows the silica gel to soften at modest temperatures, around 100˚C.  These so-called melting gels are candidate substrates for the study of embossing and capillary molding. Some preliminary tests have been performed with a stamp made out of poly(dimethyl siloxane) (PDMS).  A result of the capillary molding process is shown. To explore the molding process, the student will first survey hybrid sol-gel silicas containing methyl and phenyl groups.  Then, the student will conduct systematic study of composition, rheology, surface energy, and aspect ratio to identify suitable materials that transfer a pattern with good definition and integrity.


(6) Development of Inorganic Polymers from Minerals [Hara and Lehman]

Sustainability is becoming an important issue. In this project, traditional carbon-based organic polymers will be replaced with Si-O based polymers. By considering the amount of Si-O on the earth (over 75%) as opposed to carbon (0.03 %), it is clear that these polymers will decrease the dependence on scarce resources (e.g., oil), making the material more sustainable. Inorganic polymers will be made directly from silica (SiO2) through modification of backbone structure of Si-O with alkali/alkaline metal ions. Through the use of ionic liquid  as a processing agent and as a plasticizer, polymeric materials that are more ductile than silicates will be produced. The objective of the project is to study the processing conditions (thermal processing) and molecular variables (degree of ionization, nature of alkali and alkaline metals, the ratio of ions, nature of ionic liquid, amount of ionic liquid) to achieve the goal – making strong and ductile inorganic polymers. The key of this approach is use of ionic liquid, a nonvolatile liquid made of unsymmetrical ions.   Good chemical and thermal stability and nonflammability are advantages of these inorganic polymers compared with traditional organic polymers. The student will create silicate polymers from silica and characterize them by various techniques, such as DSC, mechanical testing, and FTIR.


(7) Computational Modeling and Molecular Simulation of Nanomaterials [Neimark]

Nanomaterials and nanotechnologies are now widespread in all branches of engineering and science, from health care and cosmetics to solar batteries and fuel cells to drug delivery and biotechnology.   Nanomaterials are composed of building blocks dimension of which varies from 1 to 100 nm. In order to understand the specifics of structural, transport, and thermodynamic properties at such small scales, we apply the computation methods of molecular and dissipative particle dynamics (MD and DPD) and Monte Carlo (MC) simulation. Students working on this project will learn how to use modern computational and molecular simulation methods and will get hands-on experience in using specially designed software packages. The results of this work will contribute into our current research project “Mesoscale modeling of self-assembly and transport in polymer electrolyte membranes (PEM)” funded by NSF. PEM is one of the critical and most expensive components of the fuel cells, which play the central role in the sustainable hydrogen-based energy technologies. PEM is made of complex chain molecules composed of hydrophobic and hydrophilic fragments. The function of PEM is to separate positive and negative electrodes and to conduct electric current due to migration of positively charges protons. At working conditions, PEM exhibits so-called mesoscale self-assembly – the hydrophobic fragments attract water and form a three dimensional network of proton-conducting channels within the hydrophobic matrix. As such, the membrane conductivity and permeability depend of the specifics of the membrane self-assembly, which are determined by the polymer composition and working conditions. The project aims at developing a novel computational technique, which would allow to establish quantitative relationships between the PEM chemical composition and structure and its permeability and conductivity that are required for optimal design of novel fuel cell membranes with improved properties. REU students are expected to produce data of publishable quality and become co-authors of publications in the leading research journals. Work will be guided by a senior graduate student, who will provide training and advice.



(8) Long-Term Creep Prediction of Graphene-Reinforced Polymer Matrix Composites [Nosker]

The Non-Linear Strain Energy Equivalence Theory (SEET), developed by the authors, and now part of the ASTM for Structural Plastic Lumber, is utilized to predict long-term creep of polymers.  This theory is a correlative method in which data from two short-term stress-strain experiments conducted at different strain rates are used to predict long-term creep strain at any stress level.  By determining the long-term creep properties of polymer matrix composites (PMC) used in structural applications, the maximum allowable design stress of a structure or component is determinable.  For example, SEET was used to determine the design stress of a bridge composed of a recycled PMC, for which the maximum load capacity was 73 tons, the equivalent weight of an M1-Abrams tank.  Using SEET, it was determined that the composite used for bridges would be creep resistant at stress levels below 600 psi for over 25 years.  The bridge was designed so that stresses in the bridge components are below the stress levels that would cause creep (i.e. below 600 psi).  Potentially, the bridge could be loaded for up to 25 years at a stress below 600 psi and suffer no creep strain upon load removal.  The student will utilize the SEET theory to predict the long-term creep behavior of a new inexpensive class of Rutgers developed PMCs that are graphene-reinforced (G-PMC), and produced by in-situ exfoliation of graphite into graphene in liquid polymers. 



(9) Nanoporous Metasurfaces for Increased Light Extraction Efficiency in Organic Light-Emitting Devices [O'Carroll]

Polymer-based organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), have potential to be low-process energy and low-cost alternatives to current display and lighting options.  Currently, OLEDs can have internal quantum efficiencies (IQEs) of 100%. However, for white OLEDs the light-extraction efficiency (LEE) is, at best, between 20-31%. The external quantum efficiency (EQE) which is determined from multiplying IQE and LEE is lower for red and green (5.5% and 9%, respectively) OLEDs and even lower for blue OLEDs (3.5%) as a result of low LEE. Therefore, low LEE represent a significant waste of electric energy to heat instead of light. Approaches to better out-couple internally emitted photons from OLED devices is necessary for energy-efficient organic lighting and display technologies.

In this project, an REU student will characterize the light-extraction ability of large-area nanoporous metal metasurfaces (NPMMs). In particular, they will investigate NPMM a platform to minimize light trapping in organic thin film waveguide modes and redirect light emission from phosphorescent light-emitting organic thin films to the out-of-plane direction. The student will study how the nanoscale structure of NPMM can redirect emission relative to planar metal electrodes using angle-resolved photoluminescence measurements and single nanopore imaging and spectroscopy. This project, build upon the work of O’Carroll on organic optoelectronics and plasmonic metasurfaces, will allow the student to gain knowledge and experience of optical nanomaterials relevant to energy efficiency technologies. O’Carroll has a strong track record of mentoring undergraduate research students (5 per year), more than 40% of which are co-authors on journal publications from her research group.


(10) Low Temperature Processing of Ceramic and Composite Materials [Riman]

Dense ceramics are strong and durable, making them useful for a variety of applications that demand robustness. However, processing of conventional ceramics requires high temperatures, making the fabrication of advanced composites containing both ceramics and other less temperature-resistant materials quite difficult. In addition, the shrinkage experienced by ceramic parts during densification precludes them from emerging net-shape/size manufacturing processes including 3D printing. In this research project, a paradigm for densifying ceramics at lower temperatures will be investigated, overcoming these barriers and allowing for fabrication of composites with previously “impossible” combinations of materials. This technique is known as low temperature solidification (LTS). The REU student will gain considerable hands-on experience in advanced ceramic processing methods as well as hydrothermal solution chemistry during the course of this project. The student will learn how to fabricate, characterize, and test the physical properties of polymer/carbonate ceramic composites and other candidate materials.


Applications-- We encourage you to apply and welcome all applications, just follow these steps:


  • All participants must be US Citizens or Permanent Residents.
  • Preference is given to students who have completed their junior year.
  • Outstanding sophomores and first-years may be considered.
  • Graduating seniors are not eligible.
  • Persons from groups traditionally under-represented in science and engineering professions are particularly encouraged to apply.
  • Please note: this program is designed to bring external students to Rutgers for the summer. Therefore, Rutgers students are not eligible.

 General Instructions

  • Follow this link to apply:
  • The common application for summer research programs at Rutgers will open in a new browser
  • Make sure to check "Advanced Materials" as one of the programs
  • Follow its directions completely.

The following must ALL be submitted to form a complete application:

  • The completed application form
  • A transcript
  • Two letters of recommendation (sent separately by letter writers)
  • All applications and supporting materials must be received by March 15, 2018.
  • Review of applications and rolling admissions will commence February 2018.
  • Early application is encouraged, as the program is highly competitive.

Students will be notified of admission via the Grad Portal and/or email.  We hope to see you this summer.

-- Professors Hara and Lehman